1. Josh


    I too have spoken in absolutes on many occasions. Yet, I go back and forth on the use of absolutes and if they in actuality do more harm than good. I have heard the “no worksheets” conversation before and to be honest, I find times where a worksheet works for what I am doing. While that is not terribly often, it happens.

    I wonder though if the use of absolutes is more about jarring people out of their comfort zones and that is the intent. In that regard I have seen absolutes get people talking and thinking in ways they may not normally. However, as you suggest, are we marginalizing teachers through that process?

    • George

      I think that what is essential in the process, whether we talk in absolutes or not, is that we honour so many of the great things that happened in schools before and appreciate people’s strengths, as opposed to focus on their weaknesses. Saying things like, “no one should ever do worksheets”, in my opinion, is more likely going to lead a teacher to closing their door and hiding, as opposed to feeling comfortable with and focusing on their own growth. If we want sustainable change, it is going to take a long time, but I think it is essential to focus on what we can build upon, as opposed to rip apart.

      I know that, as you, I have spoken in absolute statements to challenge people, but I think that it is better to ask challenging questions that really get people thinking.

      Just my two cents.

  2. I think people assume that because of my role as a “Digital Learning Specialist,” everything has to be digital.
    One of the reasons I like Carl Hooker’s swimming pool model of SAMR is because there are some days when a lesson is best in analog, and it’s ok not to “get wet,” AND, not every lesson is going to hit redefinition when you do add tech.
    Unfortunately, as you stated, the worksheet is the “comfort zone,” for many teachers. It’s how they’ve taught, and had success for most students. It’s also why most teachers start at the Substitution level of SAMR, and try to find the digital equivalent to the worksheet handout.
    I think the absolute conversation is indeed a reaction to that and a desire to push people beyond substitution and get to the deep end of the pool for deeper learning.
    Does the worksheet, either paper or electronic have a place in schools today, yes, I think it does, but as you noted, “Choice and variety IS essential!”

    • George

      Thanks for your comment Michael! Greatly appreciated and duly noted that a digital worksheet is still a worksheet. Think that is something that we should think about and its impact as well.

  3. The most amazing teacher I ever met, the one that influenced me the most, the one that made the biggest impact on the kids (their opinion not mine), the one that produced kids that entered my class with most curiosity, grit and kindness…was the most traditional teacher I knew. He used worksheets, rows, and his big project each year was a powerpoint.

    Take a spin around twitter and all you will see is posts about what teachers should be doing. It has nothing to do with what, but how. Teaching is a science, but what you do with it is an art. All the science and technique in the word will not help a teacher who doesn’t have the right heart.

    Sure, many people’s science and technique will produce kids who are “better” writers and readers, but what will they write and read after school if they have no heart?

  4. George, I think this is a critical insight. We do talk in absolutes all the time. I’m as guilty as anyone. We need to watch out for “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” so to speak. Sure, new techniques might really connect with reluctant learners, but they may then alienate and befuddle those who had previous comfort and success before a shift. Some kids learn well with paper and pencil. Some kids do learn from PowerPoint. Some do learn from direct lecture. In fact, some kids learn best in some of these traditional methods often spurned by myself and my ilk. Best practice: explain the goal and the criteria for evaluation, and allow students to determine the best course of learning. If we keep the whole group together and shift to the other end of the spectrum, we run the risk of simply leaving a different group of learners behind.

    • George

      I think what you are saying is really important. Understanding learner needs is powerful; some kids would love creating videos, and some kids need the structure of something else to get them going. If you photocopied worksheets at the beginning of the year without meeting students, that is where I really struggle. After spending time with them, and developing a strong understanding of them, that is when we can really make a difference. As Paul said, that is more about the “heart” and art of teaching, as opposed to the science of it.

      • Agree. Can we call it “pre-meditated” poor practice. I like Paul’s comment as well. Some teachers can make that worksheet sing, and other will make it a jail.

  5. Thanks for writing this, George. Of course, it all depends on what content you have on a “worksheet” (whether it is in paper or digital format) and the value it has in enriching a student’s learning of a concept or idea. In mathematics, the most common worksheet involves step-by-step lessons, procedures, examples, followed by practice questions. Students follow along and complete blanks as the teacher completes the pages with them. It is difficult to imagine how this can be differentiated and it also implies that there is only one way to do things. I prefer watching my students explore and collaborate with their peers on rich and meaningful tasks. Rather then telling staff they cannot have any “worksheets”, I think it may be more constructive to ask them why they are using the worksheet for that lesson and is there opportunity for students to show evidence of their thinking and do students have the time to discuss, argue, debate and discover ideas on their own (cognitively active learning behaviours).

  6. Hi George. I think the conversation should answer the “why”. We had this discussion yesterday at our PLC. If you must give a worksheet, explain “why”. If you can the worksheet is necessary. If you have to give a paper pencil test, explain “why”. Is it because that is a skill needed still in secondary? Perfectly acceptable. Answering the why not only makes us reflect on our practices but it produces better uses of time. If the “why” is to kill time, we have a problem with that worksheet.

  7. Jolene

    I agree with those who have commented and I also know for some kids a worksheet is a valuable tool. I don’t enjoy notes and lectures but they have their place too. It’s all about learning styles. I think the key is diversify and know what works for your kids. Some kids need a quiet calm worksheet every once in a while to reinforce an idea or concept. It’s all about the “why” of using it.

  8. Lori Evanko

    As a former middle school principal in NYC, I believe that everything should be balanced. Sometimes worksheets work for some students. They offer repetitive practice, and guided tasks. If the worksheet is being used in the context of the learning activity and the content learned then at times it can be used with beneficial results. I believe the key to success is using instructional strategies that are part of the lesson plan. When you give students activities out of context; even a hands on experience it is only valuable if it relates to what the students are learning. Teachers have to be allowed to use what is best for their students, that is the beauty of differentiation.

  9. The fact that we read and respond to these posts probably best shows that we care. We are here to help our students be better people when they leave then when they enter. Some of my colleagues rely on duotangs full of worksheets to prove to others they are teaching. Not me, my kids desks are messy. Two notebooks (one for math, one for language. Google docs for the rest. Do what works best for you. But remember, any Joe or Mary off the street can follow a teacher guide and copy workshops. Teaching and modelling collaboration and problem solving preps them for the game of life. My 6th graders help fund raise, count money all because they see and experience the power of pitching in.

  10. Matt Arend

    Excellent! In a BYOD age, this is an excellent reminder that it is still appropriate for some teachers and students to still utilize a worksheet. You hit it on the head when you talked about worksheets being a “consistent practice”. While dealing in absolutes is dangerous, I absolutely enjoyed reading this!

    Sad that I am going to miss you in Plano ISD next week.

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