Screen Time and the English Discipline

By Verity Sayles, 2020-21 English Discipline Lead

In the English discipline, we love when students get creative and apply the books they’re reading to project-based learning. This is a chance for students to get their hands dirty, work in a medium of their choice, and learn how to process steps and manage time. During EPSRemote, some of our traditional Humanities projects have had to shift online. Students changed their Teams backgrounds to their country’s flag for the 10th grade Model UN Project, rather than lobbying in the TMAC Amphitheater. But we’ve also found being able to use the chat during speeches is something we’ll keep, even when we return in person. Project-based learning, often a cornerstone of our practice, has felt more necessary and imperative in a land of remote instruction as a chance to get messy and unplug. The 10th graders hand-made personal shields with their own crest in Medieval Literature, the 8th graders took Life of Pi outside and were asked, “How could you survive in your own backyard?” The 6th graders recorded spooky stories in Padlet for Halloween. The 12th graders were asked to keep a nature journal and identify local plant species in Literature and Nature. Recently in 10th grade Revolutions in Thought—a student baked French cuisine and took photos for a museum exhibit.

In a world of screen time, where it is so easy to switch from a laptop screen for school, to a phone screen to socialize, to a TV screen for relaxing, we hope the required English reading becomes a respite from the blue light. Reading physical books, rather than on screens, has numerous benefits for retention, comprehension, and understanding—in addition to giving your eyes a break. In a recent NYTimes article, “How Children Read Differently From Books vs. Screens,” a study, referenced from the  Contemporary Educational Psychology, finds when students use authentic books to write an essay, their memory increases and they are able to use more specific language. Naomi Baron, professor emerita of linguistics at American University, says parents can model slowing down with a book at home, and de-emphasizing speed when it comes to learning. She also encourages teachers to help students develop “deep reading, mindful, focusing on the text.”

Right now, I am gearing up to read The Samurai’s Garden with the 10th Grade Modern Asian Literature students. This book has long been a favorite of students for its descriptions of Japanese gardens where much symbolism can be drawn. With the weather getting warmer and the days longer, I am looking forward to having students go outside into their own backyards, curl up with the book, and enjoy a respite from the screens and a plunge into the fun of reading.