No more teachers’ dirty looks! Did Alice Cooper know he was predicting the future of education with this song? It appears that the future is finally here . . . well at least the transition to it. Check out what New York City Schools are thinking is best for their students in the following article.
While I agree with Beth Greenfield that “teachers have been building lessons around textbooks forever,” this has not been the preferred practice in Texas for years. Why, you may ask? The short answer is that no textbook covers the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills adequately. Now don’t get me wrong, we do have textbooks in Texas, but they are used intermittently – a chapter here, some practice problems there. I personally have not even asked a student to crack a textbook open in over four years now. My students are required to have a three-ring binder for class in which we basically build our own textbook from the variety of resources we use. Even my primary source of instruction is completely online requiring me to login to print worksheets as well as view instructions for projects and group activities. An advantage to this is materials are updated on a regular basis (no more glaring mistakes in millions of copies of the same book that cannot be updated without a revision and reprint). My grade and subject matter actually went through a textbook adoption two years ago, and our campus chose to use ONLY the online textbook and not order the book-based version, mainly because we knew the textbook would not be our primary source of instruction. Plus, the online version has a valuable advantage over hundreds of pages bound together; I am able to access “virtual laboratories,” short content videos, leveled reading materials, worksheets, and vocabulary games. I am able to pick and choose which activities we will and will not use because, like any textbook, a large portion of the content does not focus on what I am suppose to teach.
Ms. Greenfield offers many advantages and disadvantages to the tablet replacing the textbook debate citing numerous websites and experts. What I find most interesting is the statement made by LeiLani Cauthen, vice president at the Center for Digital Education, that “there has been a pushback over tablet plans because of fears it could lead to learning from home, through virtual classrooms.” Adults have been experiencing the blurring of the lines between work and home for years; it seems inevitable that this trend will work its way down to our children’s home and school boundaries. But the idea of virtual classrooms and a “placeless” education has its own pros and cons. Allow me to share my personal views on the traditional classroom vs. virtual classroom debate.
Imagine how much money can be saved by not building schools, not outfitting them with furniture and equipment, and not spending on utilities and maintenance – enough to buy every child in America a computer as well as internet service and rights to learning materials, I can assure you! Also consider how easily lessons and activities can be tailored to the learner based upon their learning styles and ability levels; I foresee the days of grade-level placement based upon age going by the wayside faster than our society can prepare. The flexibility of time the virtual classroom offers has already been embraced by colleges and universities worldwide, and family life is becoming just as “schedule-crazy” as college life has been for decades (do you have a color-coded calendar like our family does). From a parent perspective, the idea of minimizing the multitude of unnecessary activities modern schools thrive on and maximizing the learning process is most appealing – have you ever thought about how much of your child’s time is wasted walking from one place to another, waiting for other students to finish an activity before the entire class can move on, and attending assemblies about the next school fundraiser? From a teacher perspective, eliminating discipline issues and limiting classroom management problems is also appealing – children could spend more time on their studies rather than worrying about being bullied, being distracted by their classmates’ behavior problems, and feeling as though they are not getting the individual attention from their teacher they crave (proponents of homeschooling use some of these arguments as well).
Believe it or not, traditional schools do more for children than teach the “three R’s.” A “placeless” education can produce a disconnect among real people creating a multitude of social skills issues – how do children learn how to interact with other children, by interacting with other children! Some school subjects require students to be physically in the same space; for example, physical education, sports, band, choir, theater, etc. The benefits of these team-activities are well-known and would disappear if we take the school out the education equation, which goes back to the social-skills argument (not to mention, put my husband out of work). Consider the socio-economic factors that plague so many of our students; 65-70% of my district’s students receive free or reduced lunches, and we actually provide free breakfast to any student who wants it no matter their socio-economic status. I fear millions of children would never eat if we take breakfast and lunch away from them. How about parental accountability – society cannot deny that children are being abused and neglected; this is why we have government agencies such as Children’s Protective Services. Teachers are the first line of defense for many children; we are trained in the warning signs and required by law to report possible suspicions. Again, I fear for the child who NEVER steps foot out of his abusive home and looses hope that “things will get better” if no one other than his parents lays eyes on him and advocates for him. This brings me to my last argument – the fact that children still must be monitored even if they are learning from home. Just considering my family’s personal situation – both parents work outside the home just to pay the bills and our children have been attending childcare or school beginning at just a few weeks of age – my husband and I would still have to have jobs, and we are certainly not going to leave our five-year-old at home alone only to be monitored by a teacher through a computer and internet connection! So I hope my readers can understand that while I am a proponent of the virtual classroom, I also see the other side. In my eyes, the transition to “placeless” education can only occur once these disadvantages can be overcome with creative solutions and society can free itself from the agrarian-based school calendar we have come to rely on.