Educators say much has changed in the classroom

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gone are quiet classrooms with desks all in a row and a teacher at the blackboard.

Instead, a peek into nearly any classroom across the Miss-Lou will reveal noise, movement and technology that sometimes does the teaching.

And though little about how children learn today seems normal to adults, educators insist that learning in a global society means parents, grandparents and guardians must do a little learning of their own.

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The world has changed

Even just 15 to 20 years ago, elementary school children grew up in a different world.

No one had a Facebook account, few had ever heard of text messages and things simply moved at a slower pace.

The War on Terrorism had yet to be declared, and children never stopped to think that someone in another culture hated them.

As years have passed and technology has advanced, the world has gotten smaller, in a sense. Now, as educators pointed out, children in the Miss-Lou must be ready to compete for jobs with children in China.

As a result, education has changed, Mississippi Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Lynn House said.

“The curriculum is much more dense,” said the teacher turned administrator. “The things we did in sixth-grade, third graders may be expected to do now.

“We have to use a curriculum that makes our students globally competitive.”

Keeping up

Fortunately, today’s children have grown up surrounded by technology, and it has had an effect on their learning style, educators said.

Concordia Parish School District teacher Luruth Davis, who has 33 years of teaching experience, said students learn faster now than they did in the past.

And Davis said she believes that is because students are technology-saturated.

“The (learning) process has changed a bit with computers,” she said. “There is a big difference, although it is still reading, writing and arithmetic. It is just approached from a different perspective because they learn faster.”

It is because students are so willing to take on technology that schools have had to incorporate it into everyday learning, Davis said.

House agreed, saying today’s children are truly good at multi-tasking.

“They can be listening to something that was said by one person, watching a visual display and texting, and truly taking it in,” she said.

Changes in the classroom

Because children now are accustomed to some sort of sensory stimulation at nearly all hours of the day, teachers have had to adjust to shorter attention spans, new learning styles and changes in attitude, they said.

McLaurin Elementary School third-grade teacher Melody Bell said teachers now use differentiated teaching styles, meaning they teach to the individual child. For instance, listening centers and reading centers cater to learning styles.

“Not everyone has a pen-and-pencil style,” said Bell, who has taught for nine years.

Games can be teaching tools, but despite what a casual observer may think, it’s educational, she said.

“They’re not just games,” Bell said.

In addition, peer tutoring is a new method that works well for many children, she said.

“I can bang my head on the wall about something, but only until (someone their own age) repeats it, the child understands it (in some cases),” Bell said.

West Primary School teacher Charm Powell has been teaching in the Natchez public schools since 1977 and has been at West Primary since 1989.

What she did in her early years in education, just wouldn’t be effective with today’s children, Powell said.

“The attention span of today’s learners is much shorter than it was 30 years ago because of technology,” Powell said. “Schools are trying to do their very best to stay up to date with the learning styles of today’s student by bringing technology into the classroom.”

What teachers need from parents

Parents must do more than just acknowledge that school has changed, educators said. They must seek to understand and offer constant support.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us as parents to continue our learning as well,” House said. “If your child is fascinated by the computer and you don’t feel comfortable with that media, then you should become more comfortable with it.”

Trinity Episcopal Day School Headmaster Cynthia Smith said the biggest misconception parents have about their child’s education is that parents do not play a vital role.

“The cooperation between parents and teachers is extremely important. One can’t do it without the other,” Smith said.

“Unity is the biggest key.”

Vidalia High School Principal Rick Brown agreed, but said he sees fewer parents getting connected with their local school district.

“We have a very supportive parent group, but it seems to fall into two extremes,” Brown said. “You have parents who support the school and what you are trying to do, or you have the ones who want to blame the school no matter what for their children not doing well educationally or acting up.”

Whereas it was not always an issue in the past, Brown said he now sees parents who want to fight the school every step of the way when it comes to enforcing policy or discipline.

But this means that often students think they can get away with being disrespectful and disobedient, Brown said.

Powell pointed out that what a child hears at home is going to supercede that which a child is taught at school on most occasions. When parents aren’t involved or supportive of education, students adopt that attitude as well, Powell said.

“The biggest thing a parent can do is support their child’s teacher verbally at home, encourage their child to behave, be quiet, listen, do assignments and study for tests,” she said. “School can be such a positive experience for (students), and their future can be so much brighter if the parents support education and the teachers at home.”

Have children changed?

It’s not the children, but the world around them that has changed most, teachers said.

Children today have a different world view, Smith said. She said they have access to everything in cyberspace and are exposed to more world news, more world tragedy and their world is a lot broader.

“They have to deal with and process more information, but their processing skills are still the same. Kids haven’t changed, but they have to process more because more is thrown at them,” Smith said.

She said the overwhelming choices students face have the potential to overpower pre-adolescent and adolescent children.

“I think that’s why they sometimes make bad decisions, because they’ve got so many choices now,” Smith said.

House agreed, but reminded adults that children still ultimately need the same things they always have.

“I’m one of those people that believe children today are inherently the same as I was when I was in school,” she said. “Every child still wants to be loved and feel like they can belong.”