Monday, May 13, 2013

Do We Need To Go Back To Teaching Our Kids The Basics?

Today, I was appalled as I read the front page of my local Newspaper.  The article was titled, "Are our kids still learning the basics?"  It went on to say that many parents are unhappy about the lack of weekly spelling test, grammar worksheets and multiplication time table sheets.  That students need more "drill them" activities that they don't get at school anymore.  

Will only drill and pain and repetition make our students good spellers?  When I was in school, I was afraid of making spelling mistakes.  I remember getting my papers back with red slashes through all of my work and feeling that sinking feeling of despair because I felt that I was not a good speller.  

In my classroom, I encourage inventive spelling and we celebrate our efforts in sounding out and spelling our words.  Instead of drill and kill in my classroom, we learn about spelling patterns and hypothesizing about words through word games, word activities on our iPads, and reading and questioning vocabulary.  Spelling is a developmental process and if we continually correct our little ones they won't want to try.  We focus on our ideas in my classroom rather than if the words are spelled correctly.  This has resulted in grade 1 and 2 students who love to write.  They see writing as fun and purposeful and know that we save correcting our writing pieces to the pieces we are going to publish.  When we do spelling corrections we do them one on one or in small groups and talk about why certain words are spelled that way. Students also learn strategies to help them spell words for the next time they write that word.  
Instead of spoon feeding my students, they are active learning participants who love to read, think, question and challenge each other.

Just today, I brought in 2 jars with tadpoles.  Within 5 minutes of sharing what I brought in, I had at least 15 books on frogs spread across the carpet and students were researching how to take care of tadpoles.  They were making connections, questioning, inferring, determining importance and synthesizing information while being engaged and working on a real life question that was important to them.  As the nutrition bell rang, my students kept working because they wanted to make sure that we knew how to take care of our new tadpoles.  In half an hour they knew how to feed them, learned about how to replace the oxygen in the water, the life cycle of the frog and showed their thinking by making lists, webs and blogging their findings.

Now, Instead of our inquiry about tadpoles, I could have gone over a list of 10 to 20 spelling words and had them write them out 5 times each or had them write them in a sentence in the same amount of time.   However, I think teaching kids to think and foster the active use of knowledge is a lot more meaningful and important. 


  1. Kristen,
    I love your last line - "teaching kids to think and foster the active use of knowledge is a lot more meaningful and important." SO TRUE!!! Spelling tests and math drills only help those students who can memorize quickly, without any actual meaning behind it. The question is, do we need to go back to those "basic skills" at all or can we always teach those same skills differently - with inquiry and exploration?

    I so appreciate the way you teach/facilitate learning in your classroom. You allow your students to follow their interests while you fold the curriculum within. You have a class of thinkers and wonderers and they're only 6 and 7 years old! This will be a huge asset for them as they continue on their academic journey.
    Thanks for sharing,

  2. Kristen,
    Thanks for sharing this blog post! I think a lot of teachers want to be where you are but aren't sure how to get there...feeling nervous to take the leap and teach differently. They need a "wing-man" to support them!

    I think many parents have the idea that their child/children should be schooled the way they were-which speaks to more of the "scared learner" you saw in yourself!

    Thank you for taking the risk to be different and put learning opportunities into the hands of future generations, giving them chances to think, grow and learn to become productive global citizens!

  3. Kristen, I absolutely agree with what the other teachers have shared here. I feel the same way as well, and sometimes I've had parents question my decision not to do weekly spelling tests or multiplication/division drills. What's helped build conversation and understanding is looking at the curriculum expectations with parents. I show parents how memorized spelling words and math facts are not curriculum expectations. Instead I show them how I'm going to have students learn about word patterns and apply what they've learned in class in meaningful activities that promote higher level thinking skills. This is exactly what you're doing here!

    Thanks for doing all you do!

  4. Children learn better when they make use of several intelligences at once, in my opinion.