How Does “The World’s Youngest Teacher” Use Web Technology? An Interview with Adora Svitak
| Wednesday, October 07, 2009
|During the next few days, I will post an interview I did 1-2 months ago with Adora Svitak, age 11 (turning 12 next week), who is often referred to as "The World's Youngest Teacher." Adora, who is from Redmond, Washington, started teaching at age 6 and writing books shortly thereafter. For those interested in the online world, Adora is literally amazing--she teaches with various types of technology and learns via the Web. She even teaches teachers how to teach in workshops that she does. You can read about her fascinating story below. Imagine having spent nearly half of your life teaching and you are only about to turn 12 years old; oh, the stories she will have to tell in the years and decades to come. I hope you enjoy this one.
How Does “The World’s Youngest Teacher” Use Web Technology?
An Interview with Adora Svitak
by Curtis J. Bonk, Professor, Indiana University, USA
There is perpetual clamoring that teachers need to integrate emerging technologies in their classrooms. Often younger teachers are deemed to be more in touch with learner technology needs and demands. Adora Svitak, age 11, is one the world’s youngest teachers, writers, and speakers. She was 7 when her first book, Flying Fingers, was published. This child prodigy reads two to three books each day and types between 80 and 112 words per minute. Rough estimates place her writing at more than 330,000 words per year (Corr, 2009). Already, she has written more than 400 short stories, 3 books, and dozens of poems (Sadovi, 2009). As a technology enthusiast, Adora has a blog, Facebook account, and much of her poetry posted online. Not only does she teach with Web technology, she learns with it in a virtual school.
As a preteen, she is keenly aware of how children learn and socialize with technology. What differentiates Adora from others her age is that she experiments with innovative technology in her teaching; including the use of blogs in personal writing, wikis for team writings as well as creative writing, Google Docs in collaborative writing, and social networking tools for communication. She uses emerging technologies and creative pedagogies as an attempt to place students in charge of their own learning. By combining the two—the integration of online technologies with innovative pedagogies—her mission is to help transform the traditional curriculum.
Adora’s career as a teacher emerged when she began to speak to other students both in live performances as well as her now popular videoconferencing series. Adora was been highly sought after to speak in schools as well as at conferences and conventions around the world. During the past four years, she has reached more than 300 classrooms and school auditoriums. She not only teaches others students in some of the most prominent school systems in the United States, she conducts professional development seminars and workshops for teachers. In taking her message to wider audiences, Adora has shared her teaching and learning insights and ideas on the BBC, TLC, NBC, FOX, CCTV, the UK Channel 4, Good Morning America, Montel Williams, and the Tyra Banks Show, among other well known media outlets. She has also been featured on Oprah.
Given her writing, reading, speaking, and teaching background, it is clear that this is no ordinary 11 year old. In this interview, I ask Adora about her growth as a teacher during the past 3 or 4 years. My questions also address the technologies she uses today to teach and learn as well as those that intrigue her about the future. In addition, she is asked about her experiences as an online learner as well as her teaching philosophy, reactions from the students she teachers, and changes needed in education in general from her point of view. Finally, as someone who has recently written on the educational uses of social networking technology (Svitak, 2009) and read and endorsed my book, “The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education” (Bonk, 2009), Adora is asked for her opinion about open education and the technologies fostering this more open learning world.
1. Curtis J. Bonk (CJB): Can you tell the audience a brief few sentences about yourself?
Adora Svitak (AS): I am eleven years old; I am the world’s youngest teacher, seasoned speaker and the published author of three books. I teach every day during the school year to schools and classrooms around the world. I live in Washington State with my older sister, my mom, and my dad. I enjoy drawing, cooking, water fights, and, to quote my book Dancing Fingers, “expanding my plans for world domination.”
2. CJB: Some people call you one of the world’s cleverest people and a child prodigy. What is it like when you hear that?
AS: I have to wonder how many other children they have met—(smile). I know for certain that I am not the world’s cleverest person; I am talented in some ways, but so are many others. I think that everyone has a skill to share, at some time—I just made my mark a little earlier.
3. CJB: What motivates you to learn online? What gets you excited when you see it?
AS: I am really motivated to learn online because it allows me to move at my own pace, discovering new information along the way in new and engaging formats. I am excited by online learning because I really feel that I am able to reach out to the world—there are no limits in what I can do in learning and teaching through technology.
4. CJB: Can you describe the way you learn online? When do you learn online? What tools do you prefer to use and why? Do you learn from self-paced materials or do you interact with teachers or moderators?
AS: My school, the Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA), uses curriculum from the education vendor K12. This is delivered to me over the computer; I can access it at any time, anywhere. I am a bit of a night owl and thus I prefer evening hours. I have found something very basic—search engines—to be incredibly helpful to me when I am doing research for assignments. The majority of schoolwork at WAVA is self-paced, but we do have teachers, and they do conduct synchronous learning sessions online.
5. CJB: Do you meet other kids around your age who also learn online? Do you ever do projects with them?
AS: At WAVA, I get the chance to share work, collaborate, and communicate with my classmates through face-to-face meetings, live online collaboration sessions, and e-mail. I have not met another person my age who formally teaches online as I do, but I can say that many of my classmates do share presentations and projects online.
6. CJB: How might the online courses for K-12 students (such as those you take at the Washington Virtual Academies) be improved for young people who have hectic schedules like you? What might you like added? Would physically meeting other kids face-to-face as in blended learning be a benefit? Why or why not?
AS: My school actually does take a somewhat blended approach to learning; we have field trips every month, and many other opportunities to meet our classmates. I believe that, while purely online learning has its benefits, it is important to realize that we still live in a physical world and that it can be easier to make connections when we can see someone face-to-face. However, the face-to-face interaction is greatly enhanced if you have met online first. I think that one of the most valuable elements of online learning is the fact that students can move at their own pace; online learning gives more freedom for compacting a topic a student knows well and exploring in depth a topic they are interested in or need to improve on.
(Note: this story will be continued tomorrow and Friday with two more installments of interview questions with Adora Svitak, the World's Youngest Teacher. Stay tuned! By the way, portions of this interview will appear in Chapter 11 of the e-book extension of my book, The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education that I am working on.)