Teaching, Technology

Education-What Can We Learn From a Cassette Tape and Pencil?


Reflecting on our teaching practices and the field of education is important.  Analyzing and comparing nostalgic principles, practices and objects to our modern practices can help us stay centered and focused when we are so inundated by testing and teaching to pass the test.  What can we learn from a cassette tape and a pencil as it is applied to teaching and education in our modern era?  I am going to reminisce back in time to education when I was growing up in the 1980’s and reflect in comparison to education now.  You will want to watch the videos at the bottom of this post, so don’t leave now.

After viewing the above picture on one of my friend’s Facebook posts, it propelled me to thinking.  I thought about learning in the classroom in the days while I was growing up in the 1980’s and using those huge tape recorders for listening centers.  I pictured myself sitting there at a desk in my 1st grade teacher’s classroom, Mrs. Fisher, listening to a book on tape in that old clunky cassette machine.  I thought it was the neatest and coolest thing at the time!  Each day I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Fisher to tell me it was my turn to use the listening center.  I loved to escape into stories with my imagination and creatively make up continuations.  I loved to record my voice telling stories on those machines.  I loved hearing the loud abrupt stop sound, hearing the hissing mechanical sound of the rewind and fast forward buttons, and hearing the clicking play/record buttons.  I can still hear those sounds now.  Here is a video of one of those old califone cassette recorders I am talking about.  Califone still makes recorders but this is similar to those players I used to use in school.  If you were born after the 1980’s enjoy watching this anyway…I’m sure you will be amused.

We are now so drilled with meeting requirements of NCLB which we all know is unachievable since every student and situation is different, that we too often lose focus of the old nostalgic principles of teaching.  Teaching to have students pass the test sometimes seems to be one of the only focuses in our schools. When this occurs we lose that old-time feel of teaching toward student interests, allowing them to be creative, and being that inspiration to them. Yes, data tracking of student achievement, holding teachers accountable and instructing using high standards of learning, etc. is important.  We however can’t afford to lose those traditional fun parts of teaching…sparking student interest, creativity, and encouraging them to excel in finding solutions.  Sometimes I become concerned that too much teaching to pass the test, drilling and review, and taking away essential elective programs that promotes creativity will do more harm than good for today’s youth.  Will we have another Steve Jobs if we don’t encourage student creativity?  Yes, he did not attend college.  People can achieve great success and create innovations like him, without attending college.  Yes, teaching students with 21st Century technology is crucial to reaching them and preparing them for their future careers.  By no means am I dissing the amazing technology and innovations we now have for teaching and  learning…innovations that help so many students succeed and compensate for learning struggles.  Reflecting on our practices and remembering some nostalgic instructional principles is good for educational balance.

I think every generation has something they grew up with that is nostalgic to them.  As a child from the ’80’s one of mine is the cassette player, although I do love my iPod and iPhone.  Youth today have the i-Pod, MP3 players, iTunes, playlists etc. for their listening convenience anytime and anywhere.  We now have recording means through digital recorders, computers and so on.  No more clucking away at a cassette recorder to record.  These technologies offer wonderful instructional tools and learning applications.  Teaching and instruction in this day and age is way different from when I was in school.  Technology and innovations for the classroom are crucial for propelling forward in educating today’s youth, however, it is not the only thing that is vital to student learning achievement.  Yes, we need to teach them with the technology and skills they are accustomed to in order to reach them where they are.  Teaching to pass the test too has been a crucial part of our instructional calendars.  We however need to find ways to spark our student’s creativity and interest.

When I was in Mrs. Fisher’s class in first grade my classmates and I were taught to use our imaginations, create, and do.  We were taught skills that I believe as adults has allowed us to think, create and find solutions in our fields.  Not only in Mrs. Fisher’s class but throughout my education as a child and youth I was taught to imagine, analyze and create.  In middle school and high school I was given electives that catered to my interests.  For me these interests included all sorts of music classes, Spanish, and art.  Teaching to the test has often caused these programs and creative learning to be taken from our students.  Our students in some ways have been robbed of what we were given.  When I saw this picture of the cassette tape and pencil it caused me to reflect on how education was implemented when I was growing up compared to how it is implemented today.  It kind of made me sad for today’s students, when I thought about all the opportunities I was given and how many of our students now are not given these opportunities.  Modern technology gives them learning opportunities that I was never given, so there are advantages they have that I did not have.  However, the nostalgic practices of giving students the opportunity to dream and learn through their passions has too often been dissolved.  As we reflect on our education practices, we can be reminded much from the link between the cassette tape and pencil.  If you were born after the ’80’s and don’t know what the link is here are two sources to help you.  If you know what the link is, then you will be amused that using a pencil to fix a cassette tape is now listed as an obsolete skill and “cassette tape” has been taken out of some dictionaries.

Two links for using a cassette tape to wind a pencil back into playing form:

Obsolete skills with winding a cassette tape with a pencil.

How to wind a cassette tape with a pencil.

When I searched the web for cassette tape documents, I found this Slideshare presentation called “Cassette is not Dead” from username guestff8a17.  No other name was listed on the username’s profile, but I want to give them credit for this slide as is due.  Many of today’s youth probably think of the cassette as a an item to create or use in a retro form as is in this Slideshare.  We educators can look at this presentation with enlightenment.  It takes creative thinking and application to create things like this.  We need to encourage our students to use their imaginations, and interests to create.  This will spark their learning as it did when I was growing up.

Reflecting on the link between cassette tape and a pencil is important for us educators.  There are important reminders that can be applied to our practices.  The pencil is the link to the playing success of the cassette tape. We are like the pencil and our students are like the cassette tape. Searching and discovering the link that sparks each student to succeed in learning is our mission, not just teaching to the test.  Sparking this interest includes 21st Century technology but can also include nostalgic instructional practices of encouraging imagination and creativity. We are the mechanism that drives student’s to excel in their interests, motivation, creativity, determination, application of knowledge and so on. Our actions can make and shape a student for success or can be harmful to their will to learn. Our application of instruction, principles, modalities, character, interest, personality, humor and so forth are driving factors in their perceptions and reactions towards learning. These also affect how they perceive and react towards us and ultimately will affect their performance including testing. Their reactions and perceptions of us and learning can greatly make or break their learning outcomes.  Too much focus on high stakes testing and not giving our students the opportunities we had, can cause them to turn off to education and learning.  I know if I was a student now being surrounded by all of this testing and not given learning creative outlets, I too would be turned off. Often technology is a vital tool that helps motivate students to succeed. It however is not the only factor. Our instructional approach, enthusiasm, caring attitude, character, sense of humor and use of nostalgic teaching are also vital pieces to our link for student achievement. Technology is important but sometimes we may need to apply some sense of nostalgic or retro instructional and learning approaches. Sometimes it means using retro and modern applications at the same time. Each student is different. When inundated by teaching to the test, we should reflect and think about nostalgic things such as the link between pencil and the cassette, invoking memories, and analysis.  It is good for us.  If we do so and carry out what we brainstorm, our instructional practices have balance and include practices that allow student to invest in their interests and use their imaginations to create…sparking learning and achievement.  We need to give them this outlet so there is balance and so they don’t rebel against learning due to so much high stakes focus on drilling to pass the test.  They need to know we care about their interests, and not only the test.  They need to know that we care more about them and their achievements for who they are and not how we as teachers look and how our schools look with testing performance.  They need to know that we care for their well-being and care about their futures.  We need to reach them where they are…every one of them.

Today’s youth has a modern way of listening to the cassette tape or trying to apply a retro feel to listening to music. We can learn from this as we apply 21st Century instruction along with some nostalgic applications.  With a Smartphone app we now can now bring back some of the nostalgia and longing for the cassette tape. No, it is not the same feeling as hearing the clunky mechanical sounds of an actual cassette tape, but it does give you that visual feel. When I saw this video for the fist time, it gave me a fuzzy delightful feeling as well as chuckles. If you were around when cassette players were the norm, you will relate to what I mean when you watch this.  This app is a merging of the old and the new.  It gives us retro insight and applications along with modern applications.  Our teaching reflection and practices should do the same. Reflection and integration is vital if we really want to be the link for our students.  We are the link that propels them towards optimized learning outcomes and gives educational balance.  The essential lesson we are reminded of when thinking about the pencil and cassette tape…stop focusing on so much assessment, pause, reflect, integrate creativity, and spark imagination.  By doing so, students will learn so much more.

Since we are reminiscing nostalgic things, I thought this video would be an amusing conclusion to this post.


About adaptivelearnin

I am an educational professional who is passionate about needs analysis and materials creation to enhance student learning of all ages. I hope the content I share here will be of value to you in some way. Opinions are my own and are not those of my employer. Join me at my session for the 2013 TESOL International Conference, "ESL Instruction: Developing Your Skills to Become a Master Conductor", March 21 10:00 AM in room C144. My presentation focuses on listening, speaking and pronunciation music teaching techniques incorporated with ESL teaching. This is not your typical music/ESL presentation with chants and songs. Be prepared to use your vocal chords, diaphragm, lungs, mouth muscles, and arms like you have never used before in pronunciation, speaking and language instruction. Learn how to use music conducting skills in the language classroom to better facilitate language acquisition. Learn how to use music performance skills (vocal and instrumental) to better facilitate language learning. Be prepared to laugh and have fun. I look forward to meeting you and working with you.



  1. Pingback: Education-What Can We Learn From a Cassette Tape and Pencil? | adaptivelearnin | Scoop.it - October 11, 2011

  2. Pingback: Living the Life You Were Made For - October 7, 2011

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