Assessments, technological advancements, curriculum changes and an evolving society impact the educational scene.
“Technology has opened up the whole world to today’s young people,” said Patty Puckett, Cleveland High School English teacher. “The challenge is teaching students how to handle the tremendous flow of information and opportunity not only with ease but also discretion.”
Puckett has taught in the Cleveland City Schools system for 20 years. Her mother and grandmother taught before her. The changes throughout the three generations are staggering to Puckett.
“My mom had to write an exam out on the chalkboard. She would cover the boards with maps so the other classes did not see them,” Puckett said.
Most children today will not grow up learning lessons on a chalkboard. Activboards have replaced overhead projectors. Teachers can now project information from their iPad to a smart board.
Jeff Elliott, Supervisor of Instruction K-12, said the key to learning now is sorting through an abundance of information.
“A big shift in education is being able to read informational texts. Language Arts classes focus more and more on getting the right information from informational texts [nonfiction],” Elliott said.
Information can be accessed on personal tablets, smartphones or laptops. Puckett said the time frame on research has changed. She and her classmates visited the library to find information students can now download in minutes.
Carolyn Ingram, Donald P. Yates Primary principal since 1993, said ActivBoards completely changed the way teachers taught.
“The children became more engaged. Teachers were able to get children to come forward to interact with the boards,” Ingram said.
Children have grown up around technology. Parents use tablets and smartphones to keep their children occupied. Children too young to be left alone at home can program their parent’s technological devices.
She said technology allows for a certain amount of flexibility in the classroom.
“For instance, a child learning manuscript writing may not be as advanced as his classmate, Little Mary. So Little Johnny has a chance to work on his writing while Mary moves on.”
Students are asked to analyze the data and apply the information to a problem.
“We need to be problem solvers in the world we live in today. In order to accomplish this, we need to learn how to apply critical thinking to issues,” Elliott said.
According to Elliott, technology has changed what is taught in school. Students today are less likely to learn American presidents and state capitals. The information is now readily available at the touch of a finger, thanks to technology.
“We have to take learning to the next level. This means taking rote information and applying it to whatever the deeper issues are,” Elliott said.
Teamwork is being encouraged through project-based learning.
“We have to be able to think and work with a variety of people as we are living in this global society,” Elliott said.
Learning was predominately an individualized experience up until the last five to 10 years. Initially, teachers encouraged students to engage in group work. Now group activities and projects are a part of the curriculum. Educators believe group work will result in more effective methods of problem solving.
“Higher education and industry models utilize a team approach to help students and workers grasp difficult concepts and then produce exceptional products,” Puckett said.
Educators do not want students to be surprised by continued education or careers.
“When you reach upper level college classes there is a lot of collaborative work,” Puckett said. “Certainly when we toured Volkswagen, and other companies, they were in teams for problem solving. They feel like they are getting a better product because more minds are working on a solution.”
Elliott said students must be willing to learn from each other.
“How do you prepare these students to be ready for the real world? They must be trained in both hard and soft skills,” Elliott said. “Students need to learn how to communicate. They need to work as a team and listen to each other.”
Puckett said her son is actively using these skills daily at his job.
“A lot of his work is completed through email messaging. The other day he emailed someone about where they are going to put the new server,” Puckett said. “His emails have to be very precise.”
Effective communication occurs through proper punctuation and on-point communication skills. Assessments on a school, state and nationwide basis are given to determine students’ understanding of the material. Puckett said there are fewer traditional tests as assessments become more popular.
“There has been a whole shift in the testing process. Tests used to be multiple choice, with quick right or wrong answers. The future of testing will be assessments with task-oriented questions,” Elliott said.
Students will begin taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in the 2014-15 school year. Practice tests revealed questions require an understanding of multiple subjects. An answer might require 45 minutes to complete.
“Curriculums in schools have become integrated,” Elliott said. “In all honesty, you cannot separate the subjects from each other. Real life does not separate math and reading when solving a problem.”
Writing has become more prevalent across all subjects, according to Puckett.
“Students have to figure out math problems numerically, as well as writing out how they got the answer,” Puckett said.
She said the new curriculum would have been effective for her when she was a student.
“I didn’t love numbers like I loved words. If I could have written problems out, I probably would have better understood what I didn’t know. A big chunk of the process I was unaware of would have been realized,” Puckett said.
Integrating subjects is part of the plan to give students all the necessary resources to solve problems. Teachers are encouraged to share lesson plans with their associates. Assessments are just as much for the teachers as they are for the students.
“Teachers and administrators’ success is based on their students’ test scores,” Ingram said. “We do what we have to do to get them ready to take the test and they may not be ready.”
She said some students are being forced to take on tasks outside of their ability.
“When I first started teaching, I taught second grade. When a child started kindergarten we tried to do what was developmentally appropriate for the child,” Ingram said. “Now we throw them in the midst of things they are really not ready for.”
Negative side effects result from the early pressure.
“Therefore, this can cause discipline problems and ... children to have low self-esteem when they cannot do what is expected,” Ingram said. “We have gotten away from developmentally appropriate lessons.”
Changes are challenging both students and teachers.
“Teachers have always been used to giving straight math problems, for example. Now it is not necessarily about the end result as it is about the problem solving and how they arrived at their answer,” Elliott said. “What steps did they take to get to your answer? It is just as much about the process as it is the product.”
Administrators and teachers alike are calling on parents to be more involved in their children’s education.
“We used to feel we had the backing of every parent and that parents trusted us to do what is best for their children,” Ingram said. “A lot of it is the result of our economy where two parents have to work. Our parents are just not as involved in their children’s education.”
Puckett said teachers appreciate parent involvement.
“What we love are parents who are involved, aware and supportive of their children. Not every student has that backing, and that is OK,” Puckett said. “Very difficult situations have powerful young people emerge.”
Added Puckett, “It is just like our motto: Every Child, Every Day, regardless of where they come from.”
Elliott said it is up to parents to continue their children’s education at home.
“When students leave the classroom, it is important the dialogue continues in the evening. When they return to school the next day, there is a carryover and they can see how what they are learning in the classroom is important in the real world.”