Education, Back to Basics Style?
June 12, 2014 | 2:28 pm
By Joanna Cabot
I’ve posted a lot of articles this year about technology in education—my own school has iPads, MacBooks, SMARTboards and other gadgets, all of which we have a mandate to use as often as possible and integrate into our lessons. I have written at length about the difficulties we have upgrading and maintaining these technologies, training teachers to use them effectively, and deploying them to maximum effect with such a large group of kids.
So it’s been a little surprising—and bemusing—to me to see a groundswell lately in favour of a more back-to-basics style. It seems that more and more teachers are finding that the frills are just that—frills. Our school’s resident math specialist, for instance, recently presented some findings at our staff meeting about the whole ‘new’ math issue. It seems that the originators of ‘new’ math—aka the more conceptualized holistic math program many schools push these days—intended these new teaching strategies to supplement—and not replace—the old-school drill-and-kill. Parents who complained that their kids were drawing math pictures and telling math stories instead of focusing on basic facts were victims of teachers who were not implementing the program properly. You were supposed to drill-and-kill AND teach the new stuff!
Similarly, in my own curriculum area, we’ve been starting to see an increasing demand for old-school learning. My school, like many others here, jumped on a bandwagon that was making the rounds some years ago. And now, years later, we are starting to see parents of older kids complaining about some of the gaps. They can speak, but not read. They can communicate entirely in French, but don’t always have full comprehension of words they have merely memorized and not comprehended.
As any teacher knows, there is no be-all, end-all curriculum or teaching method. The program I use advertises itself as such, though, just as the ‘new’ math curriculum did. Teachers are encouraged to follow the manual to the letter. Any gaps in your student’s knowledge are painted as not the program’s fault, but yours. If you implemented it correctly, your students would be perfect. And in the real world, that simply isn’t true.
I have been encouraged, as I plan for next year, to meet the parent demand for a more back-to-basics program. They want word lists. They want spelling tests. I can keep the best parts of the ‘modern’ drama-based program I’m teaching with—and I will—but I need to trust myself more than I trust a teacher’s manual. I need to not be afraid to bring in new stuff, bring back old stuff, and do whatever I can to promote my student’s learning, even if that’s something that isn’t in the guidebook for the all-holy Program.
When I see the latest apps our math expert has downloaded onto the newfangled iPads, I see a lot of basic skills review—drill-and-kill, fancied up for the tech age. And I know there are language-drilling apps that I can get, too. It’s ironic in a way, using this new technology to teach the old way. But more and more, I am finding that parents—and kids—benefit from a little old-school sometimes!