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Thursday, November 12, 2009

All Worksheets Are Not Created Equal

Yes and no.

This is not so hot:

Disjointed. Pointless. Teaches nothing. Brain need not engage. Follow some procedure whether you know what you are doing or not. Kids either refuse to participate in the charade or tolerate it. They might be tolerating it with sweet, deceiving smiles on their faces, but they are not relishing it as a learning opportunity.

This is much better:

Believe it or don't, but you get a much different reaction from a kid, who has the appropriate background, to a worksheet like this. A narrowing of the gaze. Quiet focus. Murmuring and grunting. Meaningful questions.

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to think about why it's better. That's not really the point I want to make right now. Propogating the myth that All Worksheets are Bad isn't just unhelpful, it's harmful. It has led to a situation where we think Good Teachers Don't Use Worksheets and Bad Teachers Use Worksheets. Textbook companies are putting out crap. Grad programs aren't showing new teachers how to make good ones.

Argue all you want about what public schools should look like, but in the schools we have in late 2009, I am looking at 30 kids for 45 minutes a day, sitting in the available chairs at the available desks. Some of them have a cell phone, a subset of those get reception in my room, some number could bring a laptop every day if we asked them to. But they all have a pen or a pencil, and none of them want to waste their time. This reality means I must, inevitably, find or make paper materials to put in their hands. If I believed all worksheets were bad, and using them made me a bad teacher, I would eventually print out some garbage provided by the textbook, close the door, and keep my head down. Thankfully I spent my first couple years, before they retired, around some very wise mentors.

Here is that exponent worksheet if you liked it.