Foundational learning – are essential skills being sacrificed in the modern classroom?

February 9, 2021

Daniel Bal

How do we define the modern classroom, and how does it differ from classrooms in previous decades? The classroom has evolved to incorporate digital tools that are reshaping the educational process. With one-to-one initiatives, the utilization of virtual learning, and technological skills being introduced at an early age, how is the learning process impacted, and what are the detriments within this reimagined classroom?

As the digital age exponentially progresses, the drive to prepare students for an increasingly technological future has taken center stage. It is vital for the educational system to adapt its practices to prepare students to thrive in the 21st century. However, is it possible that as our classrooms attempt to prepare students for the future by focusing on newer areas of study,  that they’ve failed to address certain foundational skills that are equally tantamount? Have we begun to assume that students are mastering certain basic skills elsewhere and, therefore, it is the responsibility of schools to focus more on digital literacy? To adequately prepare students, schools must become more versatile.

Technology should be treated as a tool rather than a replacement for the fundamentals of education.

 

Yes, it is crucial that we provide students with an opportunity to experience subjects that have recently come to fruition due to our evolving society. These new 21st century skills  are essential for our students’ future success. Nevertheless, if we can’t also provide them with a diverse skill set, it will become increasingly difficult for our students to truly become well-rounded individuals with both academic and social skills. There’s no denying that technology will continue to drive our educational, professional, and social world. Instead of having it supersede our basic educational practices, it should complement what we already teach. Technology should be treated as a tool rather than a replacement for the fundamentals of education.

What overall impact does the digital age have within the classroom?

As the modern classroom continues to incorporate technology into the curriculum, the academic focus shifts toward the concrete rather than the abstract.  This doesn’t mean that classrooms that focus on 21st century skills are failing our students.  The tools we use, and the ways we teach, need to evolve. However,  care must be taken regarding how we fit these skills into the curriculum.

Can today’s students read, write, communicate, think critically, analyze abstract concepts, and create new and unique ideas?

 

If our focus in the lower grades shifts too much toward digital literacy, are students then lacking the skills that they should have mastered at a young age? Teachers are constantly attempting to find ways to incorporate the old and the new – literacy and digital literacy. Can today’s students read, write, communicate, think critically, analyze abstract concepts, and create new and unique ideas?

As students access more information and their studies increasingly revolve around the digital world, it is essential for educators to incorporate these fundamental skills to drive the educational experience. Further, educators must teach students how to apply that information to new and unique situations.  To truly benefit from their time in the classroom, students need to recognize how the skills of the past can help enhance the skills of the future.

What foundational skills should continue to play an important role in the modern classroom?

Creativity

The development of a creative mind should be one of the main focal points within our educational system. This helps students develop the ability to look at information in a unique way, which is  important as technology makes information more readily available. With just the click of a mouse, we have access to centuries of knowledge. However, this ease of access can actually be more detrimental than advantageous.

The number of people who can access this information continues to rise, and this can lead to an increase in competition. If as a student I have access to the same information as another student, how do I set myself apart? What makes my knowledge better than someone else’s who has the exact same information? How can I use the same information in a new and unique way? Here is where a steady focus on the foundational aspects of learning come into play.

One of the core areas to focus on is the benefit of both concrete and abstract skills. With curriculum revolving more on science, technology, engineering, and math, there is an emphasis on ideas that are more concrete in nature. When it comes to concrete facts and figures, you can either recall the information or you can’t. The issue is what to do with the information once it’s recalled? How can students apply it to new situations or unknown problems? This is where the skills students gain from reading take hold.

 

Reading

How can the study of literature help students enhance their creative skills to complement their developing digital skills? Having access to information increases student knowledge, but not their experience. Literature allows readers to live through secondhand experiences; it provides a window wherein they can observe the consequences of certain actions and behaviors. The ability to track the progression of a character, predict the outcome of a conflict, and piece together the abstractions created by universal themes all assist in the development of critical thinking skills.

Literature analysis as a means to interpret the real world is a passive skill to master.

 

Literature analysis as a means to interpret the real world is a passive skill to master. For students to truly benefit from the critical analysis gained from reading, the ability to communicate that information becomes an increasingly vital fundamental skill.

 

Communication (writing and speaking)

The benefit to ensuring foundational skills remain the backbone of our educational system culminates with our students’ ability to effectively communicate their ideas. Regardless of the information they have access to or the new skills they learn in the modern classroom, if this knowledge cannot be effectively presented, then it lacks any practical use. The development of even the most basic of writing and speaking skills needs to occur in tandem with the updated educational practices. When evaluating how communication should continue to play a role in the classroom, the focus should revolve around both expository and persuasive reading and writing skills.

  • Expository

As the classroom evolves to incorporate 21st century ideas, students must be able to absorb the information and communicate it in a clear, concise way. Whether it is through speech or composition, being able to recall, comprehend, and accurately convey complex ideas is a precursor for more advanced analysis. The benefits of being able to convey relevant and accurate information is applicable to countless future endeavors.

  • Persuasive

As society expands and new ideas are created, the modern classroom can be detriment if students limit where they find their research. With students having open access to information, it’s important for them to be able to evaluate the validity of the material. Although technology has opened many doors, students need to understand that research can also take place without the use of modern tools such as the internet.

With schools embracing virtual learning, students may lose the ability to include relevant information not found online. To identify the important information found in a physical text, encompasses students really looking through and understanding the information. Unfortunately for students, there’s no CTLR-F in a physical book. To truly comprehend the information and effectively apply it to an argument, research and the utilization of multiple mediums must take place. Information is everywhere, and the internet can become a black hole. The internet should remain just one tool that can be used in conjunction with fundamental skills, not as a replacement for them.

  • Research

Focusing on these foundational aspects of communication enables us to conduct research for both informational and persuasive purposes. In the modern classroom, teachers need to help students wade through a seemingly infinite number of ideas. As access to information increases, the more it cumulates. This creates an almost unfathomable amount of information that can be quite intimidating. Students need to locate relevant information, determine its accuracy, and evaluate if material contains any bias. The more students read various types of sources to both inform and persuade, the more they are capable of recognizing reliable information and communicating those ideas.

What will the future look like if the development of foundational skills isn’t a main focus in the classroom?

What makes all of this difficult is the rapid progression of our society and the fact that we must prepare students for a future we can’t adequately predict. The classroom is meant to provide students with the tools to succeed in the real world. A tool can become significantly more useful when it can be utilized outside of its original purpose. As educators, we aspire to give students the tools to fit their academic, professional, and social needs regardless of what those may be. Not providing students the opportunity to develop basic academic skills, is paramount to sending them to skydive without parachutes, or providing them with a Swiss army knife only equipped with the toothpick. If teachers don’t lay the groundwork, students may not be fully prepared for a rapidly evolving future.

Conclusion

We can’t make the assumption that all students have access to the same technological tools that are available in the modern classroom. Therefore, these foundational skills become increasingly important. Despite the disparity that can exist between communities both socially and economically, the mastery of the basic skills that are taught through reading and writing can act as a blueprint that leads to the framework upon which other skills can be built.

Reinventing the wheel is not necessary. Education still needs to provide a solid foundation from which more advanced and varied ideas can be produced. Our ability to absorb, recall, analyze, and communicate information is what truly allows our society to progress. By mastering these skills, teachers provide students with a skeleton key that can open any doors.

As schools continue to update their curricula to help students thrive in our ever-advancing culture, we can’t lose sight of those foundational skills.

 

We can’t predict what the future holds. Will we remain stagnant? Will we continue to develop technologically? What will we discover next? We don’t know the problems that may exist tomorrow. However, if we provide our students with skills that are applicable in a variety of situations, we give them the ability to adapt. As schools continue to update their curricula to help students thrive in our ever-advancing culture, we can’t lose sight of those foundational skills.

It’s extremely crucial for us to provide an educational experience that helps students holistically. We must recognize that not every aspect of our students’ education is going to prepare them for their professional life. Education isn’t only about the “9:00 am – 5:00 pm” life, nor should it be. As educators we set multiple goals to help students achieve success in the future. In doing so, we recall the point of having a well-educated society: education isn’t just about learning how to make a living – it’s also about learning how to make a life.

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