Education Myths: Part 2
Education Myths: Part 2 looks at PLNs, Handwriting, and Class Size myths.
1. All you need is a PLN.
Personal Learning Networks, PLNs, have been overwhelmingly accepted and successful, hugely because of the ease of social media participation that can be achieved today. PLNs are certainly far better than passing an idea to another educator in the hallway, or at lunch, or at a small team meeting, or a fully-packed faculty meeting. I have often called PLNs global teachers’ meetings.
Technology, in the form of handheld devices, has allowed educators and school leaders, anywhere and everywhere, to form larger learning group networks, Sometimes those networks are where thousands participate—and share. Like any learning group, choosing those members for a Personal Learning Network shouldn’t be about numbers, but rather about building a team of trusted, knowledgeable learning members. You don’t need a large PLN to do that. Remember, too, that everything shared by PLN members can’t be considered correct. It is impossible for every member in any group, no matter how knowledgeable, to present a perfect view on everything. That really is why PLNs are great. You can gather members in a variety of fields, with a variety of expertise, as mentors and personal advisors.
That word advisors is important. If you think that all you need is a large PLN, you’d be wrong. PLN members offer advice, but it is up to you to determine what is important, makes sense, and furthermore decide whether it is true to your own beliefs, values, and education practice. Think and decide what you offer, take, and pass on, just as you would if those PLN members were across the hall, or in the same school or district. Read that tweet, and check that link before re-tweeting it. There is nothing wrong in treating every PLN interaction as a face-to-face conversation, or meeting. Beyond gathering a PLN, understand your responsibility as the captain at its helm.
2. Handwriting has no purpose.
More and more, we hear that teaching handwriting is a complete waste of time. The fact is that the amount of time teaching handwriting most likely hasn’t changed for at least two centuries. With so many things we need to squeeze into an already full school day, and even more new things added each school year, should we stick to teaching handwriting? Do we continue more because it’s tradition than a productively reasonable use of learning time?
Let’s be clear, writing is not handwriting. While our attention span and learning modalities have certainly gone from the printed word, to audio, and now to ever-diminishing video minutes, writing is still necessary. To be fair, writing can be done as well, as fast or faster, and in most cases, in a digital way, with better readability. There is no need to go beyond deciphering letters, their sounds, and their meanings; is there? Why should students learn to transcribe those things into the chicken scratching results of most handwriting teaching? After all, this is the age of electronic everything, including signatures, right?
While handwriting will most likely not go away, it is time to take a look at modifying how it’s done, as well as how much of the day educators and students use to do it in the traditional pencil to paper way. If you think of how often the written word is actually written in the old-fashioned way, it doesn’t add up to much at all. We are, it seems, closer to paperless than ever outside of schools. Is it time for education to catch up, again? And should handwriting become more of an elective subject, because it is really an art when done well. That said, can’t we do that with digital touch software and touch pens now, too? The only thing that may be difficult is hanging student writing on the refrigerator, or maybe its creative use in a holiday card. But, again, there are digital ways to do that, too.
3. Class size makes no difference.
One of my favorite researchers, and a real teacher advocate is John Hattie. His research is understandable even for those who don’t like reading research. That said he believes that class size has very little effect on student learning, because at smaller class sizes teachers tend not to change their teaching styles. On that, we disagree.
Most of us with any age remember teaching classes with 30 students, and many of us went to school where up to 40 students sat jammed into rooms to learn. That factory way of homogeneous learning was supposed to be better than local one-room schoolhouses with many levels of students, but it really wasn’t. One-room schoolhouses teaching many levels at one time had the advantage of fewer students, and while a class could be taught together, individuals could be taught as well.
Anyone, who has actually taught, knows that there is a fine line between the number of students you can teach, and the number of students you can teach well. Cross that line, and there is no amount of teacher scrambling, or student grouping, that can make the learning or the numbers work better. We know that teaching styles need to change to accommodate larger numbers of students taught in large classes, just as teaching styles need to change for fewer students.
Teachers can productively do more with fewer students in a class, because there are more teaching and learning options possible. Larger class sizes are as difficult to maneuver as a battleship, while smaller class sizes are wonderful maneuverable PT boats for learning. If you stop just at class size, and don’t even consider the creative possibilities, or anything else, it will be clearly evident that fewer students have the chance to be passive learners in classes of smaller size. Truly, just the management, in whatever style of teaching used, within an over-populated classroom, is a daunting task. Larger classes lend themselves to lecture style, while smaller classes lend themselves more to personalized learning and collaboration. Ask teachers; they know.
Editor’s Note: Please read 3 Education Myths: Part 1
(Reading, Technology, and Homework myths).
About the Author
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.