Reinventing Education or Status Quo? Debate 3

A quick recap of Monday night’s heated debate on Schools should no longer teach skills that can be easily carried out by technology (e.g., cursive writing, multiplication tables, spelling). The agree team, Sushmeet and Leah, argued that we should eliminate teaching skills such as cursive writing, spelling and multiplication facts that can be done easily with technology. Some of their key points included: it is convenient to use technology to complete these skills, technology improves accuracy (spell check/calculator) and by eliminating teaching skills such as spelling, cursive writing and multiplication, it would allow teachers additional time to focus on higher level thinking/problem solving. The disagree team, Alyssa, Kelly, and Durston, argued that we need to continue to teach these skills as not everyone has access to technology and students require an understanding of basic skills to scaffold learning. They also provide a number of specific examples that I will discuss in more detail below. 

Similar to previous debates, I can see valid points on both sides of the argument. I think there is value in teaching students multiplication facts and spelling patterns but I also see a value in teaching and encouraging students to use technology, such as spell check and calculators.

Cursive Writing 

This may be an unpopular opinion but I do NOT see the need to teach cursive writing in schools today. I tried to keep an open mind while reading the article “What We Lose with the Decline of Cursive” by Tom Berger but it wasn’t enough to sway my opinion. The article discussed how cursive writing can improve fine motor skills, but I would argue fine motor skills can be improved in a number of different ways (painting, playdough, puzzles ect). The article also noted that cursive writing may be beneficial for students who are dyslexic. While I can’t argue if it is or isn’t beneficial, I can say that in my 15 years an an LRT, I have worked with many students with learning disabilities in writing and using technology is always recommended. We know our students futures will include technology and I think time is better spent teaching students typing skills rather than cursive writing.

Multiplication Facts

Unlike cursive writing I do think teachers should spend time teaching students their multiplication facts. As the disagree team mentioned, knowing multiplication facts is helpful for students as they progress to more advanced math. Having an understanding of multiplication facts is also an important life skill. As adults we use our knowledge of multiplication facts while cooking, shopping, budgeting, often without even thinking about it. While I think it is important to teach basic multiplication facts I also think calculators have a time and place. In my role as an LRT I have worked with many students who despite instruction and even intervention are unable to memorize their multiplication facts and require a calculator to be successful. As Stephen mentioned during our class discussion (he works at an adult campus) when adults are struggling with math, providing them or encouraging them to use a calculator is often the best course of action. Honestly if I have a multiplication question over 12 I am probably going to double check it on a calculator. Why? Because it’s convenient and accurate (two points the “agree” team made). 

Spelling

I have mixed feelings on spelling. The agree team and the article “Does Spelling Still Matter – and If So, How Should it Be Taught” highlighted the importance of spelling on resumes and for businesses. Both noted how a resume with poor spelling may be automatically rejected and how spelling errors can be costly for companies. The article also mentioned that spell check software is far from perfect. Personally I think spelling words or spelling patterns should be taught but I am not fussy about the traditional weekly spelling tests. I also don’t agree with using grades from spelling tests towards a student’s literacy grade, a debate I’ve had more than once with colleagues. Weekly spelling tests are a better reflection of a student’s ability to memorize, than their ability to spell. Spelling is not my strong suit but I have a great memory. I aced spelling tests as a kid but if I was asked to spell the same words a week or two later….not a chance. Okay back to my stance on spelling! While I think spelling or better yet word work should be incorporated into a teacher’s literacy program but I also think we should be teaching students how to use technology as a tool to assist with spelling. One thing I used to do in my LRT role “pre-covid”and hope to get back into, is going into classrooms teaching all students how to use Google Read Write. Often tools like “talk to text” or “prediction” are only taught to our LD kiddos when in reality they may benefit many students. I know I use “talk to text” all the time!!

There are loads of great tutorial videos on Google Read Write

Within David Middelbeck’s Ted Talk “Re-Inventing Education for the Digital Age” he discussed how education hasn’t kept up with technology, which is completly true. Technology is changing rapidly and change in schools & curriculums happens at a much slower pace. David Middlebeck stressed that we need to re-invent education for the digital age and while I do agree, I also think there is value in teaching students skills that technology may be able to replace, including spelling & multiplication. Another great debate! Another indecisive blog!

Tracy – Team Agree & Disagree

The most dangerous phrase in our language is, “we’ve always done it this way.”

Grace Hopper

8 thoughts on “Reinventing Education or Status Quo? Debate 3

  1. Tracy, great recap! I agree with you in that I struggle to see the importance of cursive writing, especially in today’s age when that form of writing is hardly used. I do beleive that there is value to teach students or stress the importance in being able to print in a way that others are able to read what you have written down. In terms of mulitplicaiton tables, again, I agree with your stance. It is these basic skills that need to become automatic especially when students are progressing into more advanced math classes. If they have to spend time using tech for basic calculations, are they really using their time as efficiently as they could be? Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Yes I completly agree that there is value in teaching students to print legibly! Tech is not always available and students need to be able to write in a way that others will be able to read. I have to say I think my own printing has become less legible and less formal as I don’t print nearly as much as I used to.

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  2. Hi Tracy,

    Great summary for both sides. I have the same mixed feeling about spelling. Since English is my second language, when I learn English, the majority of my time is focused on memorizing the spelling of words, 10 thousand words! We have many books that listed a massive amount of words that we need to memorize. I am not sure how children whose Enligh are their mother tongue, how do they learn words? Does it through the “talk to text” process? I feel this could be an effective process for learning words. Great post!

    Echo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Echo,
      I think children whos first language is English learn to spell new words through exposure (seeing the words), instruction and practice. I know in K-Grade 3 there is a lot of focus on letter sounds/patterns/rules. Usually we introduce Talk to Text around Grade 4. It is usually introduced when students are stronger orally but struggling with the written component. I am sure you know this first hand but English is a tricky language to learn. There are so many exceptions to the rules and sight words that often follow no rules.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cursive writing was a tricky topic in this debate, for sure. I wish it would read as penmanship, rather than just cursive writing even though cursive writing appears in the Saskatchewan curriculum as early as Grade 3, and is quite heavily focused upon in Grade 6 outcomes (3 in total). I didn’t realize that in the medical world, according to Nicole W, nurses and doctors are required to be able to read cursive writing as one of the skills in their jobs. This was interesting to me. I guess the debate shows that we may not really know what our kiddos need for the future, but setting them up with basic skills is important to build higher-level thinking and to use those technology tools properly and efficiently.

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    1. I have to admit I did not know cursive writing was in the Grade 6 curriculum until the debate! It will be interesting to see if it remains in the curriculum. You’re right we really don’t know what students will need to know in the future but technology will surely play a role.

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  4. Thanks for a great post Tracy.
    I feel that cursive writing is important as it improves hand writing of students. Moreover, this can be build as their profession in later life. If I keep motor skills aside, practicing cursive writing brings out the creativity out of students. On the another hand, a basic foundation is required for maths before moving to technology. No doubt tools like Desmos makes maths interesting but I feel kids should know tables, addition, division to some extent.

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    1. Thanks Amanpreet for the reply. There are lots of opinions on cursive writing. Out of curiousity do you use cursive writing as an adult? I can read and write cursive but I never use it. Even if I am writing a cheque now I tend to print. Just seems to be more natural for me.

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