I had an interesting learning experience today while I observed/evaluated one of my preservice students teach a senior level highschool math class. Direct instruction was utilized as students observed the teacher, followed along and wrote down any derived formulas. It was classic chalk-and-talk. And, the students were mostly well-behaved, and although a few chattered among themselves, it appeared that the majority paid attention.

Then I noticed a couple of the students in the class fiddle with their iPods as they followed the instruction. Both students were using only a single ear bud, while directing the rest of their attention toward their teacher. These students still took notes, yet once in a while, stopped long enough to navigate to another song.

I asked the supervising teacher if this behaviour was usual, or if iPods were even allowed in the classroom. He opened his gradebook, and noted that these students were two of the highest achievers in the math classroom. Their averages were well into the 90’s.

Then it occurred to me, or at least, this is what I have surmised. It seems that these students use their iPods to:

a) keep from being bored when there is downtime in the classroom;

b) keep from being distracted from the chatter of other students; and,

c) maintain a one-to-one relationship with the teacher.

Yes, I’m talking about direct instruction, and one-to-one teaching/learning relationships. And I’m talking about teaching and learning that doesn’t involve networks of learners, or the Internet, or even simple forms of collaborative learning. Yes, it’s direct instruction, and I’m talking about it here.

But in many schools, and in many classrooms, this is the way that learning still occurs. And in this very real situation, I was both happy and surprised to see that the use of the iPod actually seemed to make this learning relationship just a bit better.