September 17, 2010

Bells and Whistles: Approach with Care

With all the resources and technology now available to almost every educator, it’s easy to get caught up in what I call the Bells and Whistles Myth - the misperception that only expensive innovations and the most “cutting edge” methods will do when it comes to providing students with a solid education.

To be sure, young people today need skills most of us never considered as students. For example, they must learn to discern fact from outright falsehood when doing Internet research. Plus, it’s essential that they understand how cyber-plagiarism is just as unethical as “good, old-fashioned,” print plagiarism. And, whereas we composed, revised, and edited our papers by hand and typed only the final drafts, it’s more efficient to provide the technology for today’s kids to do that all on computers.

However, we needn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. In other words, we ought not discount a resource or technique just because it’s “old” or inexpensive; our measure of a tool’s educational value should be how effectively our students learn with it…not its copyright or price tag.

For example, a local district recently spent several million dollars outfitting every classroom with a “smart board.” They have amazing technological capabilities, but most teachers haven’t been adequately trained in how to use them – so the boards are simply glorified, very expensive overhead projectors. And worse: administrators have communicated the belief that smart boards can “fix” all the kids’ “learning problems.” But they’ve forgotten the human connection – that it’s teachers, not technology, who teach. Thus, in my opinion, the smart board is one of the dumbest investments that district’s ever made.

Similarly, I invested in a very pricey, “all-inclusive” literacy program when I began teaching my daughters to read in our home school. It was bright and fancy and came highly-touted in home education publications. So, I reasoned, it must be “good.” However, new wasn’t better; my girls didn’t come close to learning to read, despite all the bells and whistles. But what did work was a set of delightful, plain phonics readers published by…the Amish! The content was sound, and the methods meshed with my daughters’ learning styles – all for less than $30 a year!

And that’s what it comes down to, really: no matter where we teach, we need to realize that we teach students – human beings. So we need to commit to finding the most effective methods that actually work for real children in the real world. Sometimes that will mean trying something new or spending a bit of money; other times, though, the tried and true – even if it lacks one bell or whistle – is still the best option. Our job is discernment.

Photo Credit: Hirsute Ursus


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AAHHHH - Don't get me started on stupid boards. Yes - paper, pencil, good books, being an apprentice to Mom and Dad. Come on people, simple is so much more affordable!

Below is what started my anti-smart board snit.

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