How Do We “Redefine” The Worksheet?

I keep on thinking about a blog post that I read last night by Kristi Keery-Bishop. Kristi was discussing some of the staff and student feedback on Tony SinanisNo Worksheet Week. What I continue to reflect on is the second last paragraph in her post:

2015-02-04_20-31-44I totally understand what Kristi’s saying. But I’m wondering, in certain situationswhat moves us beyond the “substitution” level?

At our school, one current area of focus is in developing phonemic awareness skills in our JK-Grade 2 learners. We are using Class Act and the TPRI Early Reading Assessment to support our students as they continue to develop different phonemic awareness skills. Games and worksheets are large components of both of these programs. This doesn’t mean that this is how these programs need to be delivered, or how these skills need to be reviewed, but they are set-up in this way. It’s no surprise to many that I struggle with using blackline masters.

  • It’s not that these activities cannot support student learning. They can. But do they support all students?
  • What about that child that lacks the language skills to recognize the pictures?
  • What about that child that struggles with the fine motor skills to fill in the blanks?
  • What about that child that is overwhelmed with the sheer amount of options on a page?
  • And what about that child that just finds the activity boring? He/she has not interest in circling responses, crossing off mistakes, or filling in the blanks. How do we reach that child?

I don’t know that I have any of the answers here. This is just what I’ve tried.

  • I’m trying to create tactile options for students to tap blocks or move beads on a string as they work with the sounds. 
  • I’m trying to provide a context for the skills. I’m pairing many skills with poems or short texts for the students to read, where they can apply what they’ve learned.
  • I’m trying to get the students involved in the activity creation. They are making up their own words for the other group members to read. We’re looking at how words change as we add different letter combinations. I’m trying to get to the thinking behind the skill.
  • I’m trying to create practice options that link with drama and/or music. Students are creating through The Arts, and developing phonemic awareness skills at the same time. (This also really focuses on oral language, which really is a focus for phonemic awareness skills.)
  • I’m trying game options, such as variations on Simon Says and The Picnic Game, to get students orally playing with different phonemic awareness skills (from rhyming to first and last sounds, depending on their individual needs). These are more open-ended games though, that allow for developing thinking skills in addition to knowledge ones. Again, this keeps the focus on oral language, as mentioned in the point above.
  • I’m trying to provide student choice with some open-ended follow-up activities that allow for the practice of skills, but also, hopefully, heightened engagement.
  • Together, I’m working with the students to document our learning, record our thinking, and later reflect back, so that the students can see what they understand and what they still need to learn.

No, I’m not using a worksheet, but after reading Kristi’s post, I wonder, are these activities just worksheet substitutions? When I think about topics such as phonemic awareness, I wonder how we can use technology — in some form — to redefine the worksheet. What would you suggest? I’d love to hear your ideas!




2 thoughts on “How Do We “Redefine” The Worksheet?

  1. Hello, Aviva. I am an ECE. I gained my experience in the field where there is no room for worksheets but for more hands-on learning opportunities. Some excellent points you’ve made on different abilities students might have. But we also should consider that everyone is a different learner. Visual, auditory or kinesthetic… I learn when I move. One of my creations for shapes recognition was a game “Twister” which was made on bed sheet. 4 people at a time could play placing their feet and hands on the shape that was called out. That was when I worked at a child care. We could play indoor and take the game outside as well.
    Right now I have a game similar to “twister”. 3 students at a time jump from letter to letter drawn on the bed sheet, identifying the letter, giving a sound and a word that starts with that sound.
    Thank you for your post. I wish my team read more up-to-date information.
    Irina, RECE, DECE with YRDSB

    • Thank you so much, Irina! You make a wonderful point here about learning styles. We definitely need to engage the different learners in our class. I even think about our inquiry on Structures, and how creating structures with our bodies (through yoga), helped some students understand stability and material choices better. From what I’ve seen in the classroom, even those students that lean towards one type of learning style (e.g., kinaesthetic), benefit from experiences with all types. We need to create these rich classroom environments that allow all students to succeed … and thinking about these various learning styles is definitely helpful. Thanks for adding to the conversation!


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