Debate #3 teams definitely delivered! I will admit I am surprised how heated this debate got as this topic didn’t seem like one that you would peg as having people be uber-passionate on both sides. I will say I am more so a disagree-er on this topic, but it all comes down to which things we are talking about and in what ways (I’ll elaborate on this later on).
We use technology now anyways, even though we grew up learning these skills
I’ll admit, this one definitely got me the most. I was always a student who excelled at memorizing things like multiplication tables and dictées (French spelling tests). For me, this memorization “strategy” was really the best way for me to learn. Thanks to this I easily learned my times tables and how to spell many, many words. This helped me greatly throughout my school years. However, as I have gotten older some things have started to drift away (those darn 6,7,8 & 12 timetables). Although I have a good base, I still often will whip out my phone to double check my math and make sure I was right. I will not argue against the fact that A LOT of people rely heavily on their devices and technology for things such as their calculators and spell check.
The survey results that our classmates gave definitely supported this point. This was a nice touch to add for the pro-team’s debate!
Technology allows more time to learn meaningful skills as it takes less time to complete other tasks
The idea presented here is that since we can use technology to complete certain tasks (in this case things like spelling and basic multiplication) and this allows up more time to develop more meaningful skills. An article by Forbes supports this point with an article in which Tony Wanger discusses that the “knowledge that children are encouraged to soak up in American schools — the memorization of planets, state capitals, the Periodic Table of Elements — can only take students so far. But “skill and will” determine a child’s ability to think outside of the box.” Essentially, the agree team is presenting the idea that inquiry-based problem solving and these critical thinking skills are more essential to students than knowing the basic skills that can be carried out by anyone. Wagner concludes this point by saying that “There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.“
Technology is already an essential presence in our daily lives
The agree team presents the idea that tech is so present already that education needs to follow suit with these changes. Mason, Shaw, and Zhang (2019) support this idea by saying that we need to “consider the changes that are occurring in society, and the required response of education to these changes and the impact of this on individuals and communities. As societies evolve and adapt, so education systems and approaches also need to change and adapt.” However, even thought we have had many discussions and there are many articles on how schools need to be restructured (take this TED talk by Steve Hughes as one example), it appears that technology is not always a solution to this. I feel at this point we must ask ourselves if technology can replace all of this basic skill learning in a way that is enough to redefine and reform out educational systems? I think not.
There were a few other points mentioned by Sushmeet and Leah such as more timely/less biased feedback, as well as technology allowing an environment which increases curiosities. Although these are good points in relation to tech being useful, I am with Kimberly on the idea that these points don’t really support the idea that schools no longer need to teach basic skills.
Spelling skills are crucial
Spelling is something that was very widely taught in the past and has begun to fall off the map a bit thanks to the introduction of spell check and autocorrect. Many people now consider the need to spell well obsolete. However, the introduction of these tech tools has not improved people’s abilities to write and spell correctly. Pan et al., (2021) compared some different studies on the rates of writing errors and they found that a 2008 study did not have very different results compared to a 1988 study, as well as other studies completed decades before. This article’s finding support the idea that “spellcheck and autocorrect, though clearly capable of eliminating typos and other obvious spelling errors, are not foolproof” and “those aids do not guarantee appreciably better writing.”
Technology is not always reliable
I feel that I don’t even need to formally cite articles to support this idea that the disagree team presented. As someone who works for Regina Public Schools, I have very much experienced this exact situation over the last two weeks. We continue to be unable to access email and the internet at school, for the most part. We are also limited to being able to photocopy/print from a paper or USB (an improvement form last week when we could not copy or print at all!). This just goes to show that technology isn’t always an option and it will not always work the way it is supposed to.
Mental math & the process of learning are important
Another point presented by the disagree team is that mental math as well as the process of learning (knowing the steps, not just the outcome) remain vital in order to have success in mathematics. Paul Bennett points out that an April 2021 report by the Fraiser Institute indicates that “Steep declines have been registered by students from Alberta (- 38 points), British Columbia (-34 points), and Saskatchewan (- 31 points)” according to the PISA assessment. Bennett’s article points out several factors that may have contributed to these trends such as : the increased use and reliance on calculators, the use of exploratory approaches rather than skill based instruction, and a lack of mental math skills which are all leading to student’s not “[having] the skills at hand to engage in problem-solving and higher-level math.” During the debate, Kelly also pointed out that the connection to the basic skills is often memorization (multiplication tables, basic addition facts, vocabulary etc), but that we are teachers are not saying that mastery has been achieved simply because a student has memorized something. Instead, this memorization and understanding of basic skills allows students to have the foundations they need in order to achieve and understand high level thinking. This base becomes more important as students progress through the mathematics curriculum.
Durston, Kelly, and Alyssa also presented many other interesting points during the debate. They touched on how the assumption that technology will carry these skills enhances the ever present digital divide + equity gap, as well as how cursive writing has been shown to improve coordination, reading, and helps with composition as it allows people to write at the pace of their thoughts. These are just a few other important points to consider when weighing this question.
As I mentioned previously, I am more so on the disagree side. While I do think that the agree team presented some solid ideas to support their side, I think that there is still a very strong need for people to be taught, and understand how to execute many of these basic skills. As a teacher, I can see the struggles that many students have in math as they are getting older and moving in to some more complex topics. The students who lack the basic understandings of things such as simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division concepts are struggling even more. It is painful to watch a student spend 5 minutes doing a math question because they need to count on their fingers or draw out 8 groups of 9 to figure out the answer to 9×8.
As for spelling, I do not teach it in the “old fashioned way” of giving students a list of words to memorize before a test. I found that doing so did not help most students actually learn to spell. Many times, they would just memorize the words, do the test, then forget them completely. Instead, we focus a lot more on the sounds that we are hearing while we are writing and discovering which ways we can make these sounds. Since I teach in French, we focus a lot more on our French spelling than our English. Our division released new training this year with a book called Scénarios pour mieux écrire des mots which has been really useful for introducing sounds to students and helping them to identify them when reading and writing. Our division has planned out which sounds will be completed during which grades in order to help make sure students are getting the information at the right time. I have noticed some improvement in my students’ understanding since starting this program.
Finally, the cursive writing. I think this is the one that I would be able to give up the easiest. I often do cursive writing at the end of June with students, but it is more so for fun. I didn’t like cursive writing growing up and have turned my quick writing into some type of my own mash up of cursive + printing. My students are often very excited to learn cursive writing and I do think that it is important for them to be able to read it, however there is just so much to complete during the year that I am fine with it not being a mandatory thing in our curriculum.
What do you think? Do you encourage your students to memorize their times tables? Is cursive writing taught/used in your classroom? How do you go about teaching spelling with your kids?