Determining the value of traditional assignments


There is a push these days to use more technology in the classroom. And to a certain degree, I understand that. Tablets, apps, websites, blogs, podcasts, social media – these are now a huge part of our lives, and students need to know how to use them responsibly. Besides, that’s their culture. That’s what they relate to. My students have never known a world without cell phones or the Internet.

So I’m trying to integrate technology more into my classroom. Instead of just using our iPads on a substitutionary basis (uploading worksheets and having them complete the work in a PDF instead of on paper), I’m trying to be more innovative. So when reading Romeo and Juliet this year, I changed my previous assignment of writing a letter to Romeo or Juliet after they get married to having a text conversation. (The kids wrote the conversation on paper templates, but they were relating to the technology.) Another class is doing a project where they determine criteria for and then choose a candidate as Person of the Year. In addition to a written proposal, they must create a documentary about that person.

And I think these things are good. The kids enjoy them and I’m asking them to use 21st century skills. I wonder, though, about which of my old requirements should fall by the wayside, which should be kept, and which should just be tweaked.

The formal research paper is one. I typically have 8th graders write a research paper in the spring. But is there still value in that? Would it be better to have them create a website or a documentary or a podcast? When they get to high school or college, will it be enough that I taught them research skills? Or will they really need me to have taught them the format of a paper?

It’s a conversation I hope to have with the high school teachers in my building. I remember years ago hearing that traditional research papers would no longer be the norm soon – that instead of looking up information and reporting it, students would need to synthesize the information into something new. Is that now the case in colleges? Would my students be better served by working on a creative project as a result of their research? Or is there still value in the research paper with in-text citations and a works cited page?

I would love to hear your thoughts!


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