In defense of worksheets and packets

Photo by Seiichi Kusunoki
Photo by Seiichi Kusunoki

I wanted to leave a comment here: http://mrschultsocialstudies.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/worksheets-on-worksheets-on-worksheets/ but it turned into a blog post of its own!

First of all, for the most part I agree with Mr. Schult! Students should be interacting, problem solving, creatively thinking, and using technology!

But there are a few points I’d like to make.

1. Worksheets or packets are not inherently bad. Yesterday my Spanish 1 students began with a quick warmup where they had to decide which character in a Spanish reader had made each of 10 statements. I projected it rather than photocopying in, I did not require them to copy down the sentences, and I encouraged them to collaborate. It took 5 minutes and activated some vocabulary and prior knowledge. Was this bad?

2. Sometimes I do need to disseminate information. Not everything can be discovered on one’s own. In a “work environment” there are many times when you simply read a memo, a handbook or manual, or are told (lecture format?) how to do something. In a “work environment” you don’t always get to ask questions or explore alternative ideas. Sometimes you simply get the information and carry out a task. Ask anyone you know with a job.

3. Sometimes we do need to all work on the same thing. In Spanish class, I am building vocabulary from zero, and it is quite helpful for students to all have a common thread of vocabulary. They would NOT be able to converse on any random topic in level 1!

4. I do use the copier. I create reading handouts and music packets. This allows us to read the same things and learn the same songs. I also give study guides. The main reason for this is that I have numerous students on 504 plans or IEPs that require me to do this. So to make life easier, I just make them available to everyone. I do give a minuscule amount of points for turning it in, and I do not allow retakes on the test for anyone who did not turn it in. This is more about CYA and being stingy with my own time in allowing test retakes than about pedagogical choices. I’d love to hear what others think about this!

5. Do I still engage kids in class face-to-face? I think so. I don’t ever “lecture.” I co-create stories with the kids. We read and discuss little novels. We look at photos, learn about culture, sample foods, and discuss. I have them re-tell stories in pairs or groups. By level 2 we move to more spontaneous discussions. By levels 3 and 4 they are making some serious connections with the world.

6. Finally, I would like to address the issue of technology. I love it. It is helpful, wonderful, amazing. But don’t assume everyone has it. Our school had no wifi until THIS year. We have 2 computer labs where the computers are half-dismantled and there are not enough computers if you have more than 28 kids in a class. The filters are so restrictive it is a joke. The computers are slow, freeze up, and frustrate. I try having kids BYOD, but about 1/2 the kids, especially my freshmen, do not have a D to B. Still, I try. I’ve even allowed kids to use my personal iPhone to record videos or chat on Today’s Meet. But it is not easy. I just think the air of judgement over those not using tech should be toned down across the board and especially across the Twitterverse. I know some pretty amazing teachers who are not much into technology and that is ok.

4 comments

  1. I spent my first two years teaching in a school that hadn’t been used for much since it shut down as a science center in the 80s. I was always so jealous of the cool things other teachers could go with their smart boards and iPads and 1:1 laptop ratios and what seems like a million other things. I’m glad I had that experience, though, because I got to learn how to be a good teacher (still learning, by the way!), and I know how to carry on if technology inevitably fails me.

  2. Hi Christine! Thanks for your comments! I use lots of TPRS and related Comprehensible-Input based teaching techniques. My vocabulary comes from stories, readings, songs, and culture lessons. So, when I give a vocabulary list, it is after the fact, descriptive of vocabulary that they might/should pick up from the lesson. Ideally I would not give out vocabulary lists and just allow vocabulary to organically develop. However, I find that parents of struggling students often really have no idea how to help their kids and a vocabulary list is something concrete that they can work with. Have a great day!

  3. I found this post quite thought provoking because I agree, worksheets are a different situation for the language teacher. I especially agreed with points 2/3 which seem to go together quite well, although it made me wonder how we can get away from simply giving information for memorization in the early levels of language learning. What other techniques do you use in your early level classes?

    I also especially enjoyed point 6! I’ve been thinking lately on technology alternatives (that aren’t worksheet, ha) for schools that don’t have the same level of technology that many educators take for granted.

    Great post, especially for language teachers!

    1. I am new to the world of BLOGS. It is a comfort to know that other teachers are experiencing the same challenges in the classroom when introducing new material. I am trying to limit worksheets too. Have you had experience with Wikis? My graduate professor suggested that Wikis may be a way to avoid worksheets and have your students some practice time. what do you think?

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