The evolving high school English classroom

by Andrew Kastelman, Staff Writer

Click! A student types away at his computer taking notes to prepare for the essay he will write that night. In 2019, this is a common occurrence for a high school student. However, it was not always this simple.

Technology that is available to students today, like Thesaurus, Grammarly, and Google, was not accessible to older generations. Students who grew up before the internet, smartphone, and other revolutionary inventions had to rely on electric typewriters or writing by hand. The technology boom that occurred in the past few decades has given countless resources to students, especially in their English classes, and has completely changed the traditional high school classroom.

We spoke to a mother and daughter about the difference in the English classroom between generations.

The Classroom of the Past

In the 1970s and 1980s, high school English classrooms were simple. A teacher would lead the class while students listened and took notes by hand. Without any personal electronic devices, students did everything with a paper and pencil, except the occasional paper that was written with an electric typewriter. Those lucky enough to afford a typewriter had a massive time-saving advantage.

Similarities to the modern English classroom did exist, even decades ago. Sue Weidman, who graduated IHA (NJ) high school in 1981, stressed the importance of the teacher. She believes the teacher of an English course was integral to how much she liked the class. During her senior year, Sue’s English class was taught by a Home Economics teacher. This ruined her experience, making it her least favorite class in all of high school. Although technology has taken over many facets of the classroom, a good teacher is still vital to student success.

Even though she had a good experience in high school, Sue believes technology helps the modern English classroom. However, she stressed it must be used appropriately.

“When it is used for actual business, whether it’s for school or work, I think it’s fine,” Sue said.

The idea of technology for work or school is approved, but using it for pleasure, such as social media or games, is a reason why Sue paused before she could support the massive changes.

Many people believe that cheating has increased as well do to the accessibility to the internet for students. From her experiences, Sue does not believe this is true.

“I think the cheaters will cheat. I don’t think it makes a difference because they were cheating back in my day,” Sue said.

Today’s Classroom

As the technology wave of the 2000s hit the world, high school English classrooms were full participants. An array of tools were created to help students write and research. Pamela Weidman, who graduated Bedford (MA) high school in 2013, still thought that the tools were not vital to an English class.

“As for any subject, it came down to the teacher and how much effort they were putting into making the discussions interactive,” Pamela said.

Pamela, whose classmates used websites such as Google and Sparknotes, still believes that the teacher is the most important part of an English class, similarly to Sue.

One way technology has impacted the every-day class experience is through presentations. Pamela, like many current students, learned from powerpoint presentations many days in class. Therefore, students would take notes on personal laptops, another major change to the classroom.

Group projects are much easier with the increase in technology. Through Google Drive, students can easily work on the same project together, at the same time, simply by “sharing” the document.

However, the ability to easily share documents has led to more concerns about cheating. With a simple click on your computer, students can easily give homework assignments and test answers to other students. Yet, Pamela still thinks modern technology helps the high school English class.

“I think it helps a lot,” she said. “In terms of homework and research and what an instructor can share with the class, I think it allows English classrooms to be multidisciplinary.”

Overall, the dynamic of the high school English classroom has evolved over the decades. From the 1980s, when virtually no technology was available and everything was written by hand, to the current day when almost all students use computers daily, technology has allowed students to explore academics beyond the boundaries to which they were once confined.