Traditional Teaching versus Modern Technology

Introduction

We’ve come a long way with teaching since the days of single wooden desks, chalk boards and children arduously copying out chunks of text from text books; and yet, I wonder, should all traditional teaching methods be consigned to the past?

Of course, everyone (especially teachers) will have their own point of view, and I’m not entirely sure that there is a definitive answer. It’s intriguing though to see how things have changed over the last fifty or so years.

 

Schooling Done the Old-Fashioned Way

Confession time - yes, I actually did go to a primary school where we had single wooden desks with lift up lids! Perhaps there are schools that still have them now, but they do (for me at least) evoke a feeling of nostalgia and of times long gone. I actually still rather like the idea. They probably weren’t very hygienic; certainly not as easy to clean as tables, but your desk was your own private little island. It was somewhere you could store all your pens, books and bits and pieces and, for the time you were in a class, it provided a sense of continuity and security.

I digress: what I’m really saying is that having been a child in that kind of environment, I’ve seen first hand how much and how rapidly things have changed in education over a number of years.

So, this is how we learned things back then: Teachers did indeed write on chalk boards (I’ve done it and it’s not easy) and we did have text books for almost everything. There was no such thing as a photocopier, so those were essentially the only ways that information could be shared with a classroom of children.

We learned our tables by rote, and most of us knew up to 12 x 12 by the time we had completed year 2. Move on a generation or two and learning tables fell out of fashion, which meant that many children in those years never learned them at all. How important they are for learning maths in general is another discussion for another time, but I still know mine inside and out; I don’t think I would be anywhere near so confident mathematically without them.

English was essentially learned through lots of reading and lots of writing: spellings, again, were learned by rote. As I’ve mentioned, there was a great deal of copying from textbooks and, without photocopied sheets, children were expected to write out questions in all subjects before then writing the answers. We also did lots of drafting. You wrote a draft and you wrote another draft. Then you wrote your story, or whatever it was, out in BEST! Looking back, I think it was a pretty laborious way of doing things - but, still, there is strong evidence in all kinds of learning that repetition can be extremely effective.

‘It is not the simple statement of facts that ushers in freedom; it is the constant repetition of them that has this liberating effect.’

                                                                                              Quentin  Crisp

We still explored specific history and geography topics and pretty much had the same kind of breadth of academic curriculum as schools have now: I think though there was probably quite a lot missing in terms of personal and social education, which I guess we were just supposed to absorb by some process of osmosis.

What I think was definitely better from a teacher’s point of view, was the autonomy to teach in a way that followed where a class led you. Lessons could be more readily dictated by the seasons, or festivals, or any current, exciting event. Nowadays, curriculums are so full and so prescriptive, and require such a huge volume of planning and paperwork, that it’s very difficult to tack in a different direction from the one painstakingly detailed on each weekly plan.

Perhaps this all sounds a bit rose-tinted and lovely, but actually I think there were lots of flaws. The greatest of these, in my opinion, was the fact that all children learned all the same things in the same way. There was no real understanding of different styles of learning, or indeed of learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyscalculia.

Modern Technology

Now, in modern times, learning is far more child centred. Teachers work incredibly hard to present learning in a variety of ways, so that children with different learning styles can fully access the curriculum. There is also a much greater understanding of many different types of learning difficulties that can slow, or impede children’s learning, ranging from slow vocabulary growth to trouble distinguishing colours and shapes. Children have access now to all kinds of technologies that can help to overcome these difficulties. Different coloured glasses, for example, can help children with the perceptual processing disorder Irlen Syndrome, and radio aid microphones can be worn by teachers to help support pupils who wear hearing aids.

Most schools now have class sets of iPads, which have proved to be invaluable for children to use for things like research. There is also a wide range of software to help children with everything from learning their times tables to finding out how the digestive system works. For some children, interactive computer programs allow them to access learning they might previously have been unable to engage with.

Probably one of the most transformative and useful classroom tools for teachers is the smart board. The first time I taught in a class with one of these installed, my heart sank; I didn’t think there was any way I was going to master such a complex piece of technology. Luckily, the year six children I was teaching at the time knew exactly how it worked…

Now, many years on, I can see the funny side and, as with so many modern-day inventions, I wonder how teachers ever managed without one!

Conclusion

I began this article by saying that I wasn’t sure there was a definite answer to the debate of traditional teaching versus modern technology; if I’m honest, I think there are good and not such good aspects to both. I think perhaps today’s children may have lost some of the learning stamina that goes with drafting and redrafting things the way we used to: I think, too, that perhaps they lack the sense of pride in a piece of work laboured over and produced to the best of their ability. However, technology has opened up a whole new world of information literally at children’s fingertips. For some children, particularly those who don’t respond well to more traditional teaching methods, modern technologies have transformed the learning process into one they can much more readily access.

In the current situation, too, with schools closed by the coronavirus pandemic for the second time, technology is proving invaluable to help keep as many children as possible engaged in learning. So, perhaps it’s a case of working with the best of both - after all, our children have an amazing capacity to learn.

Stay safe and well and look after yourselves in these difficult times.

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