This morning, I saw a tweet from HJ DeWaard: a teacher that I love learning with and from on Twitter.
The moment I read the blog post, I knew what I would be writing about tonight. The truth is, in some regards, I think that the author, Beth K. Johnson, is right.
- Worksheets do populate the web.
- They are used regularly: by many teachers, in many different classrooms, for many different reasons.
- I’ve worked in six schools before — most with large amounts of access to technology — and I still think, in many ways, worksheets have trumped technology use at most, if not all, of the schools. I know because I’ve been that teacher. I’ve probably killed a large forest with all of the worksheets that I’ve photocopied over the years … and all with the best of intentions.
- Often teachers do use technology for different purposes than worksheets: one is for reviewing facts, and one is for applying learning. This is seen as a balanced approach.
What’s the problem then? I think my day today says it all. Our school is working on developing phonemic awareness skills in our youngest learners to help with their reading skills. There are lots of worksheet options for phonemic awareness. There are also lots of games/activities from wonderful programs that help with developing these skills. I haven’t used the worksheet options, but I have used the games/activities, and maybe they’re not much different. But then today happened …
Some of my students are working on reading nonsense words. At a meeting the other day, one suggestion for developing this skill was to play with silly rhymes aloud in class. I decided to give this a try. As we were substituting sounds in some oral rhymes (e.g., Start with mat, now instead of an “m” say a “z.” What’s the word? Zat.), I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Seuss. His books are full of nonsense rhymes. A conversation after school with our LLI teacher had me putting out There’s A Wocket In My Pocket, as a provocation for creating silly rhymes … and hopefully, sentences and stories. Students loved this! They were making silly rhymes on the iPad, on the SMART Board, and on tons of different paper options. A few students were even writing and reading some rhyming stories (some of which contained and some of which did not contain nonsense words).
Then one group of students that were playing with lots of silly rhymes (seen in the first video below), saw a few students working with the alphabet on the floor, and they decided that they were going to write The Alphabet Song. They started with a letter other than “A” though. That’s when I suggested that they write their own Alphabet Song. These students tried a couple of different options. The best part is hearing the corrections that they make to the song and why. These students understand rhyming, and while they’re not making silly rhymes at the time, they’re thinking about how rhyming works and making this learning meaningful. Next week, I can start my own Silly Rhyming Song, and see where this provocation takes this group.
Now, let’s move forward a bit in our day until just after the nutrition break. It was time for a transition, so why not play a quick game to help with this? My students love Simon Says, so we played the game, but with different phonemic awareness skills built in. Listen to the students as they think through the different possible answers.
In all of these cases, worksheets may have allowed for the practice of the same skills, BUT …
- Would they have provided a meaningful context?
- Would they have provided opportunities for extending learning?
- Would they have been differentiated to meet different student needs?
- Would they have moved beyond knowledge and understanding to thinking, communication, and application?
- Would they have allowed for student voice and choice?
- Would they have been as engaging?
Worksheets may always be readily available, be it online or in schools. But maybe if we begin to question their use and show other options, they’ll remain unused. I don’t think it matters if worksheets are replaced with technology, but I do think it matters that they begin to be replaced … with options that allow for more meaningful learning, critical thinking, and engagement. Maybe No Worksheet Week is the place to start. What do you think? What role do worksheets play in your classroom? Are they worth replacing? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!