Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Old School Skills

Alvin Trusty’s daughter’s spanish teacher apparently requires students to look up unfamiliar words in a paper dictionary (see his blog post on the topic here). Alvin says is it ridiculous not to allow students to use an online resource, and I agree wholeheartedly, for the reasons he states in his blog.

However, he also says that, “Students must know how to use a paper-based dictionary properly.” I’m not sure I agree with that statement. If I need to look up a word, I do it online. It’s faster, easier, and probably more accurate, especially if it’s a recent word or term. Kids do need to know how to properly alphabetize items in a list, but that is a broader skill than looking words up in a dictionary.

My children’s elementary school librarian personally believes that that everyone should know the Dewey Decimal classification system. My husband, a library aide in college, thinks that knowing the 10 general classification categories are enough. I think they are both wrong! If I want to know where something is, I’ll do an online search and go right to the item I want.

The reality is that my dictionary, thesaurus, Bartlett’s quotation book, and Strunk and White grammar rules book are all gathering dust upstairs because my web resources are more convenient and up-to-date.

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Comments on: "Old School Skills" (2)

  1. I think that there is a value to introducing the original, concrete version of information to students when you first introduce a topic such as research, or Math, or my favorite sport- Dressage. Math is the topic I’m most familiar with, so I’ll start there.

    There has been a war waging over teaching students to use calculators to do their math rather than spending lots of time going over the basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The theory goes (And has been endorced by the National Teachers of Mathematics) that it allows students not to get bogged down in the basics that they can look up, freeing them up for more advanced topics. Then there are those who say that these skills are the building blocks for all of the things that follow. I am of the later mindset. Here is why.

    I taught for a few years in a Montessori school. Maria Montessori, I feel, was a brilliant woman who managed to teach algebra and place value to three-year-olds. They just didn’t know they were learning it, and many of the teachers did not have the math background to grasp the significance. They had various patterns and blocks that allowed a concrete way for students to put those things together. The students typically had excellent basic math skills- and kept them as long as I gave them random probalems once in a while to go through in their heads. This came in handy when teaching pre-Algebra and Algebra. We didn’t need to waste time with the calculators, everyone could “do the math” as quickly as they could write and speak. Having an intuative understanding of the basics- where there are concrete examples (we call them manipulatives in math) allows students to get a kinesthetic understanding of the way that the numbers work together. When their abstract minds start to kick in (typically around 7th or 8th grade), then they are able to begin learning how to solve problems they can not see. This is when we typically start Algebra as a formal subject. Not because of the time it takes to teach the basics, but this is when all of those basics and other things in life have helped to form the connections in the brain that allow students to solve those equations that they can no longer reach out and touch. Being able to have some of the things from when they were younger to reference, and explain the math behind the materials that they worked with to reproduce the patterns, they were able to understand where the formulas and numbers came from more quickly. When I had training on the materials, I never memorized the patterns, I had the math so I figured it out.

    I feel that some of the problems that we see in Mathematics today are caused by students no having a basic understanding and “feel” for how the numbers go together. They don’t have a strong enough foundation to stand on in order to reach beyond and solve problems they can not see. They don’t know where to start creating the formula.

    I think that the same ideas are applied to a dictionary, cateloguing, and research. A card catelogue, while a little crude, gave my first grade mind a way to understand that I only needed to know an author I liked, a subject, or the title of a book to find something to read. I knew that with only one piece of information, I had a place to begin my search. When I go online and can’t find something, or I need to change my search criteria, it’s very automatic for me. The caregories and means of classification exist in my head from a time where that is what I needed to narrow the possibilities and not be lost in my journey for information. Today, we see students comming out of high school and college with very poor research skills. They are whizzes at using the computer, but when placed before a search engine, no idea where to being. They have a weak foundation. I sometimes need to take them back near the beginning and teach them what to look for and what the main idea is before I can send them off on their own. And these are bright people with tremendous problem solving skills. They are able to find things within their area of expertise, but have trouble generalizing.

    Do I think you only should use one resource to learn? No. Nor should you use one sense to teach. We’re all a mix of learning types and when concepts are intoduced, it’s nice to be able to put your hands around what you’re learning, even if you can’t wrap your mind around it.

  2. […] touched on this subject back in August in my blog post titled “Old School Skills” when I argued that though learning to alphabetize is an important foundation skill, being […]

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