Showing posts with label worksheets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label worksheets. Show all posts

April 30, 2012

Can you explain this worksheet?

My son brought home a math worksheet with this problem on it:

Clue 1: I am greater than 15 and less than 40.
Clue 2: If you double me, I become a number that ends in 0.
Clue 3: 1/5 of me is equal to 5.

This might be a fun group game, but I'm not sure of the value of this worksheet. 

So, math people, help me out. Why would my son or anyone else ever need to know the answer to the above problem?

February 20, 2012

Top 5 reasons I don't assign homework

The homework debate is one that may plague educators for decades -- even centuries -- to come. It perplexes me, because the research is so overwhelmingly against homework's effectiveness.

After much consideration and exhaustive research, I stopped assigning homework a few years ago. Homework simply doesn't fit into a Results Only Learning Environment.

Although I could write endlessly about the deleterious effects of homework, I'll get right to the top five reasons I don't assign homework.

5 -- Virtually all homework involves rote memory practice, which is always a waste of time. In the age of the Smartphone, who needs to remember by rote?

4 -- Homework has nothing to do with teaching responsibility (HW advocates love this claim). Not only is there not one reliable study to prove that homework builds responsible children, based on what we know about responsibility, the assertion is illogical. Responsibility implies autonomy, and homework offers none of this. Students are told what to do, when to do it, and when it must be returned. Where does responsibility come into play?

3 -- Homework impinges upon a student's time with family and on other, more valuable, activities -- like play. As Alfie Kohn states in The Homework Myth, why should children be asked to work a second shift? It's unconscionable to send children to work for nearly eight hours a day, then have them go home and work for 2-5 more hours; we don't live in 19th century London.

2 -- I can teach the material in the time I'm with my students in the classroom. The endless cry of "I can't teach all of the standards without assigning homework" is a tired excuse used to hide ineffective methods. Creating engaging activities in place of lecture and worksheets, along with less testing will eliminate the need for homework.

1 -- Students hate homework. I want to help  my students develop a thirst for learning. I want them to read for enjoyment and exploration. I want them to extend their learning when they choose, because they are interested in what we do in class. If I force them to do activities that they don't choose, they will hate them. If I penalize them for not completing something they see as valueless, they not only don't learn, they get a bad grade and hate learning even more.

My colleagues often attempt to persuade me that homework is an integral part of teaching and learning. I'm simply  not buying. So, what's your take on the debate?

Don't miss ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, due in February 2013 by ASCD, the world's top educational leadership organization

February 15, 2012

I'm throwing out the ROLE

Okay, not really. I am experimenting with some traditional  methods in one class, though, for the sake of comparison. After a couple of particularly bad days of collaboration, I decided to remind one group of students what we have abandoned and why.

So, out came the workbooks, followed by dry instructional reading, 20 fill-in-the-blank workbook questions and a multiple-choice quiz. These activities were tiresome, and the students groaned throughout.

Reinforcing the lesson
The next day, upon reflection, I shared the more ROLE-type activity that we had done in other classes, while working toward the same learning outcome. "Hey, that's not fair," one disgruntled student shouted. "Why didn't we get to do that?" another questioned.

"Based on how you behaved last week during collaborative time," I explained, "I thought you might like the traditional way better."

They didn't. So, the Results Only Learning Environment was reinstated, and all was again right with the world.

This experiment reminded me that not all students adapt as easily as others to a results-only class. Constant reminding about the learning community we're cultivating is necessary. This was a "tough-love" lesson, but I think the message was clear.

December 15, 2011

Good use of a bad tool

As a ROLE teacher, I am not in favor of worksheets, workbooks and the like. Very few of these tools offer any freedom to the learner. However, our students are provided with a vocabulary book, which is part of student fees, so I am obligated to make use of it. 

There are many ways I could justify use of the workbook and remain true to my results-only philosophy, but I want to be sure that using the book is neither a waste of time for students nor a waste of money for parents. So, I have learned to take the best parts of the workbook and create the autonomy that my students enjoy so much. 

We simply ignore the mundane multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank items and apply the lessons to real learning. One such activity involves reviewing strategies for using context clues – a valuable skill for all readers. Instead of completing the worksheets that follow the strategies, I ask my students to return to the novels they’ve selected as part of our independent reading program and apply the strategies there. 

After 15 minutes of reading, they identified previously unknown words in small groups, sharing the strategies they used to learn them. Later, they look up the words on their Smart phones to verify their meanings. This activity provides good use of a bad tool.

August 14, 2011

Teaching without worksheets is easy

In a recent post about the misconception of greatness in teaching, I shared an anecdote about a new teacher explaining how a so-called great teacher shared all of his worksheets with her. I immediately cringed at this, because of my strong belief that worksheets and the like erase any interest students might have in the subject matter.

Want a quiet classroom? Worksheets will help.
I have written widely about how a results-only classroom uses year-long projects in place of worksheets. Some educators are skeptical, most likely because they don't want to let go of their precious files filled with the worksheets that make teaching so easy, while putting students to sleep faster than a 30-minute lecture.  

Education researcher, Louis Volante, has found that among other things, worksheets have been proven to waste valuable class time and focus on teaching only rote skills (2004). Founder of MAX Teaching, Mark Forget, has suggested that worksheets eliminate the collaborative approach that is conducive to learning (2004).

My own experience tells me that worksheets are a crutch, used by traditional teachers, who have either no interest or no experience engaging students in real learning. The year-long project provides students with a menu of choices for demonstrating numerous learning outcomes over the course of an entire school year.

The teachers provides mini lessons (typically brief videos, discovery activities and models) and plenty of class time for project work. Students are engaged by the freedom that a workshop environment creates. Plus, since students help create the projects, they are intrinsically motivated to move forward with them, to watch them grow. 

So, if you build a powerful year-long project that integrates learning outcomes and provides students with plenty of choice, collaboration and time to work, you'll see that teaching without worksheets is very easy.


Forget, M.A. (2004). Max teaching with reading and writing: classroom activities for helping
students learn new subject matter while acquiring literacy skills. Portsmouth, VA: Trafford.

Volante, Louis. Teaching to the Test: What Every Educator and Policy-maker Should Know.
Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy.

August 13, 2011

Misconceptions of greatness

Newbie teachers are so quick to give veterans the "great teacher" label. They often hand it out as thoughtlessly as doctors, passing out stickers to toddlers after their yearly well visits.

A new teacher, whom I'm very close to, is preparing for her second year in the profession. In a recent conversation, she told me how she was getting ready for the school year.

Will a worksheet engage this student?

She received help from someone who just retired from her school. "He's a great teacher," she announced enthusiastically. "He gave me all his old worksheets and tests." Now, she explained, things would be easy, as she would have less activity preparation and lesson planning.

Because she means so much to me, I was devastated to learn that she believes that someone who uses worksheets and tests is a "great teacher." I must assume that she will bury her students with these decades-old worksheets and bombard them with boring, useless multiple-choice tests. After all, most young teachers want to emulate greatness. This is what they learn. Education professors and new teacher mentors teach the strategy: find a great teacher and do what she does.

The problem with this is twofold. One, there are very few truly great teachers. Two, this monkey-see-monkey-do approach does not lend itself to self-evaluation, research and discovery. These are the tools of great teachers -- not worksheets and tests.

I wanted so badly to look at this young teacher and say,"Please don't be that teacher. He is not great."

I wanted to tell her that I know that she can be so much better, but a  so-called great teacher had already influenced her far more with his worksheets and tests, than I could with mere words.

With great regret, I realized that her misconception of greatness may keep her from ever reaching it.

May 18, 2011

ROLE strategies: throw away the worksheets

Like most veteran teachers, for many years I had dusty worksheets and daily routines that made me comfortable, while boring my students into submission or, worse, into disruption. Routines and worksheets make a teacher’s life easy. Sure, you still have to deal with classroom management, parents, administrators and the myriad of unexpected stresses that may arise on any given day. The academic piece becomes easy, though, when the canned units and activities are in place.

New strategies
Reading all year
The shift to a ROLETM is not an easy one. What you’ll love about this system, though, is how these strategies will simplify many of the other difficulties that you may fear if you eliminate useless worksheets, homework and testing. Best of all, you can apply these ROLE strategiesTM to any subject or grade. During the next few posts, I'll outline these progressive methods.

Strategy 1: Incorporate and “coach up” the year-long project. Although I’m suggesting the elimination of the dull routine that we are taught to use back in our pre-service days, which I used to be a huge proponent of, the year-long project maintains a sense of structure and routine that will make the classroom run smoothly. The project can be anything; it just needs to be subject-related and something that can incorporate mini-lessons throughout the year.

Incorporate daily work from the project
The project should include something that students can work on every day. Of course, a year-long project must incorporate the autonomy that is critical to a results-only classroom.

What makes the year-long project so successful is that it is fundamental to the results-only philosophy that the teacher works all year to cultivate. If the project is discussed and celebrated constantly, and if there is enough freedom of choice in it to create a legitimate sense of ownership in each student, it will become an integral part of a project-based class, and your students will come to believe in it.

Say goodbye to bell work
If your day currently begins with bell work (a tedious practice), you can now replace it with the year-long project. Remember, in coaching intrinsic motivation and the results-only philosophy, you will teach your students to value production. As the school year moves forward, students will hunger for time to work on their projects.

Stay tuned for more strategies in our next posts.