Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Students? PART 3

If you haven't heard by now, you might still be teaching your students some outdated skills.  In Part 1 and Part 2 of this 3-part blog post, I examined such skills as, telling time on an analog clock, counting coins and using reference or library skills.


Are they outdated? What's the conclusion so far?  It's a mixed bag.  Because our society is changing so rapidly at a pace far more furious than we can keep up with, this has made teaching time and money more difficult because children are not using those skills on a daily basis anymore compared to kids 20 years ago. We've got digital watches everywhere, including on our phones and other gadgets.  Most electronic billboards and such have only digital clocks.  When I was a kid 40 years ago, if mom said to be home at 5:00, you were home at 5:00 or face serious consequences.  So we HAD to know how to tell the time on an analog clock.


Today, kids rarely see their parents fumble with coins or cash because we just swipe our credit card or hit ApplePay®.  Kids today don't even get cash anymore.  They're given gift cards, so that makes all the money virtual money that is not actually held in your hand or jingled in your pocket.


On the other hand,  teaching time on an analog clock and counting money also reinforces other critical math skills.  My conclusion is to keep teaching those skills for now.  Ask me again in five years, though.

As for reference skills, they will always be needed in this information-packed world.  But we need to be realistic and not waste time teaching kids to look in print encyclopedias or dictionaries when these can be accessed digitally or within an App.  However, we do have to show them how to use reliable sources of information.

So what else is out of date or rapidly becoming so?


Ok, this is one of those topics that gets everyone riled up.  I'll admit it.  I was one of these geeky kids who tried very hard to perfect his cursive writing.  I mean we spent A LOT of time learning how to write in cursive.  We even had our very own book for practice!  By junior high, you were expected to write in cursive full time.  Since I am a baby boomer, all my essays and assignments were done in cursive for high school. But that was 40 years ago!


It's 2018 and what about now? Should we continue to teach cursive writing? Is it needed ANYWHERE in our society?  Will it be required in ten years?  Are there any benefits to learning how to write in cursive?  You could spend hours Googling all the research on this issue.  But here's the real world answer.

As a mostly third grade teacher (though this year I'm teaching second grade), it was always my job to introduce and teach cursive writing.  Teaching cursive was fun.  But since I've been teaching for over 30 years, every year the curriculum got more and more crowded.  Something had to give.  That's why cursive writing got pushed to the very end of the year, usually during or after state testing season.  After taking a difficult and lengthy test, students were eager to just learn something fun like cursive writing.


There were videos on ACTUAL VHS tapes we could watch and learn how to write in cursive.  My school even purchased a cursive writing program for all the third-grade teachers.  So what happened? Why have we stopped teaching cursive?  In California, cursive writing was added when the state adopted the Common Core State Standards (3L.1.j, Write legibly in cursive or joined italics, allowing margins and correct spacing between letters in a word and words in a sentence.) so it's not like we can ignore it.

What happened is that it comes down to time.  There just isn't enough time in the day to teach everything.  Something has got to give.  And that give is cursive.  We justify it by saying that keyboarding is a more appropriate skill.  And I agree!  Keyboarding is a skill that will be needed by my second graders for the rest of their lives.  Cursive writing, not so much.

Think about when you as an adult needed to use cursive writing? Probably when you went to sign your name on an important document or on a credit card receipt.  I really can't think of any other place I use cursive writing, except to myself on notes.  But even then it's "pursive" or a combination of printing and cursive.


So, if all they need to do is to learn how to write their name in cursive so they can sign their names on important documents, then let's just teach them to write their name in cursive.  It's not likely they will encounter the need to read cursive writing in their school careers.  When was the last time you received a letter in cursive writing from grandma?

Let's face it, cursive writing is a polarizing issue, and there are many arguments for and against it.  But in the real world of my classroom, I feel like this should almost be an elective in high school... like calligraphy!  This is one skill we need to put on the shelf and leave it there.


Keyboarding.  If we're not swiping here or there, we're texting with our thumbs or typing on a keyboard.  Even entering information on those newfangled TVs requires your to expertly go up and down and across on a virtual screen keyboard.  So yes, by all means, teach keyboarding skills.


When I was in high school in the 70s, I took a typing class because I knew that typing would serve me in the future in college.  And it did.  I became an expert typist and could center a title or syllabicate words at the end of a line with no problem.  In college, I typed all my assignments and essays.  When personal computers finally came on the scene, centering and syllabication became automated.  But learning the keyboard has not.  And that's what we need to teach our students.  Teach them to find the location of the keys.

My second graders have small hands. Even on their Chromebook, they are not able to reach all the keys if we teach them proper keyboarding skills like keeping your fingers on the home keys.  And developmentally, they just can't keep from looking down or holding their hands in place.  So for now, just finding the location of the keys is fine with me.


As they grow older, I do think it's important for kids to take an actual typing (or is it called keyboarding?) class.  Hunting and pecking are not going to get them into college or a get a good job.  Now it could be that in ten years, voice recognition will be the norm and students can dictate their writing.  Just look at all the virtual assistants out there now like Siri, Alexa, and others.

But keyboarding will still be needed as not everything needs to be done through voice recognition technology.  Also, I tell my students:  texting is NOT typing.  They are two different skills though they use the same keyboard.  But yes, learn how to keyboard (or type as we used to say!).  It will serve you well as it did me when I took that typing class more than 40 years ago!


Here is a 21st-century skill that is necessary for EVERY student in school today and for future students:  digital citizenship.  Today's students are growing up in an increasingly digital world where interaction with netizens and information from all over the world is instantaneous.  To be a productive and responsible citizen, you also have to be a responsible digital citizen as well.


Students will need to understand how to be a responsible digital citizen. They'll need to know the protocols for posting someone's or their own private information and the consequences it could engender.  They need to know that posting inflammatory or even innocent information can result in unforeseen blowback.


They'll need to know how to spot unreliable or sketchy sources.  They'll need to understand the differences between opinion, speculation, wishful thinking, gossip, outright lies and HARD, COLD, PROVEN FACTS.  They'll need to learn that was is omitted is just as important as what is included.  They need to know when they're being trolled.  Don't feed the internet trolls.


For that, they'll need to have critical thinking skills that help them spot red flags and photoshopped sources.  They'll need to know how to communicate effectively while understanding that communicating digitally is different than an in-person conversation.  Emojis don't count as body language!

They'll need to know what cyberbullying is and how to combat it.  They'll need to know how to keep themselves safe from online predators and scams.  They'll need to know the procedures for reporting inappropriate and dangerous content.  They'll need to know that's it's OK to let an adult know that their friends are posting improper or illegal images and content.  They'll need to know that their cyber behaviors have real-life consequences at home, at school, and in the workplace.


Understanding and abiding by your school's acceptable use policy are critical to understanding that even in the workplace, employers have the right to terminate employment if they can document that you have violated their acceptable use policy or workplace rules.  Remember, the internet is forever.  Things can be saved through screenshots or cached files making nothing truly deleted from the internet.


They'll need to learn that digital friendships are nice, but having a "real friend" to hang out with in person is more rewarding and crucial for learning how to be a friend.  We need to have people we can depend on in our lives, and a real friend is one of those.

They'll need to understand privacy issues.  How and where information about their online activities is collected and shared.  They'll need to follow the rules for copyright and trademarks.  Just because it's on the internet doesn't mean you can co-opt it and use it for your own purposes without permission.

They'll need to learn how to disconnect from the virtual world and live in the real world so they can realize their potential and not be isolated in a make-believe fantasy world that bears no resemblance to their real world.


Finally, they'll need to understand the power of social media.  Social media is relatively new in the internet age.  It can literally make you famous overnight or destroy you utterly.  It's like the public square of years gone by.  Just like in a public square, social media can give you the virtual key to the city or put you in a virtual stockade for public shame.  Teenagers especially need to understand the power of social media if they are going to be allowed to use it.  Schools need to educate students on the use of social media because let's face it, their parents were of a younger generation and really cannot relate to the power it can yield.


You can agree or disagree whether teaching time on an analog clock, counting coins, learning reference skills and teaching cursive writing are skills worth teaching.  But I think we can agree that the future is changing rapidly and technology is advancing at a rate that outpaces educational reform.  We say we want to prepare students for college and the workforce.  But what will college be like in 10 years when my second graders graduate from high school? What kinds of jobs will they hold?

Think about this.  It took about 40 years to go from the constructing the first mainframe computer to having a personal computer in your house.  From there it took another 20 years to get to mobile computing on cell phones and tablets.  It took another 10 years for it to be common to have appliances and even your car connected to the internet.  Everything in your house can be controlled in the palm of your hand through a mobile device.  So as you can see the rate of technological advance and the use of technology is increasing at an ever-quickening pace.


Taking into account that in five years things will advance even more, what skills should we be thinking about adding, changing, fine-tuning or also eliminating?  We don't want to sabotage our students' futures by teaching them skills that won't be needed.

Share your thoughts about which skills we should add or eliminate completely? Share below in the comments.

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