Dr. Maxwell: Changing educational traditions

Times are changing in education. Today’s classrooms look little like those of even a generation ago. Chalkboards and chalk are nonexistent. White boards and erasable markers now prevail. Individual desks especially on the elementary level have been replaced by group tables. Teachers’ desks are gone and in their place are technology rich teachers’ stations. Televisions and overhead projectors are a thing of the past. Laptops powering SmartBoards deliver instruction. VCRs and videotapes have gone the way of dinosaurs. Now, audiovisuals are seen via DVDs or online streaming.

Beyond the physical environment, instruction has changed as well. While teachers still teach, their role has changed radically. No longer is the focus on teachers as lecturers but instead as facilitators. Teachers guide students’ pathway to learning using Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS utilize questioning techniques that require students to analysis texts and data in order to evaluate and then synthesize information to uncover new knowledge. Quite a change from the rote based instruction of the past. Exploratory learning that leads to problem solving is the new wave in education.

Causalities of this educational shift include some time honored education traditions. Cursive writing once a staple of the elementary years is now largely ignored. A day or two are all that is now dedicated to this form of writing. In its place, computer keyboarding skills are stressed. Oddly, this instruction harks back on the days of the typewriter. However, unlike the elective typing courses of yore, today’s keyboarding classes are becoming mandated for all. This is a result of a change in testing practices. No Child Left Behind legislation has required all states to test students’ writing competency. Increasingly, state writing tests for elementary through high school are switching to computer based assessments. Tennessee is no exception to this trend.

Another school tradition that has fallen victim to the Internet age are school book fairs. Students have unprecedented access to view and purchase books online. Online booksellers like Amazon and Kindle-type devices deliver books at a fraction of the cost of book fairs. Further, unlike book fairs that are deeply beholding to publishers to provide what they think are the hot authors, titles or subjects, online booksellers allow students access to reviews, book descriptions, and a much larger searching capacity to find books that meet their interest. Beyond these realities, books themselves are becoming endangered, for example in San Antonio the Bibliotech library does not even have books instead everything is online or in electronic tablet form that can be checked out. While vendors such as Scholastic still offer book fairs, their days are numbered. As more of the educational focus is placed on preserving instructional time, the human capital and time required to run book fairs whose profits primarily benefit vendors’ bottom line are becoming a luxury that most schools can no longer afford.

Finally, I just learned in an educational meeting that traditional spelling tests have little to no place in the modern classroom. Current thinking is that teachers who still adhere to this practice are out of touch. As long as a student can get phonetically close, spell check will assist in obtaining the correct spelling. Being a lousy speller, I am thrilled to hear this. Spelling, like cursive writing, is losing its position as a pull-out skill. Instead, spelling is being emphasized within context. This means that spelling tests are being replaced by checking students spelling during daily writing exercises.

As I started this article loosely quoting the bard Bob Dylan, “Times They Are a-Changin,” I would like to finish it with the same. Many educational traditions and practices change over time. Some changes are for better and others for worse. The traditions and practices discussed here are familiar to all of us. The question is, are we better off going back to the past and keeping some of these traditions alive or should we embrace current thought–bravely divesting ourselves of legacy, archaic practices. What are your thoughts?

By D. Jackson Maxwell. Dr. Maxwell is an educator with over 25 years of educational experience. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me: djacksonmaxwell@gmail.com

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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