For the past three years I have attended and presented sessions at a conference held at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut. Entitled “Literacy Essentials”, this conference provides a day of learning for preservice and in service educators that is focused on what is most essential in terms of literacy instruction and learning. Key principles of literacy learning provide the underpinnings for the keynote sessions and each breakout session. There exists a common understanding of what is most essential in literacy learning, and upon that foundation, new ideas and new tools are layered. This conference and others like it demonstrate that deep and meaningful change can take place when core principles are retained. To prevent fragmented teaching and learning, change must sit on a platform of what is most essential.
In schools, too, we need to layer change on a foundation of what is most basic, most critical, most essential for student learning. With the dizzying degree of change currently taking place in schools, it is imperative that we take stock of those things that don’t change, those learning essentials that will never change no matter who’s in change politically, no matter what technology comes along, no matter what new educational laws are passed. While some things do and should change, other aspects of educational systems remain the same. These essentials can help to ground us. Here are a few essentials that educators can cling to in the sea of change.
Aspects of Teaching and Learning that Never Change
- Students need adults in their lives who care about them and who will help them to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. As educators, we can be certain that this will always be the case.
- Child development never changes. Children and adolescents go through predictable stages of development, and it’s important for educators to respect students’ needs at each stage of development. We neglect this principle at the peril of our students.
- Learning is a social activity. Students need to work together much of the time. Teachers do, too. We can build any changes onto this cornerstone.
- Children need routine and novelty. Predictable classroom structures and routines help to support learning. Novelty stimulates interest in the midst of a predictable structure. Learners need both.
- Students need a “just right” amount of challenge to stay motivated. Work that is too difficult leads to frustration. Work that is too easy leads to boredom. As educators we need to pitch it just right.
- Students need choice – as much as possible in as many aspects of the school day and the learning process as possible. Building in student choice will never go out of style.
- Students need to read a lot. Much of what they read should be of their own choosing. (see #6)
- Students need to write a lot. Much of what they write should be of their own choosing. (see #6)
- Students need to engage in problem solving a lot. With peers. (see #3)
- Technology is a powerful tool for learning. It motivates students, it creates opportunities for learning that never existed before, and it gives students audiences for their learning which make their work relevant and useful. The technology we use will continue to change, but its power to motivate will not.
To maintain our equilibrium as educators, we need to hold onto those aspects of teaching and learning that never change. Doing so can stabilize us intellectually and emotionally and can provide the structural underpinnings of an educational framework that will support the changes ahead.
Jacqueline Leathers has worked as a classroom teacher, a Reading Recovery teacher, and an adjunct instructor at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire. She is currently the reading specialist at Alton Central School in Alton, New Hampshire.