Author Annie Murphy Paul suggests in this blog post that “old school” learning methods such as memorizing math facts, cursive handwriting and argumentation should not be discarded as teachers adopt more progressive instructional methods.

For example, she cites research that shows students made more errors on complex math problems when they could not automatically recall their math facts. The key is to use the older methods, such as memorization, as the foundation for higher-level thinking, she writes. 

Here are a few other old-school skills that are still worth cultivating:

  • Handwriting
    Research shows that forming letters by hand, as opposed to typing them into a computer, not only helps young children develop their fine motor skills but also improves their ability to recognize letters — a capacity that, in turn, predicts reading ability at age 5. But many schools are now emphasizing typing over writing. Last year, for example, the Indiana Department of Education announced that the state’s public schools no longer had to teach cursive writing and they should ensure that students were “proficient in keyboard use” instead.
  • Argumentation
    In a public sphere filled with vehemently expressed opinion, the ability to make a reasoned argument is more important than ever. Educational research on argumentation demonstrates that it helps students learn better too. A study published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching in 2010, for example, found that 10th-graders who were taught how to construct an argument as part of their lessons on genetics not only had better arguments but also demonstrated a better understanding of the material.
  • Reading Aloud
    Many studies have shown that when students are read to frequently by a teacher, their vocabulary and their grasp of syntax and sentence structure improves. Educator Doug Lemov, author of Teach like a Champion and a co-author of the new book Practice Perfect, explains why: “Children who are read to become familiar with the sound and rhythm and complexity of language long before they can produce it themselves. By virtue of being exposed to a wide variety of writing types and styles, they come to understand that the use of language involves intentional choices made by the author and is representative of the author’s time and place.”

While the education world is all abuzz about so-called 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking, this research suggests that we might do well to add a strong dose of the 19th century to our children’s schooling.

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