New Dogs, Old Tricks

When you were in elementary or middle school, do you remember memorizing word roots and multiplication tables? Did you ever have to practice your handwriting or read out loud to your classmates? While many schools and teachers have started to phase out these teaching practices in favor of new 21st-century skills like collaborative problem-solving and critical thinking, new evidence suggests that those old school tactics were on the right track after all.

Drill exercises like memorizing Latin and Greek roots may seem old-fashioned, but as Suzanne Kail found in her classroom in Ohio, kids who learned them began connecting word meanings more easily. Once they knew the basics, they were able to better understand vocabulary in context, allowing many of them to score better on the SAT and Ohio’s state graduation exam.

The terms “parrot technique” and “regurgitation” are commonly used to disparage these old teaching techniques, with the implication being that we’ve moved past these skills as a modern culture. Despite this belief, researchers have studied the higher math scores of Chinese students and determined that their ability to quickly recall basic math facts started with that old saying: practice makes perfect.

Another old-fashioned skill that has started to disappear from classrooms, handwriting, is being replaced by typing classes. While typing may very well be a useful skill in the workplace, studies have shown that writing practice better engages young children’s minds and improves their ability to recognize letters.

So, before we all start to panic that our kids don’t have critical 21st-century skills, let’s sit back and learn lessons from our predecessors. The basic skills that made American education great in past generations will continue to serve our children well, and those skills are best taught with tried and true methods. After all, there’s a reason that we all still say practice makes perfect; it’s true. Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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