The Worksheet Conversation

I was having a conversation with a teacher the other day, that does some very innovative things in the classrooms and is a master of relationships with students. She does amazing things, and by the end of the year, kids are better for having her as their teacher.

One comment she made to me, really made me think about some of the things that we say in education. She had said that sometimes she will give students a worksheet, because sometimes that is what works for students. Although she does this, she feels guilty because so many people talk about how you should never use “worksheets” with a student, but sometimes in her class, she feels that is what is sometimes needed.

Personally, I have talked about worksheets in the classroom, and I would say that I used to speak in absolutes, but now I say that once in awhile, if a teacher deems that it is beneficial, there is nothing wrong with a worksheet. If using worksheets is a consistent practice though, that is an entirely different story. I have actually had some parents say to me that it this practice is sometimes beneficial to their child because of the structure that it provides.  Their voice matters.

If you think about it, how many amazing teachers do you know that have used worksheets in their practice? I know many. My fear is that when we make statements that are absolutes, we marginalize a lot of great teachers in the process. It is important that we always question our practice, but it is also important to understand that if a teacher is really great, they should know their students better than anyone, and that based on those relationships, they make decisions on how to best serve those students.

There is not one thing that works for every community and for every child. Even a totally “innovative” practice that becomes “standardized” for every student, all of the time, does not serve all students. Standardization is standardization. Choice and variety is essential. Some things that work for us, might not work for our students, and vice versa. Although we need to challenge what school looks like, we also have to trust that there are many teachers that are doing a variety of things to ensure that students are successful.

Could that sometimes be in the form of a worksheet?

5 Comments

  1. thanks for removing the guilt of using a worksheet. Oftentimes it’s the tool that works but new philosophies in education sometimes make you feel you’re doing something wrong.

    March 1, 2015
  2. The key to good teaching is the choreography that happens with regard to responding to students’ learning needs and interests in ways that matter. That choreography can include a large assortment of learning venues including worksheets, multimedia projects, expert visitors, field studies, problem/project based learning and more. In many ways, I think of the worksheet as a mind map. When I design or choose worksheet for student study, I am typically looking to reenforce a thinking/learning process. Typically my the worksheets I design have the following attributes: introduction/review of vocabulary, a problem for whole class review, and a set of scaffolded problems for individuals and small group work. In a sense the worksheet is the paper guide to a learning experience. Also, with research pointing to the hand-mind connection related to writing to learn, the worksheet also provides a vehicle for that. There are many good reasons to use well designed, targeted worksheets for individual, small group, and whole class learning, but like any learning venue, the worksheet is one small ingredient of the learning/teaching menu. Thanks for bringing this conversation to light. I look forward to reading additional responses.

    March 1, 2015
    • Oops sorry for the typos–that’s what I get for responding too quickly.

      March 1, 2015
  3. AskteacherZ said:

    Great post on an educationally taboo topic. Agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of worksheets. Like everything in the classroom variety, delivery, high level content, engagement and relationships drive quality lessons. If a worksheet best suits the “cause” then there should never be guilt employing its use and most certainly no pressure from the outside to curb it either. Thanks again for your insights. I look forward to seeing you at MACUL in a few weeks.

    March 2, 2015
  4. Greg Pearson said:

    Thanks for this post George. We had this conversation last week at a professional learning opportunity. I have used worksheets. Some poor FITB. some great worksheets that assisted students in gathering and sorting information and allowed them to make sound reasoned judgments. Critical thinking can be done through a worksheet. Just like technology, worksheets can be used well and poorly. As long as our instruction drives the use anything can be used effectively.

    March 2, 2015

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