Are Paper Dictionary Skills Still Worth Teaching?

I was working with a small group in my class this week as they were working on new vocabulary words. I had the dictionaries all lined up, when one of my students asked, “may we use the ipad/ipod touch instead?” Why not? I thought. Then I changed my mind and told him he had to alternate between the paper edition and the electronic one. Here’s why:

Alphabetizing, and learning how to use the key words on dictionary pages may seem out of date. Especially nowadays, when even phonebooks (remember those) don’t alphabetize names the way they used to. Last names beginning with Mc or Mac used to come before all the other M’s, but not any more. Things change. They evolve and adapt. In fact, if you use iTunes, the default is to alphabetize by first name.

What’s not out of date is how one has to organize things. Alphabetizing is just one way of showing kids how things (like words can be organized). As children create more and more products that are digital, they won’t end up in a dusty basement. Instead, their product may be cached and live online indefinitely.

Being able to tag their content for easy retrieval, organize their bookmarks, documents, photos, music, video, etc. will be very important. I don’t think they’ll be alphabetizing all their products, but learning at an early age about different ways to sort things by various attributes is essential.

It’s the first year, my second graders initiated use of an electronic dictionary. I usually introduce them to it later on in the year.

Remember in 2003, when some of my students this year were born, there was no iphone or ipad. Iphones were not introduced until 2007. There was no facebook (2004) nor was there twitter (2006).

Whether it’s an online dictionary or one of the tools I mentioned, we know there are going to be more around the corner. Some will flourish, and others will fade, but we want our children to use it responsibly.  One way to do that is model it, and that modeling needs to start with our administrators.