No Worksheet Week … Who’s In?

Today I saw a tweet from Tony Sinanis: the principal at Cantiague Elementary School in New York City. I’ve never met Tony before, but I just love learning from him online. He’s devoted. He’s passionate. He’s incredibly student-centred. He likes to inspire change, and he inspires me to want to change. He’s definitely someone in my PLN that I would love to meet in person one day, and I really hope that I do. And it’s because of everything that Tony does and embodies, that I not only want to do his challenge, but challenge others to do so as well!

2015-01-20_19-42-08Here’s the truth: for me, this year, this challenge has been my “every day.” This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, this is the first year that I could make this comment. I’m not sure what really inspired me to change.

  • Maybe it’s because it’s hard to align inquiry and worksheets, and we continue to passionately explore inquiry in the classroom.
  • Maybe it’s because I haven’t found a good way to really differentiate with the use of a worksheet.
  • Maybe it’s because I still haven’t quite figured out the “box of paper system” at my new school 🙂 (see this post for more information), and this has forced me to keep questioning first why I need to photocopy. After asking the question, I end up convincing myself it’s not necessary.

Now, I’m not saying that everything we photocopy is a worksheet. And I’m not saying that there aren’t good materials that are worth photocopying and distributing to kids. I’m just saying that in my opinion (and please know that you don’t have to agree with me), maybe the same activity for every child is rarely necessary. Maybe what could be accomplished by a worksheet, could also accomplished without one, but in this latter case, allowing for extensions, greater thinking opportunities, more hands-on learning, and multiple ways to show thinking and learning. (Another important point to consider: worksheets can also be just as easily shared and completed in digital formats, and I think we should reconsider these ones as well.)

I know that my feelings about worksheets and the fact that I don’t use them now will make this challenge a little less challenging for me. But I think that no matter where we stand on the worksheet continuum (from rare use to all-the-time use), we should support Tony’s challenge. Why?

  • Because it’s when we’re uncomfortable that we can really grow. Thanks for sharing these wise words, Sue!
  • Because even if we rarely use worksheets now, we can always learn new ways to improve our practices. Learning never stops!
  • Because this provides a great opportunity to try something different, and share these different approaches with a global community: through Twitter and through blogs. We’ll all be in this together!
  • Because we can learn so much from each other. As we reconsider worksheets, we can share, question, and revise our new approaches together. We’re not in this alone.
  • Because this provides the perfect opportunity for “voice” and “choice.” We can let the students help us come up with alternatives. We can give them a bigger role in the  planning and learning, and see what happens. I think it will be something wonderful!
  • Because it’s one week, and if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to our worksheets. But maybe we’ll find that we don’t need to, or at least don’t need to in the way that we used them before. Every journey begins with a single step. Let’s be brave and take this step.

Who’s in? Why do you plan on doing this challenge, or why do you plan not to? If you do plan on partaking, how do you plan on making it work? Hopefully we can learn a lot from each other before the challenge even begins on Monday! Thanks for the inspiration, Tony!



24 thoughts on “No Worksheet Week … Who’s In?

  1. Yes! We all need to challenge our thinking and our practice regularly. I love that this challenge pairs the discomfort of change and rethinking with the highs of comradery and competition. I shared Tony’s blog, connected it to school and board direction and challenged the staff at our school to also participate. I hope many take us up on the challenge. I think even if some don’t, they will be thinking and talking (and ok, probably grumbling) about it. I would love to hear if others also give it a try too. Thanks for being a great rethinking role model.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi, and the kind words! I totally agree with you about all of the bonuses of Tony’s competition, and I LOVE that you shared this challenge with the staff as well. I hope that many do participate. I really do believe that this feeling of discomfort will help lead to great changes for all of us: re-thinking what we can continue to do to better help kids!


  2. This challenge is an opportunity to ‘get extraordinary’ in our planning and actions in classrooms. I have emailed the Fessenden staff looking for takers – “Who’s in?”. Inspired by your blog post, hopefully we can start some #hwdsb sharing during the next week, Jan 26th – No Worksheet Week! Very eco-friendly and highly charged to inspire rich tasks, more creativity and collaboration!
    Thanks Aviva 🙂

    • Thanks Cheri! I really hope that the staff joins in. Maybe we should set-up a Yammer group for some Board sharing? What do you think? I don’t usually use Yammer much, but this could provide a way for us to share ideas and learn from each other. Maybe even other teachers and schools then not on Twitter would like to join in. This could (hopefully) even lead to “No (or at least, Minimal) Worksheet Year!” 🙂


  3. I appreciate the “challenge yourself” and “get out of comfort zone” sentiments. We should definitely query the status quo.
    I would appreciate an explanation of why worksheets are bad (I might be incorrect in this assumption).
    My understanding is that some learning, particularly for those with a learning disability is that repetitive, explicit instruction is often essential. I also recognize that worksheets can be used as time filling “busy work” that bores a student to death.
    I guess my point is that I think a balance is needed. The Marilyn Adams quote seems plan wrong to me.

    • Thank you, Daniel, for both your comment and for “challenging” me a bit on this Challenge as well. You’re giving me more of a reason to explore the “why.” Instead of explicitly answering your question, I’m going to reply with some questions of my own.

      1) How are worksheets mostly used: individually, based on student needs, or as full class activities?
      2) What are other ways that we can review skills without using worksheets? How might they be more engaging?
      3) How can we provide skill practice in a meaningful context? (Okay, I’m going to make a comment here and say that this context often helps provide more long-term retention of skills — from my experience — which is beneficial for all students regardless of learning needs.)
      4) How do worksheets provide opportunities for thinking and application of skills?

      Maybe, we’ll still decide that we need worksheets for some students or in some situations, but maybe giving them up for a week will help us question how and why we used them in the first place. I see this Challenge Week as a great opportunity for some excellent discussions on pedagogy and a real focus on kids: how they learn, what supports they need, how we can support them, and some creative (and engaging) ways to do so. For these reasons alone, I’m 100% behind the challenge, and I hope that other are too. Thoughts?


      • My thoughts are positive!
        Your response has also made me rethink my initial dislike of the week. I can now see that it is about teacher learning.

        • Daniel, your reply just made my morning. I’d love to hear if you do give this challenge a try, and if so, how things go along the way. I think that the week has a lot of potential for some amazing teacher learning, sharing, and professional development (on a global scale). And the more we learn, the bigger the positive impact on our kids. In this case, I think teachers and students alike, benefit.


      • Daniel…very good questioning and thinking around how ‘no worksheet week’ might affect students with learning needs traditionally supported by white paper visuals, copied frameworks, drill intentions… When I emailed my staff to see ‘who’s in’, the first teacher who committed to the challenge at Fessenden asked ‘what about my students who require a copied paper as reference, as a visual…’ At Fessenden, we will be collaborating on ideas to meet all learners and I agree this requires examining instructional methods, use of resources and being creative. We need to “stretch our thinking”. It involves hard work 🙂

        Aviva,… we should try posting a collection of ideas – on Yammer (great idea!)… our exploration and collaboration across the school Board will turn into mini PAAR movements (plan, act, assess/reflect)……and ‘If (educator action), Then (student learning outcome)’ statements determined out of specific student needs. Big question is – what can we do differently to improve performance/achievements of students. Love your questions Aviva!


        • I love that idea, Cheri! Do you want me to set something up on Yammer or would you? I don’t use it much, but this could be the push to give it a go again. 🙂

          I also think there’s a difference between a worksheet and giving students (that need it) copies of a note or an anchor chart. Again, so much comes down to meeting student needs. Maybe there will be those couple of students that need some pencil/paper tasks, but how can they incorporate thinking, who needs them, what can they include that’s beyond rote learning, and when do we need to use them? All different things to consider and hopefully discuss as part of this No Worksheet Week. What do you think?


  4. Great idea. I haven’t used worksheets to any real extent for over ten years. A couple of years ago it was suggested by management that we ease off (for those who still used them) and then the edict became NO worksheets.

    Good luck. I don’t think you, or your students, will miss them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Michael! I don’t use worksheets either, so I’m sure I won’t miss them, but I think it will be fantastic to exchange ideas with others that give this a try. Not only will this be good for teacher practice, but I think ultimately, benefit kids. Excited to see what kind of new learning comes from this!


    • Michelle, I have to apologize! At first, I wondered if this question was real or sarcastic (implying that you already don’t use worksheets, which may or may not be the case). But as I went to respond (first on Twitter this morning), I realized that our definitions may vary. Here are my thoughts:

      1) A worksheet is a photocopied or electronic sheet where students do at least some of the answers. This is not just a copy of an assignment or a copy of notes, although I think there’s value in possibly reconsidering both. Do all students need a copy? How are they accessing the assignment? (Last year, in Grade 5, I always gave my students hard copies of project outlines, but they almost always accessed them through our blog. Maybe they never needed the copy in the first place, but instead, just a way to get the information.)
      2) A worksheet’s questions often allow for just once right answer, and rarely diversity of thinking.
      3) A worksheet is restrictive in terms of how students answer: usually just providing a few lines for the response.
      4) A worksheet often provides repetitive practice, with limited to no thinking or application opportunities.
      5) In primary grades, worksheets tend to provide at least some colouring component, even if it’s when students finish the questions. There always seems to be a black-and-white image to colour.

      Tony gave kind of a general definition in his blog post dealing with the topic (linked through the image in my post). What do you think though? What is a worksheet? What should we maybe look at starting to reconsider? For people in HWDSB, this could be a great discussion point in our Yammer group. Thoughts?

      With your one question Michelle, thanks for giving me so much more to think about!


  5. I love this challenge. I read this post too late to really try it this week plus I am going to be out one day to present at a PD day in another school district. I am going to take up this challenge for the next week though! I really don’t use many worksheets but I do a few.

    I would love for you to help me think through some questions I have. Do you have to give grades at your school? Although we don’t have traditional letter grades, it’s still a grading system. Our school sends home a weekly folder with graded work and important school notes/flyers. Parents like to see some graded papers although I don’t usually have very many because I do a lot of observations/conferences. I try to include a few samples from the week.
    Do most in your school have your same philosophy? I find that can be an issue. It is stressful (and I totally understand why) to go from a very engaging/hands on classroom to a very traditional (and sad) one. I still teach the way I think is best for kids but I am still working in this whole process of a few worksheets to none. This challenge will help me work out some of those details I am sure!

    • Thanks for the comment, Carol! I love that you’re going to give this a try, even if it’s not for next week. You ask some great questions here. These are my thoughts, but I’d be curious to hear what others think too:

      1) I do give grades at my school (and we give them in our Board). I share many pictures of work with parents, and I also share feedback on work. I use paper in the classroom, but I don’t use worksheets. I think there’s a difference. Students can write and create on multiple types of paper, but the type they choose is up to them, and how they use their space and express their thoughts are also in their hands. With a worksheet, there tends to only be one right answer and one way of sharing work. How do all students succeed with the use of a worksheet? What other options could be available to them?

      2) This second question is harder to answer. I switched schools this year, and I’m still getting to know everybody at the new school. Also, the Grades 4-8 classes at my school all have 1:1 iPads as part of a Board initiative, so this does tend to change things. I think that there are examples of digital worksheets out there, but for whatever reason, we usually think of the paper ones more.

      I try not to worry about what everybody else is doing though. I think that all teachers want to provide the best possible program for their students. This is always on my mind, and as such, I do what works for my learners and what aligns with our school and Board focus. As students have more open-ended learning options, they also become more confident in expressing what they want or need to learn. Even my Grade 1’s do this. My hope is that if they want something different as they move up in the grades, then they’ll share this thinking with their teachers and their classmates. I’m definitely in favour of letting students drive change. Does this always happen? No. But I’m hopeful that it will!

      Our province also just updated our Social Studies Curriculum Document, and inquiry is a big focus. This change will hopefully lead to a change in how people approach teaching and learning. Big changes take time, but this little change (i.e., A No Worksheet Week) seems like a good starting point to me. And other schools in our Board are giving this a try too, which is also wonderful. Then we can all try, converse, reflect, and change together!


      • 1. Thank you for thinking about and responding to my questions. I agree with the limits worksheets have which is why I do not use many of them. One of my passions is having choice in the classroom. There are many ways to share work and learning. I think I am in this uncomfortable place of knowing what I want to do and what I have to cover. I have grown and changed so much over my 24 years of teaching but I am still far from what I really dream to do in the classroom. That’s why I keep reading and having these conversations. I want to keep growing and evolving. I know it’s a process. I am sure you have a long list of standards you have to cover as well. Trying to get my head around how to cover all of them and create tasks that would help us avoid worksheets altogether. I know there are better ways than worksheets. It’s just the time factor of trying to create for so many subjects.
        My heart and spirit are already at this point. I am just trying to get my mind and creativity to catch up. 🙂

        2. Yes, I believe that all teachers provide the best educational program they can but the word “best educational program” means something very different from one teacher to another. I have been in my school for 10 years. I know generally where they came from and where they are headed. Kids adapt to new personalities, teaching styles, and classroom climates but it is difficult for them to go from a teacher who provides lots of choices to one who only give one way. I don’t change my practices because of it but it is something I think about because I see how different climates affect the ones that come into my room each new school year. Again, I still do what I feel is right for my kids. I am just thinking a lot. 🙂

        • “I know generally where they came from and where they are headed.”
          What I mean by this: I know which classrooms they came from and the philosophy the teacher has and I know the teachers fairly well in the grade after mine. Classroom environments are very powerful in how a child approaches choices, open-ended problems and more complex tasks.

          • Great point, Carol! I think that approaches to learning can change, but depending on a student’s experience, depends on how long this takes. When I taught Grade 5 last year, many of my students were used to worksheets, textbooks, and more teacher-directed learning. It took a long time to get them to consider a new approach, but by the end of the year, they loved inquiry and craved student voice and choice. It was worth the effort!


        • Thanks for the reply, Carol! I totally understand what you’re saying about “standards,” or in Ontario, “expectations.” We do have many of them. I’m not as familiar with the system in the States, but are there overall and then specific expectations (or standards)? For us, there are about 2-3 overall expectations for each subject area, and then a large number of specific ones. For a long time (probably 12 years), I was trying to cover every one of the specific expectations, and I wasn’t really doing as good a job with any of them. Then I remember talking to one of the superintendents for the Board, Sue Dunlop. She spoke about needing to meet all of the overalls, but not the specifics. As I embraced inquiry more last year, I also learned that when we start with the overall expectations, we actually meet many of the specific ones, but through richer learning opportunities. And so, I’ve stopped thinking of the curriculum as a checklist. Instead, I’ve tried to really look at where my students are at, what they need, and how I can get them to the next step. I’ve tried to honour their voices and interests through inquiry, and provide provocations that align our inquiry with the curriculum expectations. I’ve also worked on helping all of the students — regardless of their academic needs — become critical thinkers. The more that I’ve worked on this with my students, the more that I’ve developed my own critical thinking skills … and my need to question more than I ever did before.

          From what you share on Twitter and on your blog, I can tell that you’re a teacher that really wants students to exceed, but also love the learning process. You try to engage your learners with exciting activities, and you give them an important role in their own learning. I know what you’re saying about the differences between teachers. I’ve taught at six schools in almost every grade from JK-Grade 6, and I think that this is something that’s true at most schools. But I have to believe that as we give students a voice, and as curriculum expectations change to move beyond rote learning into deeper thinking, then more teaching practices will change too. I’ll be curious to watch some of my students move between the grades and see what happens. I guess only time will tell!


          • I agree with all of your reply. 🙂 I have found out the same thing that if I focus on critical thinking skills, most skills are covered. And no you can’t look at it as checklist because some come with missing items from the year before and some are beyond the 2nd grade list. Focusing on what each child needs is key. That’s why choice is important. It allows for students to work where they need to work. And we are full circle: why using worksheets do not meet their needs. Thanks for your kind comments. I strive to have an engaging, creative, child-centered classroom. YET, I know I have so much more do improve upon. Thanks for talking this out with me!

          • Thank you for all of the comments, Carol! They have really gotten me thinking! I think that as teachers, there are always things that all of us can do to improve. That’s what life-long learning is all about. The fact that you continue to question, reflect, make changes, reflect, and try again, shows that you are most certainly this life-long learner!


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