Creative Commons License

Friday, February 17, 2006

Is Speed Dating a Hot New Learning Strategy or Just Literacy Arts and Crafts?

Speed dating is hot. That’s right, speed dating—we have seen it in movies, on television, and now it is coming to a classroom near you. That’s right, teachers have started to adapt the speed dating model as a learning strategy. So it begs the question, is speed dating a viable learning strategy or is it another example of the mindless edutainment that’s proliferating in our public schools?

Somewhere along the way it became necessary for teachers to entertain their students. We can blame MTV, video games, and the Internet, but the fallout remains the same. Many teachers appropriate pop culture in their classrooms to keep pace with the instant message mindset of today’s youth.

On the surface there is nothing inherently wrong with this practice. For example, I attended an ISTE conference back when Who Wants to be a Millionaire was number one in the Nielsen Ratings. At one of the sessions we learned how to incorporate the Who Wants to be a Millionaire website into a search engine game. The idea was to get the answers using Google. I have to admit it was kind of fun and it was used to assess students ability to perform sophisticated searches. It worked; it was fun. The reason the strategy worked so well was because it had a clear educational purpose beyond being “fun” and filling up the time. I’ve even seen a variation of this learning strategy on the television show Veronica Mars. So we come full circle—pop culture embraces a learning strategy.

For every strategy that works, I’ve seen many that are just awful. A lot of these “strategies” fall into the literacy arts and crafts category. To qualify for admission in this category a strategy must be a time-suck and have a suspect academic focus.

A short list of literacy arts and crafts that I’ve observed in the high school setting:

  • Making Posters of Greek Gods

  • Making Sock Puppets of characters in Of Mice and Men

  • Making Book Covers based on Beowulf

  • Making Autobiographical Collages

  • Sketching Characters from The Outsiders

Many teachers include a “written” activity to supplement and justify these activities. I say “supplement” in the truest sense because the focus is on the arts and crafts, not on the writing. That said, these types of activities are seductive because kids like them and tend to stay on task for longer periods of time when engaged in them. These activities also yield beautiful albeit vapid bulletin board material.

Do students in elite schools do literacy arts and crafts? Hell, no. Those students are too busy learning to read, think and communicate effectively to waste time on the educational equivalent of basket weaving.

As for the speed dating strategy—it has instructional potential because it focuses on language acquisition, which means that it can be morphed into a vocabulary lesson applicable across disciplines. I would adapt it like this:

LCD Projector
Vocabulary Back List

  • Give each student a word from the master list

  • Each student writes down a sentence using the word.

  • Share using speed dating protocols.
  • Divide class into two groups—A and B
  • Spread group A students out in “café style” seating
  • Each group B student visits a group A student for two minute intervals during which time they share and write down each others sentences as well as the one’s they’ve added during previous “speed dates”.
  • When final time is called, students will have a copy of every sentence.

  • At completion of the strategy each student evaluates all the sentences and “fixes” the ones that are incorrect.

  • Collect all work.

This strategy would work because it clearly focuses on vocabulary development and sentence construction. The structure of the activity insures that students are intellectually active throughout the lesson. Since each student is responsible for getting it “right” in the end there is an onus on individual contribution to the learning community as a whole. So it is evident that speed dating passes muster as a learning strategy. We will know that the speed dating learning strategy has arrived when we see it on Veronica Mars.

Comments on "Is Speed Dating a Hot New Learning Strategy or Just Literacy Arts and Crafts?"


post a comment