Professional Experience and Personal Reflections
by Lisa Bowstead, Founder

PREVIOUS                                                                                                    NEXT

What is a "traditional"
academic approach?
March 18, 2013

Some schools subscribe to what is called a "traditional" academic approach. In teacher-speak, we call it "chalk-and-talk." 

Basically, "traditional" is what the majority of parents will  remember from their schools: 
  • desks lined-up, facing forward
  • teacher lessons are mostly extended lectures
  • some in-class practice and review, no group work
  • HW is to practice new skills or pre-read for next lesson
  • regular in-class tests and individual assignments
  • minimal long-term projects
This "traditional" approach was perfectly adequate for those of us who are over a certain age, as it was for our parents, and theirs before them. 

In recent decades, there has been a shift to student -guided, 
exploration-based learning practices. The shift started in the lower grades as far back as the 1970s. In the past two decades, an increasing number of middle and high schools have also made the shift:   
  • desks arranged in small groups
  • the teacher presents mini-lessons
  • students work together in small groups, groups share with class
  • HW is of varied tasks and formats
  • fewer and shorter in-class tests
  • regular multi-day, small-group assignments
  • regular individual, long-term projects
It can be argued that (when done right) the student-guided approach is more effective than the traditional approach for a greater number of students. The student-guided approach recognizes that different students learn in different ways (visual, verbal, auditory, tactile, interactive, etc) and then capitalizes on the idea that students learn better when they are active participants in the process. This teaching approach, however, is much more difficult to implement than traditional, and requires teachers to follow and measure each student's development qualitatively (which is not easily tracked and measured).

In practice, you'll find both approaches in most schools, from teacher to teacher and subject to subject, even when a school's culture has a preference.

The bottom line is that we need to find a good-fit school for each child's learning style, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, interests, and priorities. Many students adapt to either situation, and academic approach is only one of many important factors to be considered.