Some Old School is Good School

Learning & Teaching MethodsI confess. At my school, we do some things that are very old school.

I follow what’s happening in the profession very closely. I read with interest what educators around the world are doing. I note that old-school approaches are often assumed wrong, not by research but by opinion.

These are exciting times in education, and there is a lot of room for new tools and strategies. Technology has made much that was impossible possible. Project-based learning, flat classroom projects that connect students around the world, and emphasis on 21st century stills like collaboration and inquiry are welcome progress. I love reading about how educators around the world are using these new approaches, and love bringing much of what is new to our school.

I’m also compelled to be a voice that says there is value in some of what schools used to do. The evidence is in the students, and the fact that a restricted array of approaches will never be sufficient for all. Schools must include all that has recently shown promise, plus remember all that used to have value, and then apply them all according to the needs of each student. So, in addition to all the current practices at our school, what old-school ones have we found also meet student needs?   We teach reading in many ways, but one way is through what’s called Direct Instruction, which is teacher-directed, and is the highly specific teaching of phonics, decoding and comprehension. We teach printing and cursive using a resource that is also specific to the skill, and we use it for six years in a row so that writing has a chance to develop alongside keyboarding skills. We teach math facts until students are fully fluent, allow minimal use of a calculator, and teach math concepts with clear step-by-step instruction. We have exams starting in grade 6, and put a significant effort in teaching students how to prepare for this significant challenge.

Teaching all students well requires open-mindedness to an unbounded array of tools and practices. It requires deep knowledge of each student, reflective practice, knowledge of quality research and the evidence of experience. That needs to be read more often. Whether old-school or new-school, if it helps students, it belongs.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.