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How New Research on Kids and Media Can Inform Your Teaching

Learn key takeaways on student media use, and get helpful teaching resources.

Erin Wilkey Oh | October 28, 2019

As a classroom teacher, you know the way devices and media dominate kids' attention. You're out there every day managing student cellphones in the classroom, patiently listening to them share about their latest Fortnite accomplishments, and catching glimpses of TikTok memes between classes. But just how widespread are these activities, and how do they affect different student populations?

A new report from Common Sense, The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019, helps us connect what we're observing in classrooms with larger trends. This nationally representative study on how kids age 8 to 18 use media highlights what kinds of access kids have to technology, what they're doing on those devices and how often, and how much they enjoy the various types of media activities they're engaged in. The report also compares how the data has changed since the first wave of the study in 2015.

For teachers, this big-picture perspective can help inform classroom management, teaching strategies, content choices, homework policies, and much more. Here are a few key takeaways from the findings, plus some relevant resources for your classroom.

It's never too early to start teaching digital citizenship skills.

By age 11, a majority (53%) of kids have their own smartphone, and by age 12 more than two-thirds (69%) do. If you thought digital citizenship instruction was just for middle and high school teachers, think again. Kids need to be building these skills and habits starting from an early age. For our youngest learners, that means introducing the basics of online safety and supporting healthy media balance. For older elementary schoolers, they can begin learning to identify and respond to cyberbullying, reflect on their digital footprints, keep online friendships safe, and more.

Resources to try:

Your students still don't have equal access to technology.

Though the differences are smaller than they were just four years ago, kids from higher-income homes are still far more likely than their peers from lower-income homes to have a computer at home or to have their own devices, such as a personal laptop or smartphone.

In addition, students from lower-income homes are much less likely than their peers from higher-income homes to use a computer for homework. Teens from lower-income homes also spend less time than their peers from higher-income homes using computers for homework, and more time using their phones for homework.

Though the issue of digital equity is complex and not easy to solve, teachers can take intentional steps to lessen the effect this divide has on student learning. Find out what your students' level of access is at home, keep equity in mind when creating homework policies and assigning homework, and be mindful of whether or not using technology is essential to the learning outcomes.

Resources to try:

It's time to take video seriously (if you don't already).

Watching TV and videos remains the primary screen media activity for both tweens and teens. But in a significant shift, more than twice as many young people watch online videos every day than did in 2015, and the average time spent watching online videos has roughly doubled.

For teachers, this may not be headline news. (What? Kids are watching YouTube?) But if you're looking for ways to hook kids into learning, then co-opting their favorite platform isn't the worst idea. For one, lots of fantastic YouTube channels can be used in the classroom. Whether you're trying to pique kids' interest in a topic or want to dive in deep, I can pretty much guarantee there's a video for that. Plus, video is a great medium for helping kids practice critical-thinking skills -- something we hope students will apply to their out-of-school video viewing as well.

Resources to try:

Learn more about the key findings by downloading the full report, The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019.