We Need to Stop Teaching Our Students How to Write.

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Why does it take schools so long to change?

Why do I feel the need to write so many blogs about change?

The answer to the first question is we’ve been allowed to rest on our laurels.  Question number two, I’m either obsessive compulsive or just weird.  Could go either way.

Whatever it is, you have to admit it’s like pulling teeth to get a new idea implemented in education.

Educators growl like frightened cats when they hear the word Change (yes, this is an excuse to use a wacky animal picture in a blog).This Cat Just Heard the Word

Everyone seems to believe that we should teach our students in the same ways we were taught 20 or 30 years ago (I know, I’m dating myself).

Worse, we continue to teach the subject matter we were taught.  To compound the problem, we use the same techniques we learned during student teaching
(can anyone say chalkboard, overhead, and worksheets?).

I’m here to propose some changes.  Again.

Big changes.

So go ahead and growl, hiss, and spit.

Get over it, because as always, we are here for the kids.

Now take a moment to compose yourselves.  And stop crying.  It’s sad.  And pathetic (plus, you don’t want to drip tears on your keyboard).

When I’m done please feel free to tell me what you think. Just keep the cursing to a minimum.

Here we go.

One, we need to get rid of penmanship, keyboarding, memorizing state capitals, and cutback on spelling.

And that’s just a start.

Am I crazy?

Possibly, but more likely I’m just slightly paranoid with some anger issues (it’s all about the proper medication).  But that’s a whole different subject.

Penmanship is rarely used by most adults.  Unless they are signing their name, so spending hundreds of hours teaching children how to make the perfect “Q” in cursive could be a waste of time.

We don’t have time to teach students a skill they will one day use in writing thank you notes.  If they need to produce such a note they can print them (by hand or a computer… I really don’t care).

Keyboarding?  Haven’t we progressed past the point of controlling our students by making them sit straight up and down with both feet on the floor while they type?

I don’t know of any former students who have computer skills and weren’t hired for a job because they didn’t type fast enough or use the proper technique.

Last time I checked, most elementary students know their way around a keyboard.

Let’s just agree the “Home Row” isn’t life or death.  Enough with typing “asdf gh jkl; fall gall hall lass” a thousand times.

Stop with the memorizing state capitals.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again, it was fun in the 1950’s, it can be Googled in 2010.  If you find yourself desperately needing to know the capital of Delaware… look it up.  There’s no need to spend the entire 4th grade year forcing students to learn where Montpelier and Salem are located. 

Lastly, what’s with all the time on spelling?

Do we really need to know how to spell in this day and age?

Can’t we just come close when we are typing and then let the computer correct us?  During the typing of this blog, I misspelled 12 words.  Maybe it’s my keyboarding skills, maybe I’m just stupid.

Either way, it took me 1.3 seconds to fix them.

This is just a start.  I haven’t even gotten to the Periodic Table, poetry, and our obsession with dictionary skills.

Once, we get these things out of the curriculum, schools will have time to address skills needed in this century.

Like foreign language starting in elementary school.

Not as an elective, but mandatory (might I suggest Chinese?).

And computers, computers, computers.  We can’t keep pushing technology skills to the background because Grandma the 3rd grade teacher is afraid her students might break the printer or download a song.

Why is it that it’s embarrassing when we don’t know math, history, science when we stand in front of our students, but it’s okay to be clueless about technology (in the interest of full disclosure I stole this from someone on Twitter and I’m also on steroids so I can blog faster…).

As Ben Franklin said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished”.

And I don’t think any of us employed by a school should be done.

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58 Responses to “We Need to Stop Teaching Our Students How to Write.”

  1. Pam Franklin
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 10:14 am

    About the spelling – you can’t use spell-check if you don’t know which option is the correct choice. My students (LD) can’t even come close enough for the computer to know what they are trying to spell!

    So yes, we do still need to teach spelling – until all computers have speech to text capabilities.

  2. Unklar
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 10:28 am

    While reading your post, I was nodding vigorously until you impugned the periodic table. Just don’t go there, my friend!

    Seriously, you make many valid points. Except the “growling cat” reference. Our anti-change teachers sound (and look) more like cats that have been run over by the changemobile but are not yet roadkill. Instead of growling, it’s more like whimpering and moaning.

    An additional obstacle to change is the fact that districts (like mine) are not upgrading software so that students who do turn in assignments are doing so with current versions that are unreadable by their teachers. When I suggest downloading and installing readers so that teachers can at least “see” the presentations, that’s when I typically hear the “growling cat” sounds. The teachers have finally “embraced technology,” but they are embracing techno-antiques. (Don’t get me wrong, I really like the growling cat picture, too).

    I am encouraged because I found out that our tech peeps are trying out Google Docs and Open Office, but I can already hear the whimpering and moaning (We just learned how to use Word and PowerPoint 2002! You want us to learn something else now??!!!??).

    Unfortunately, the only way out of this that I can see is for the techno-pedagogue-elite to work like |-|377 and then give away our work to our Luddite brethren. Or we could hire more consultants.

  3. Unklar
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 10:31 am

    Oh, I forgot to include my blogsite in my previous post. (If @principalspage can engage in shameless self-promotion, then so can I). :-P

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Unklar, If you don’t Self-Promote yourself… who will?

  4. Greg
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 11:42 am

    I think the answer lies in finding a process that allows students to learn these skills in conjunction with other knowledge and skills. The problem is not teaching keyboarding, penmanship, or the periodic table, it’s teaching them in isolation, as subjects themselves. I memorized the periodic table many times, I learned it during four semester of college chemistry where I used it daily. I’m really wary of this idea that we through out many skills just because a computer can do them faster. We have to make conscious decisions about what the deeper learning is, what the process is.

  5. Tom
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 11:49 am

    I feel like the kid who lives with the mean daddy and his friend has the great wonderful dad. “I wish you were my principal”.

  6. Liberty Rose
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 12:06 pm

    Can I work for you?
    I assume here that you also embrace more effective and current ways to deal with ED kiddos. I am ALL about that… and I am even older than you!
    I think some teachers (me, for instance) cringe when an administrator suggests changes that are not based in what good teachers know to be useful. In my large district we have way too many administrators whose offices are miles away from our schools making really expensive curricular changes without thinking things through. The changes that need to be made are never even considered.
    Biggest change needed? Teacher evaluation!

  7. Neil Blumengarten
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 12:22 pm

    One movie scene keeps coming to mind as I teach, and no, it”s not from Stand and Deliver or To, Sir, With Love, it’s Mr. Miyagi having Daniel paint the fence and wash the car in Karate Kid. Will a kid need to know whether the “I” comes before the “E” in recedive when typing away at the computer? Probably bot, but will they benefit from learning the rules and patterns? I do.

    If spelling is taught just to have the students know the words by rote, then I agree with you. However, my 9th grade math teacher (a subject I had trouble comprehending) said something that’s stuck with me. He said that math wasn’t about memorizing formulas, it was about learning how to think.

    As for the keyboarding, several jobs I applied for had me take typing tests. More than that, if if you type, doesn’t it make sense to learn a way that’s proven to speed up the process, a vital part of keeping up with someone saying something you need to take notes on, like a professor or a boss?

    In terms of handwriting, the teachers I work with are always spouting off facts regarding how cursive writing is directly related to how the brain processes information. I think I might need to listen more and look into this, because if they are right, doing away with handwriting and/or moving towards typing notes may be doing them a greater disservice than critiquing thir “Q’s.”

    I’d argue that some of the things you mentioned might be more important than we originally thought. Just like Daniel, the students might not get it at the time, but eventually the skills they learn will be transferrable to something else in their lives. These subjects should still be taught, but we just need to change how we teach them.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Neil Blumengarten, Anyone who can work the Karate Kid into a comment… has my undying respect.

    Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off.

  8. Ann Carnevale
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 1:31 pm

    I have to respectfully disagree with you on the topic of keyboarding. If we’re not teaching handwriting, then students will be on keyboards to produce information. If students are on keyboards, they need reasonable speed in order to produce products. Without keyboarding instruction/practice, instruction time is wasted on hunt and peck. Do they need to sit up straight and tall, and type 30 wpm by the end of 5th grade? No. But, students need to be able to type faster than they write in order for production of written products to be effective using a computer. Hunt and peck doesn’t cut it; it frustrates kids. The thoughts they have in their head disappear by the time their fingers can find the keys. The instruction time it takes from other topics, when kids can’t type faster than they write, doesn’t magically reappear during the day.

  9. cw
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 3:13 pm

    I respectfully agree with most of your curricular suggestions, but respectfully disagree with your assessments of teachers and their willingness to embrace change. We are no better or worse at doing so than members of any other profession. We DO become frustrated at watching the educational trend pendulum swing back and forth for no apparent reason. If you explain a logical need for change, most of those you are leading will line up right behind you.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @cw, You are so right.. the educational pendulum does swing back and forth for no apparent reason.

    We have to guide it in the right direction.

  10. Maureen Tumenas
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 3:45 pm

    Hopefully you are simply making suggestions of what to throw out of the curriculum in order to provoke a dialogue on what skills/content are important to education.

    Do kids need to memorize math facts? They can use the computer or a calculator, but what core knowledge and understanding do they need in order to successfully navigate their world? I don’t think we know the answers to this question in any subject matter. Do they need to know how to spell? If they are reading good literature, they will pick up spelling, but if not? Does it matter? I think it does. Spell check is not the answer.

    I currently teach in a lab-grades 4-9. Yes, I still do keyboarding instruction 10 minutes when they come in. Does it make a difference- you bet it does.I could not have the kids using docs to collaborate, using the many web 2.0 tools available if they were still typing 5 wpm as most are when they first begin. I tell them that 20 wpm is the pain threshold. After that, it will be ever so much easier to almost anything online.

    What content should stay? Whatever cannot be googled? I think your answer is far too simplistic. Should these skills be integrated into what and how kids learn- absolutely. Finding out how to add skills to an overpacked curriculum is a challenge that deserves more thought than – let’s throw out x, y, and z. How about looking at essential questions in the subject/content and working backwards? Do we even know what the essential questions are? Why we teach what we teach, never mind how we teach it? Are you reaching out to all educators? Do you know what is taught and how at your local elementary schools? Where is the foundation laid? How are elementary kids being prepared for MS, HS? How can any changes be system wide and also be flexible?

    Not a snarling cat, but annoyed when well intentioned admins simply throw out challenges.

  11. Elona Hartjes
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 7:14 pm

    Like the idea of keyboard instruction for 10 minutes at beginning of my Learning Strategies Class next semester. Too many students are hunting and pecking since the school dropped the keyboarding class for grade nines.


  12. Sarah
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 7:32 pm

    The problem with calling for the end of spelling instruction is that spelling has become one of those vague terms–do you mean learning spelling rules (that are so often broken) and writing out words multiple times? Then I agree. Effective word study, on the other hand, incorporates many spelling lessons as kids learn to read words and then move on to reading sentences and paragraphs smoothly and fluidly. Especially for younger students, spelling can tell us much about how they are reading. Maybe it is time to end testing (though not assessing) spelling as an isolated subject and recognize that spelling is a part of learning how language works.

  13. Candace
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 8:11 pm

    What an important conversation that must take place on a grand scale. What skills still count and which ones are now irrelevant? How do we know?

    I teach high school English so my answer is instinctively that we don’t have much to memorize because application, analysis, and synthesis are all that matter.That and understanding how to effectively find the information, which in general, has replaced the need to learn how to memorize the material. And yet, I do wonder about the lower grades. I rely on my students’ past experiences and exposures to certain basic ideas of grammar and literary terms and in doing so, I avoid redundant memorization activities. But if all of their teachers from K-8 acted in this same way, what deficits might those high school students struggle with?

    What criteria can we use to sift through the immense data of the information age and decide what should still be taught in the Google Era and beyond? If students didn’t learn some basic blends and sounds, they might never quite figure out how to read new words. If they never learned their multiplication tables, it might be very difficult for them to do any math on paper (still a worthwhile skill, I would argue, since for me- math is fundamentally about the problem solving process).

    GREAT post and you’ve already had such insightful comments. Thank you for bringing this discussion to the table.

  14. Diane
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 8:23 pm

    As long as we still teach the difference between “your” and “you’re”…

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Diane, I”m still stuck on to, too, and two.

  15. Dominic P. Tremblay
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 8:26 pm

    Some students have writing skills that are so poor, even the spell checker and grammar checker cannot recognize the words and suggest the proper spelling. For that reason, basic spelling and grammar skills are still a must.

  16. Steve J. Moore
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 8:59 pm

    Great post, thank you!

  17. Glen Westbroek
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 9:13 pm


    Once again, you have provided a great explanation behind your thinking. I just shared the entire blog post with three college age boys. Everyone agreed with the entire post. As a science teacher, I’m right behind you in dropping the memorization of the Periodic Table! (There’s an app for that!)

    As a side note, a local public school just began a Chinese Immersion program. Had more students who wanted to participate then they had space for! I’m all for learning multiple languages.

    I agree that memorization should be eliminated in most cases – let’s get our students to the point where they are thinking more deeply about their own learning. Many will want to explore topics more in-depth when given the opportunity. Over the past few years, I’ve worked to increase the opportunities my science students have to share their learning in different ways.

    I was recently surprised when a student came back from High School and said: “I did not appreciate how much you did to make class exciting and allow us to show our knowledge in different ways. In high school, all my teachers just want me to read and answer questions from the textbook. I really enjoyed doing science and trying to figure out how to show you what I learned last year. Thanks you so much”

    I commented to others a while ago that the most important things taught can’t be googled. Thanks for including the idea in your blog. In my opinion, if you can google the answer – the question must not cause you to think very deeply.

    I hope that together we can prepare and move our students in to the 21st Century.

  18. Ronnie
    on Jan 17th, 2010
    @ 11:01 pm

    I totally agree with you. I was sitting with a former teacher one day and she was appalled that the students she was tutoring did not have “excellent” dictionary skills. She said she had been working with these students every day after school to improve their dictionary skills, because she thought it was so important to be able to look up the spelling of a word. I myself was appalled at her statement. I politely mentioned that today’s student is different from those of 20 years ago and technology has changed the “basic skills” students need to be taught for their future. I mentioned that with the Internet and Internet capable phones a student can Google any word imaginable and get the spelling, pronunciation, origin, antonym and synonym in less than 0.12 seconds. I also went on to add that students also no longer need to learn certain types of information that was once memorized like state capitals, when they can now be “Goggled”. She paused for a minute and said, “I still think they need to be able to look up words in the dictionary.” I think I was heard, but she just didn’t want to see that the world has changed and education and what we teach our students should also change.

    Excellent post!!

  19. Carl
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 12:03 am

    Left a response on my blog.


  20. Warren Purdy
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 3:31 am

    Hey Michael – I haven’t written for a while – I’m no longer a Principal – now an educational consultant in Qatar and advising their Principals about change. Interesting that the seven leader standards that the Qatari Supreme Educational Council have published has one on Leading and Managing Change. Cool eh. I led a PD session on this – the introduction of which is on my rebranded blog (in Arabic as well if you feel so inclined). They didn’t quite get the use of the Michael Jackson song but, unfortunately, Qatar doesn’t have an international media star with a song about change that I could have used.

  21. Pamela
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 7:19 am

    I have this discussion with many other educators Since, I am working toward a degree in educational technology. I’m not sure where the problem lies, is it with the teachers, administrator, or unions. How do we call for a reform of our educational system? Here’s a bit from a paper I’m writing that seemed so à propos.

    Technology can actually assist with some of those expectations and make teachers and their students more successful. However, as the world becomes more complex, now, virtually year-to-year instead of the generation-to-generation pace of the last century, educational needs continue to shift from a system that designed to created an industrial discipline and provided a workforce for an industrial age economy (Toffler, 1980) to a system that enables students to solve complex problems across many areas and disciplines. Instead of teaching and learning isolated skills and information within each specific content area, educators must prepare for a technology-rich future. Toffler stated that (1980), “The literate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, relearn, and unlearn.” Educators must prepare for a technology-rich future and keep up with changes by adopting effective strategies that infuse lessons with technology.

    This makes the need for authentic assessment even more important: Assessments must keep pace with effective instructional technology use and not use paper-and-pencil tests to access student learning. Educators at every level, but teachers especially, need to continually and actively pursue professional development that enables a lifelong exploration of ways to enhance using technology in teaching and learning while supporting education reform. In an interview, discussing education reform, Alvin Toffler was asked what he would do if he became the head of the U.S. Department of Education. After discussing how our education system was developed in the 1800s when most children worked on farms with their parents, he referred to a quote made by Bill Gates that said, “We cannot reform our education system, we must replace it.” Toffler then commented that he has been saying that for years. Has anyone heard him?

  22. Raphael Mudge
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 7:53 am

    @Michael, @Pam I’m an inventor and not an educator so take this comment in that context. Good writing skills including proper spelling and grammar should be taught. Society judges us on how well we communicate. I work on an advanced tool to check spelling and grammar and know the limitations of the technology. These technologies will not turn a poor communicator into a competent one. Good writing skills are still important. I’d venture to say it’s valuable to teach the skills the technology assists with and then make children literate with the technology.

    Proofreading software is great at assisting writers and will make them more productive but they still require the user know the limitations of what the machine can do. LD students should know the top suggestion given by the computer isn’t always the best one because computers “guess” the word based on what the student typed. Next generation spell checkers (the area I work in) use the words surrounding the mistake to make a better guess about what belongs. It’ll be a few years before something like this is in Microsoft Word though.

    Also most proofreading tools do not bother to look for misused words (principle vs. principal), writers are on their own to know which is which. There is some progress in this area. Some technologies look at each word and guess if another word is a better fit. If it is, they make a recommendation. My software does this too but again this technology will never be 100% accurate.

    The technology is progressing, it will improve, but students should learn a healthy respect for the limitations of the tools they’re using.

  23. Pamela
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 10:19 am

    Raphael- I don’t disagree with you and that not what I am saying. I’m just saying we can’t reform the current system… we need to replace it. That doesn’t mean that “basic” skills will be forgotten. The students still need a basis for information. but no longer should subjects be taught in isolation. For instance – English skills are used across all disciplines so why is it only taught in Language Arts or Communication? ALL teachers should be taught to integrate technology in all parts of the curriculum. No longer should excuses be accepted. Tenure should be dissolved. Teachers need to prove themselves just like people in the corporate world. Do you job or get fired. Adopt technology or get fired. People need to read where our educational system came from and then maybe they would understand.

    Toffler says traditional institutions are in crisis because they are designed to meet society’s needs in a time of smokestacks and factories. “Institutions like public schools were designed for the Industrial Age, when a pyramidal bureaucracy was considered an efficient form of organization.” Institutions such as schools mirror the social and moral values of the society around them. At the same time, society looks to these institutions as guides on what values to hold dear (Toffler, 2006). As institutions fail, the society that looks to them for guidance loses its grip on social and moral values. Institutions fall deeper into crisis since they also rely on society for a bearing on what values to embody. It is part of a vicious cycle.

    Many people warn of the possible harmful effects of using technology in the classroom. They ask questions such as, “Will children lose their ability to relate to other human beings?”, “Will they become dependent on technology to learn?”, and “Will they find inappropriate materials?” The same was probably said with the invention of the printing press, radio, and television. All of these can be used inappropriately. All of them have given humanity unbounded access to information which can be turned into knowledge. Appropriately used, interactively and with guidance, they have become tools for the development of higher order thinking skills. Inappropriately used in the classroom, technology can be used to perpetuate old models of teaching and learning. Students can be plugged into computers to do practice known as “drill and kill” that is not so different from workbooks. Teachers can use multimedia technology to give a more colorful and stimulating lecture. Both of these have their place, but some teachers still need to learn how to employ technology in the classroom.

  24. ZeroTX
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 11:18 am

    I understand the lack of desire not to teach repetitive spelling. That being said, poor spelling is indicative of poor education and ignorance. I’d rather my students didn’t look uneducated and ignorant. I also don’t believe that you can teach grammar in context alone with no talk of rules.

    I’d be happy if we just teach students that “barely” is not a synonym for “just.” As in: “I barely got to class.” “Really? Because I didn’t see the samurai warrior in the hallway who almost prevented your entry into class by lobbing your head off and thus necessitated the use of the word ‘barely.’”

    Then again, if you don’t believe in keeping any of the old, they also won’t know what a synonym is.

  25. SC
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 12:08 pm

    Hey, thanks so much for posting this original and unique article.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited education blogs from Google and they’ve got nothing on them but ads and information that’s unereliable.

    I don’t normally comment on blogs, but I just thought that I would drop you a line and tell you that I think you’re doing a fantastic job.

  26. Ellen
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 4:10 pm

    Students must use the tools given them… actually use the spell check … mine do not….

  27. Dave Meister
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 4:28 pm

    So should we quit using flint on flint sparks to start fires? What if we run out of matches? I am not sure I want to give up my root cellar just yet. You never know when you might need some ground cooled, salted venison! Leave it to these crazy educators to stop teaching our kids the important stuff like the Palmer Method! Why just the other day I saw a person using one of them fancy electric slide rules! What if there is no electricity……Back to basics! Enough of this falderall!

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Dave Meister, Quite possibly the greatest comment in the history of PrincipalsPage.com.

    Well done.

  28. Marti Sides
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 5:31 pm

    Another great blog post. You always make me laugh. No where else can I find educational humor like I can here, so I shared your blog with my entire staff today.

    On another note, I agree with you about change. I had a discussion with a co-worker today about the morale of the school. I mentioned that I do a lot of the things that I do because it’s what’s best for our kids. Until I made that discovery for myself, I wasn’t entirely happy with the things I felt that I was “made” to do. I think that once teachers realize that it’s about them (the kids), and not about us (the teachers), real change will begin to happen.

  29. Niki Harvey
    on Jan 18th, 2010
    @ 6:32 pm

    I totally agree with what you are saying. I work at a virtual school and I have to say the parents of my students are obsessed with everything you just mentioned. Here is a pretty close to an exact quote “what is wrong with the way we learned it”

    I do think that as long as a student has reading down they should know how to spell or be pretty close to it. As a teacher very interested in technology I think what is important is to know how to find the information and I do not mean finding it in a book but finding it virtually. I don’t care if a student knows how to use a paper dictionary but I do show my students how to find a free dictionary/thesaurus online and how to utilize the information there and why it might be helpful. I also show them the trusty thesaurus in word because it is easy to use and as an adult you should know how to use that function.

    Oh and as a side note I did spell one word wrong and safari let me know and it helped me correct it.

  30. Scott McLeod
    on Jan 19th, 2010
    @ 6:40 am

    Neil Blumengarten cites the teachers who say “math [isn’t] about memorizing formulas, it [is] about learning how to think.” You hear this often. This would be fine if our students were actually taught to THINK in math rather than simply doing practice problem after practice problem after practice problem after… Our current methods of teaching math in most classrooms (and a variety of research and policy studies) belie the claim that our students are learning how to think mathematically.

  31. Nathan
    on Jan 19th, 2010
    @ 7:51 am

    You hit the nail on the head. The point you make about handwriting is exactly right. The only thing I write is notes for myself and if I can’t read them then it is my problem!

  32. Alicia Kessler
    on Jan 19th, 2010
    @ 11:28 am

    Hmmm……memorizing….even Brittany needed to KNOW the lyrics to lip-sync. I pride myself on being able to use memorized lines from Caddy Shack, Christmas Vacation and Forrest Gump nearly everyday. What if memorizing isn’t about rote facts, but about brain growth. If you read tips on how to stave off dementia and Alzheimers, memorization is always listed. I got the unique pleasure of going to my Grandma’s New Years eve party in the dementia ward at the ‘Home. There’s a glimpse in the possible future nobody wants to see.

    1985 was the last time anybody asked me to recite the Preamble to the Constitution. But I’m not convinced that the brain power it took to learn it was wasted.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Alicia Kessler, Britany… Caddyshack… Christmas Vacation… Forrest Gump… and the Preamble all in once comment.


    But where is the love for Ferris Bueller, Anchorman, and A Christmas Story???

  33. SEO
    on Jan 19th, 2010
    @ 12:20 pm

    Good post. I’ll look forward to your next entry/blog.

  34. TLC
    on Jan 19th, 2010
    @ 5:38 pm

    Well, let me just say that my Grade 2′s can hardly wait to learn cursive writing. It is hugely motivating and exciting for them. They love cursive writing! At this time of the year they are already starting to show me their ‘writing’, as in “Look, I know how to write my name!” with an accompanying series of loop like printing. Then I know – it’s time. And they adore handwriting lessons and take such pride in their new skill.

  35. Alexander (Sandy) McDonald
    on Jan 19th, 2010
    @ 5:57 pm

    You make an excellent case for no longer teaching writing, and it is one I have made myself on many occasions!

    I am conflicted however, re: research results that illustrates a connection between cursive writing and cognitive development and cursive writing and writing ability.

    The most winter 2009 – 2010 edition of The American Educator has a feature on this topic, and I have read several other reports of similar results. If we stop teaching cursive (as has happened a fair bit already) what will we replace it with to make up the learning that does not occur?

    Those are great questions to reflect on though….


  36. Angie
    on Jan 20th, 2010
    @ 8:43 am

    Wow! You got a lot of responses on this one! I’ll also throw in my 2 cents. I’m a former high school English teacher. Here were/are my beliefs: if students use something long enough and thinks it’s important, they’ll memorize it; spelling tests suck, you only learn spelling in context; a love of reading only comes from reading books you love ,not from some lady telling you to read The Scarlet Letter because it’s a classic. I love 2 things that really get to the heart of change. One is a document called The Saber Tooth Curriculum, and the other is a video called I Teach, Therefore You Learn…or do you? I would have memorized the URLs to provide here, but you can google it.

  37. Bill Gaskins
    on Jan 20th, 2010
    @ 3:32 pm

    Great Post! Thanks for writing this and I have enjoyed all the comments….

  38. Jenny
    on Jan 20th, 2010
    @ 6:31 pm

    I think keyboarding in the traditional sense could go, but when I took keyboarding it was part of a Computer Applications course that also taught us how to create a website and use Microsoft Office. I think what will become more important is the type of computer skills we teach. We need to be teaching students how to use the Internet in a thoughtful and discerning way. The teacher I student taught under would show the students how to research and plan for a pretend vacation to another part of the world. She would research cost and options for the trip, as well as the weather so they knew what to pack, and information about the country so they could decide where they wanted to visit. It was such a real-world experience of finding the right information on reliable sites.

    I think spelling is often taught in a rote memorization, meaningless way, but our spelling lists are organized by sounds (oa saying the long o sound, for instance). I think especially as students learn to read, this is extremely valuable for them to learn patterns, especially beyond simple phonics.

  39. Tracey Schepman
    on Jan 21st, 2010
    @ 7:33 pm

    You mean handwriting…I’d like to continue to teach writing…and I mean composing…Also, the way I look at it spelling instruction is very helpful to learning to read – especially if you are a student to whom reading isn’t coming naturally. I do like your general point however. Sure got me thinking:)

  40. Anne-Marie
    on Jan 21st, 2010
    @ 8:52 pm

    I totally agree that we need to get rid of penmanship, and you’d be surprised at how many parents disagree with my disregard for it (I teach grades 5/6), but I think proper keyboarding is essential. I also think we need to hang on to grammar and spelling, just like we need kids to learn basic math facts- you can’t figure out spellcheck if you don’t know enough to make the appropriate choice, or as someone else said, your spelling is so atrocious that the machine can’t recognise what you’re trying to do. the difficulty in any situation is learning how to learn is all well and good, but you need some general knowledge to interpret facts, and you need enough judgement to know when the machine is wrong. It’s not quite so simple.

  41. Tim Fennell
    on Jan 27th, 2010
    @ 2:43 pm

    I like your blog & I agree with almost everything you wrote.

    I disagree about schools/teachers reluctant to change. We’re very good @ changing. We change rooms, mission statements, administrators, class rosters, instructional emphasis (Assertive Disc., Madeline Hunter, Mult. Intelligences, Constructivism, etc.). We can change at the drop of a hat. What schools don’t do well is improve.

    If you want teachers teaching 21st century skills & you want students to learn 21st century skills in the classroom then how about we assess students in their ability to USE 21st century skills? Instead of state tests that require students to know a lot of content, how about we assess their ability to solve problems by accessing information on-line & using it to accomplish a given task. For example the state test might ask students to create a website that would be used as a portfolio of their work. This site must have certain components that are listed in a rubric. Or solve a hypothetical buoyancy problem that requires the use of numerous science sites to acquire all of the information necessary to be successful.

    If you change the state standards then you can really change classroom instruction because teachers have to teach the standards that are supposed to be assessed by the state tests. If on-line problem solving becomes the barometer used to determine AYP I guarantee that technology will take a front seat to spelling & state capitals.

  42. Mark Pennington
    on Jan 30th, 2010
    @ 4:29 pm

    We do need to teach grammar explicitly. I’ve just completed an article citing 21 assumptions that most of us make with respect to teaching grammar and then I follow with 4 simple steps that ensure you are teaching a balanced and effective grammar program. I would love to read your readers’ reactions. Find the article at http://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-to-teach-grammar/.

  43. Tracie Schroeder
    on Feb 2nd, 2010
    @ 7:03 pm

    Brilliant. You are my hero. I am so on board.

    So how do we change it?

  44. Tracie Schroeder
    on Feb 2nd, 2010
    @ 7:14 pm

    I would also like to know how you get those random avatars to show up in your comments :)

  45. Sarah Vaughn
    on Feb 2nd, 2010
    @ 8:57 pm

    Wow! There’s a lot to think about in your post. What I find interesting about 21st century education debates is the discussion about what to drop. Do we need to “drop” things to make our students ready for the job market and world they will be entering? I believe we need to be careful about what we choose to drop. We ask why keep teaching subjects like grammar and spelling when students will have spell/grammar check to do that for them? It’s the same argument we have with using calculators-why teach math facts if students can use calculators? I would argue our students need to know/understand the concept before they use a tool that aids them. Spell check fails, grammar check fails, if students don’t know how to spell or don’t know basic grammar rules, how will they learn a foreign language? How will they discern that a suggestion from the computer is incorrect? I am very pro-technology, but see it as a tool. We need educated students to use this tool well!

  46. Monna
    on Feb 5th, 2010
    @ 11:17 am

    This Business Ed teacher/corporate trainer agrees with you. I’ve seen engineers sit crosslegged in a chair typing with 8 fingers at speeds up to 70 wpm. Once it might have raised my blood pressure, today it just makes me smile.

    Yes penmanship helps the brain; however, most skills that are repetative such as keyboarding, piano playing etc pattern the brain in very similar ways.

    Kids today multitask; maybe that is how we should be teaching them.

  47. Christine Ontko
    on Aug 20th, 2010
    @ 7:23 am

    Loved reading about all these changes that need to happen in our schools. I’m glad I’m not alone with all my “crazy” thoughts.

  48. Manley
    on Sep 30th, 2010
    @ 11:34 am

    My wife and I love the blog. Keep it up. :)

  49. writing bid proposal template
    on Jun 19th, 2012
    @ 2:27 am

    It could have been Denis Diderot who is often attributed with saying the quip – I can be expected to look for truth but not to find it.

  50. Child Care Courses
    on Apr 10th, 2013
    @ 11:41 pm

    Many stages in children development and in every stage they learn a lot of new things. So Some students have writing skills that are so poor, even the spell checker and grammar checker cannot recognize the words and suggest the proper spelling. For that reason, basic spelling and grammar skills are still a must.

  51. Cyril Branck
    on Sep 11th, 2013
    @ 5:09 am

    I wanted to say this is in my best blog list! Cheers.

  52. Gretchen Gingell
    on Oct 21st, 2013
    @ 9:51 pm

    Also as, in order to make our childhood memories seem stylish and occurring, ” hoola-hoops are now hulu hoops, according to auto-correct.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.