How Bringing Back Old-School Teaching Has Benefited My Students This Year


21st Century Teaching Meets Old School Techniques in 2020

I brought my wooden stool back to school this year. It had been languishing in the workshop at home for a couple of decades. It didn’t have as much purpose in 21st-century teaching practices.

I started my career with this stool. It’s where I expounded on all the topics I felt my students needed to learn while perched on it. I used it as a mini podium to display things. I was the sage on the stage with my stool at my side. But as the 90s gave way to a new millennium, the course of education slowly changed. Rows bunched into groups of desks which in turn morphed into flexible seating. Lecturing from books gave way to learning from computers; demonstrating turned into experimenting.

My trusty stool became redundant. And I was okay with that. I embraced the new ideas with enthusiasm. Yoga balls as chairs? I’m in! Student-directed hands-on projects? Bring it! Open-ended math problems? So much fun!

Then along came COVID-19 and the shutdown of schools, and as they slowly reopen across the globe, physical distancing, sanitizing, and individual materials are the new buzzwords in education. No longer can children put their heads together over a single book. No longer may they pass colored blocks from hand-to-hand as they solve a math problem. Classrooms are covered in plastic, desks are back in rows, and the teacher presents from the front (ideally from 6 feet away, but often not so in our small and crowded classrooms).

In 2020, we educators need to draw upon all of our ingenuity to marry the old-fashioned style necessitated by COVID health protocols with the need to continue to develop creative 21st-century learners.

Technology helps. Students collaborate from across the room through shared Google Docs and Slides. They check Google Classroom for web links and YouTube videos I’ve posted to help them research. My sixth graders are the oldest kids in the school, which means they have the responsibility of MCing the school assemblies this year. They’ll do this through live-streaming on Google Meet to each Smartboard in the school. They will edit videos to share at the virtual assembly. They’ll likely spice them up with some slick Tiktok moves. Our school will be connected again, without needing to mix cohorts.

Cooperation is still possible. Shared reading happens from 3 feet away with each masked student holding their own copy of the book. Students still design science experiments to be conducted outside on a nice day; they may not share materials but they can share ideas. Morning circle is no longer a circle, but “How was your weekend?” is still a favorite topic.

And you know what? Those old-fashioned rows and some standard paper-pencil drills are really helping some of my students! B could never keep track of his pencils, his work, or the instructions when sitting in a new flexible seating place every day. C tells me she loves to write in the quietness when the whole class has their heads bent over the latest paragraph, pencils scratching softly. D is accountable for her work now. She knows she can’t copy off friends and is more likely to ask the teacher for help instead. And E now admits that he can stop talking long enough to get great ideas down, since he can’t hide his constant chatter in a focused classroom.

So I brought my stool back. I perch on it, instead of my yoga ball, when giving instructions. I’m using it as a mini podium again. But in the background, the Smartboard glows with a variety of math solutions the students directed me to draw. The LED strip lights I got off Amazon softly shift colors along the plastic-covered bulletin board. It took a pandemic to join the best ideas of the previous century with the best of the 21st century teaching.

The kids will be all right. We’re doing our best to keep them safe and the rest will fall into place.

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Bringing Back Old-School Teaching Has Benefited My Students This Year


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Anne Lefebvre

Senior Member

I grew up in the city but now call small-town Ontario, Canada home, along with my husband and two teenage boys. I’m a passionate elementary school educator, but when I’m not at school you can find me playing a sport, reading, or drinking a cup of tea.

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