readin, writin, arithmetic

by Richard Riehle

Over the last few years, I have read innumerable articles about 21st century learning, 21st century education, and the future of how we can have students become ongoing learners by the flipped classroom or gamefication. In an open discussion about how and where we should head in the world of education, these are fine ideas. But these progressive ideas have the same problem that many of the previous ideas and methods have had. 

Many of these ideas and theories are mostly predicated upon the notions that the teaches prefer (based upon subjective perspectives reinforced by educational institutions (read: colleges)). This is where such tripe as ‘learning styles’ comes from. It is based upon academics freely making unfounded assertions, with willing numbers of  teachers following along…

The problem is that there are many good ideas in the new, and there are likewise many good ideas in the status quo. In both cases, these good ideas can be of real value if interpreted with some heart and mind.

For instance, there is a trope I have heard even when I was in education school, which presumes that anything related to memorization or rote efforts is intrinsically bad, and even worse, it is Medieval!

In any case, I could go on and on, belaboring a list of fault son both sides of this intellectual divide. Instead I would prefer to consider all of these ideas on their own (empirically determined) merits.

While I am dong that, maybe you could consider how the following article quotes pertain to this premise…


Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts and Word Roots)

By Annie Murphy Paul

When Suzanne Kail, an English teacher at a public high school in Magnolia, Ohio, was told that she would be required to teach her students Latin and Greek word roots, she groaned and rolled her eyes. Kail believes in a progressive approach to education, in which active engagement in meaningful learning is paramount. In an account of her experience in the English Journal, she wrote, “Asking students to do rote memorization was the antithesis of what I believed in most.” Still, her department head insisted on it, so Kail went forward with the attitude, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it.” She was sure her students wouldn’t like it, either.

Kail was in for a surprise — as is anyone who takes a look at a raft of recent studies supporting the effectiveness of “old school” methods like memorizing math facts, reading aloud, practicing handwriting and teaching argumentation (activities that once went by the names drill, recitation, penmanship, and rhetoric). While the education world is all abuzz about so-called 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking, this research suggests that we might do well to add a strong dose of the 19th century to our children’s schooling.

Here are a few other old-school skills that are still worth cultivating:

HandwritingResearch shows that forming letters by hand, as opposed to typing them into a computer, not only helps young children develop their fine motor skills but also improves their ability to recognize letters — a capacity that, in turn, predicts reading ability at age 5. But many schools are now emphasizing typing over writing. Last year, for example, the Indiana Department of Education announced that the state’s public schools no longer had to teach cursive writing and they should ensure that students were “proficient in keyboard use” instead.

ArgumentationIn a public sphere filled with vehemently expressed opinion, the ability to make a reasoned argument is more important than ever. Educational research on argumentation demonstrates that it helps students learn better too. A study published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching in 2010, for example, found that 10th-graders who were taught how to construct an argument as part of their lessons on genetics not only had better arguments but also demonstrated a better understanding of the material.

Reading AloudMany studies have shown that when students are read to frequently by a teacher, their vocabulary and their grasp of syntax and sentence structure improves. Educator Doug Lemov, author of Teach like a Champion and a co-author of the new book Practice Perfect, explains why: “Children who are read to become familiar with the sound and rhythm and complexity of language long before they can produce it themselves. By virtue of being exposed to a wide variety of writing types and styles, they come to understand that the use of language involves intentional choices made by the author and is representative of the author’s time and place.”

Top universities forced to introduce remedial maths classes

By Nick Collins

Standards in schools have slipped so low that GCSE maths now amounts to little more than “glorified numeracy” while even those with top grades at A-level are woefully ill-equipped to study maths and science at university.

A combination of the “modular” A-level system, which allows pupils to bypass certain fields such as calculus, and a “race to the bottom” between competing exam boards are driving the problem, the House of Lords report has said.


Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says Michael Gove

By Peter Walker

Learning facts by rote should be a central part of the school experience, the education secretary, Michael Gove, will argue on Wednesday in a speech which praises traditional exams to the extent of arguing they helped spur the US civil rights struggle.

In the address, titled In Praise of Tests, Gove describes the ideological underpinning to his planned shakeup of GCSEs and A-levels, a philosophy which will further delight educational traditionalists but is likely to prompt criticisms that he is seeking a return to the teaching styles of the 1940s and 50s.

Competitive, difficult exams for which pupils must prepare by memorizing large amounts of facts and concepts will promote motivation, solidify knowledge and guarantee standards, Gove is to tell the Independent Academies Association, a trade body for academy schools.

“Exams matter because motivation matters,” Gove will say, according to extracts of the speech provided by his department.

“Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges. And our self-belief grows as we clear challenges we once thought beyond us.

“If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavors and deeper learning.”