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Observations of an Old Fogie

I am somewhat older than the average teacher, especially those who have "only" 7 years experience as a certified or licensed teacher. I add that caveat because I, like many others, spent 5 years as a substitute, or, as they say Down Under, casual, teacher while I was getting my degree and certification to become a classroom teacher. The majority of teachers with 7 years experience are 30 or 31 years old. I have children older than that! Some of my students call me "Grandpa" or "Abuelo", depending on their heritage.  In fact, our oldest grandson is turns 20 on Friday. At any rate, I remember what it was like to learn from a student's perspective back in the "old days" of the '60s and '70s education system.

One of the things I recognize is that, although the methods of delivery have changed, and significant changes in our understanding of how students learn have developed, the actual pedagogy has not. The skills are the same, the desired outcomes are the same when we get to the basic outcomes we want, and, at the most basic levels, the delivery is the same. The difference is our understanding of differentiation for different modalities, and the technology we use. I still give the same first writing assignment of the year my teachers gave: Write a narrative about your summer vacation. Why? Because we build on success, and what could be easier to write about than your own experiences? Certainly, at the middle school age, nothing is more important than yourself!

Cheech and Chong are now laughing.

The Easier We Make Things, the More We Lose

Let me say that I am in awe of younger teachers. I don't know what your "Gen" classification is, be it X, Y, Z, Millennial, or whatever (obviously, I don't even know what the classifications are!), but your ability to grasp and utilize technology is so blindingly fast in comparison to us "Boomers", that at times it's like watching an episode of "Star Trek" (the original, of course) melded with "The Twilight Zone". Things we thought of as pure sci-fi has become your reality. And it continues to accelerate. But, that brings new challenges.

Modern students, including some of today's younger teachers, have become so technology dependent that they have lost some skills that society, thanks to technology, seems to believe are now unnecessary. Who cares if you cannot write in cursive when everything is done on a keyboard? Who cares if you cannot spell "before" when it has become acceptable to write "b4". Are you crying at the loss of these skills, or "lol'ing" at the old man's lamentations? And why is this important?

Our students today expect everything to be on a screen. Many feel that there is no reason to learn to read because everything is available in audio, especially with reader apps like Read&Write for Chrome. Why learn to write when they use keyboards; why learn to spell when there is SpellCheck?So we are faced with the challenge of making these skills relevant. Not to us, but to them. It used to be "write a five paragraph essay"; now, it's "create a Google Slides presentation". No what I find really interesting about this? No matter how much easier we make it to produce the end product, we still hear, "It's too much!"

Instilling the Desire to go "Old School"

So how do we instill the desire in our students to want to learn what may now be perceived as either obsolete or near-obsolete skills? It comes down to a single word - modeling

As we model for our students the different skills we use, we begin to instill this desire to learn and do these skills. I believe that there are a few of reasons for this, none of which necessarily deal with the skills or learning styles.

First, our students become curious about how we are decoding or encoding information. As we model how to read, hopefully we are not sounding like Ben Stein's character from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"..."class, anybody, anybody, Bueller...". I remember my mono toned  teacher from high school - for all the wrong reasons. When truly fluent reader reads, we scan ahead unconsciously, and we add the inflections of the upcoming punctuation marks - and our students are amazed! Why? Because without that modeling, everything they read is in a monotone...and therefore monotonous. The same when they watch us write in cursive. 

Second, most of our students want to connect with us as much as, or more than, we want to connect with them! I know, it seldom seems this way, particularly when we are desperately trying to build those connections at the beginning of the year, but it is true. Why? EVERYONE wants role models. This is why Rap and un-Reality stars become so important to our kids. Those stars WANT to be our kids' role models. And if you remember back when you were their age, what your role model did, you did, or tried to do. That's why I started smoking when I was 5 (Hush. I quit a few years ago.). It was a different culture back then - the Surgeons General's warning wasn't even issued yet.

Third, our students like to show off, either quietly by always having the best grades without drawing attention, or loudly, sometimes literally yelling, "Look at me! See what I can do?" Don't believe me? Next time you are reading a novel aloud, fake a raspy or sore throat. Ask your most obnoxious kid (as long as they can read with some fluency) to read while for a couple minutes so you can rest your voice. They will copy the tones and inflections, and attempt the accents if you do different ones, for the different characters that you use. Some will think they are mocking you. They may even pretend to be mocking you. But, secretly at least, they are showing off their ability to read as well as you.

Finally, humans are social creatures. Even when we are immersing ourselves in technology, we are doing so in a social manner. Duh. Social Media. Also, mmpg's are THE thing in online gaming. Ever watch a kid play "Fortnight"? Have you ever played? Either way, I'll bet friends were involved and conversations were flowing. Well, learning is the same thing. Everything we have ever learned had some basis in social interactions. Even the "lone hunter" has social experiences in their hunting of big game. For some, those experiences were when they learned to hunt from parents, grandparents, or other family/society members. For others, it comes from the after-hunt bragging session, often over a drink with other hunters.

Proof is in the Reading

Even this blog is social, and it is teaching and learning. We are interacting. You are learning what I believe and some of what I have experienced in life. Here's the rub - I would love to hear (and learn) your ideas on this subject! Please, comment. Let me know. Politely, of course...

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