Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let's banish all worksheets

Recently I had the joyful opportunity of covering a 6th grade class to start the day. The lesson was harmless enough. We were to read the Science text together on the topic of Earth's history. It was a quick survey of archaeological science in terms of fossil dating and making predictions about the observations and artifacts included within our earth. After reading a fairly engaging section of text, the teacher asked that the students work on a worksheet. I'm thinking, what was the buy-in for participation in that worksheet? Probably Zero!! Now, to be honest, I didn't even read the worksheet, because the actual sub came in and I had to run, but I got to thinking that maybe there was a better way to solidify that learning. For example,

The teacher could have focused on this California Reading Standard:

2.8 Note instances of unsupported inferences, fallacious reasoning, persuasion,
and propaganda in text.

...because this text was ripe with inferences.

They could have written a simple 3 column chart with observation, inference, and analysis at the top and listed all the observations included as well as inferences made by the authors of the text. The final column could have included their analysis of the validity of the inference. Was it supported sufficiently or not?

They also could have focused on writing standards of expository composition, research report, or persuasive composition. Any short writing piece that would contribute to one of these genres would have been a more authentic task than filling out ANY worksheet. I'm confident it would have also been more engaging, especially if time was allotted for students of differing opinions to state their cases in small groups or before the class for everyone to judge their logic and thinking.

Basically, I don't see a lot of learning accomplished through filling out worksheets unless there is some opportunity for engagement, discussion, and academic discourse.

1 comment:

dcowart said...

I was lucky to see Michael Schmoker speak about this same topic. He talked about the "Crayola Curriculum" and how the students need more meaniful work. To be better readers we need to read more and and to be better writiers we need to write more. Here is a clip from an article I found on-line. It makes your point nicely.

The ‘Crayola Curriculum’
By Mike Schmoker
Education Week

For improvements in early literacy, we should take a hard look at what's really happening in reading classes.

We may have the reading crisis all wrong. It may have far less to do with the "reading wars" than we presumed. I am convinced that the following explanation is, without doubt, the least recognized but most salient explanation for why there is a reading gap between rich and poor, for why so many kids reach upper-elementary and middle school with less than even minimal ability to read and make sense of text. The explanation is both simple and shocking. But the evidence for it is compelling. Best of all, this explanation holds out enormous hope for dramatic, near-term improvements at every level of education.

A couple of years ago, I found myself touring a school that had received an international award for excellence in staff development. Roaming from class to class—on what was clearly a "showcase day"—I went from being puzzled to astonished by what I saw.

Two things were terribly wrong: One, a majority of students were sitting in small, unsupervised groups, barely, if at all, engaged in what were supposedly learning activities. Many of the children were chatting. Second, but more important, was that the activities themselves seemed to bear no relation whatsoever to reading, the presumed subject being taught at the time. After seeing this pattern in several classes, I finally asked my host what kinds of gains had been made in this award-winning but high-poverty school. I was regretfully informed that there had been no gains, what with the hardships these children faced at home and in their neighborhoods. ......