Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Worthwhile Worksheets

     On Twitter, it's very popular for consultants to tell people to get rid of worksheets. "Kids don't learn anything from a worksheet!" is a popular saying, and it gets retweeted. Again and again.

    But is it accurate? After all, what is a worksheet? Consultants don't generally define the term. However, they seem to indicate that anything that is printed and copied for students with parts to fill in is a worksheet.

    Is a worksheet always bad?

    Condemning all worksheets for the classroom practices of a very few does not lead to productive classroom conversations. Instead, teachers should consider WHY a worksheet is being used and WHAT makes a worksheet worthwhile.

Worksheets for examples

    As a writing teacher, I like to show kids written examples of what we're learning about. These written examples are especially helpful when kids are absent or when a co-teacher stops by. If I am writing down my examples for planning anyway, it just makes more sense to print them on a page. That way, all students have equal access.
    Consider the "Creating a Main Idea" worksheet to the right. This page helps students to see how to weave a topic and details together into a main idea. Could I do a lesson like this without a worksheet? Sure, but then kids would be stuck with copying from the board. How would that be an improvement?

Worksheets for scaffolding

    Worksheets also can be helpful for scaffolding. In intermediate grades, I like to use worksheets with writing frames to help students learn the patterns of academic writing. For kids who struggle with transcription and composition, a writing frame can be a lifesaver. Now I'm not saying that all kids need the writing frame, and sometimes kids will use the frame for a few sentences and then set it aside. This is fine! But in my heterogeneously grouped classroom, I need to have a wide range of resources at my fingertips. Again, it is a question of equal access for all students.

Worksheets for deeper thinking

    Worksheets do not preclude higher level thinking. In fact, a worksheet can lead to some great discussions! I
made this page for students to work on after reading a text about diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular animals. The students have to use clues about different animals, combine the clues with what they have learned in the text, and draw a conclusion about whether the animals are diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular. It leads to fantastic conversations and students flipping back to the text to justify their conclusions.

   Does this activity require the use of the printed page? Again, I could post this on the board and have students copy, but...once again, why? I love having the target vocabulary on the page for student reference.

Why not to use a worksheet
    To be fair, most people railing against worksheets are probably discussing worksheets that pose decontextualized problems with no relation to classroom instruction. But by saying that ALL worksheets are bad, these writers are casually dismissing a wide range of worthwhile instructional activities.

    The question should not be, "Should I use a worksheet?"

    Instead, the question for worksheets--and any resource--should be, "Does this resource support the goals of my instruction?"

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