(Wûrk’ shēt)

Wassup With the Worksheets?!

It is time for the 2nd annual No Worksheet Week! This movement started as a blog post, and quickly went global, thanks to the help of Rae Fearing in California.  To read more about the development of the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge you can read here, here or here. Rae and I are collaborating on this post so we can help teachers interested in taking the challenge learn how to to go worksheet free and discover the benefits for their students as well as providing support and new ideas for past participants.


What is a Worksheet?


Going worksheet free is about much more than not using paper.  A worksheet-free week is not necessarily paper-free.  Remember that both technology and paper are tools for learning.  What we are working toward is real learning, and worksheets do not promote real learning. Think about the last time you learned something.  Did you have to answer a bunch of true/false questions, or did you have to DO it – demonstrate mastery – in order to prove your learning? In order to move away from the dreaded worksheet, we first need a common definition:

  • Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.
  • Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.
  • Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.


Why Do We Need No Worksheet Week?


Worksheets do not support deep thinking or reflection.  If the answer to a problem is only found in the textbook and must be copied or paraphrased on a worksheet, it only demonstrates the student’s ability to copy down information.  A completed worksheet, or getting an answer right on a worksheet, does not demonstrate understanding of the material. When I was in the classroom I used to ask my students three open ended questions about a topic; if they could answer those questions verbally and discuss the topic with me then I knew they were ready for assessment.  Try asking a student to explain and discuss material after completing a worksheet, and you will be surprised by the lack of understanding they have obtained.  According to Best Practice (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde, 2012) meaningful and useful assessment “involves students in developing meaningful responses, and calls on them to keep track of and judge their own work.” To achieve this, we need to change the way classrooms work and we also need to involve students in activities and collaborative projects that foster discussion and deeper thinking.


There are many ways to guide students to deeper learning as you ditch those worksheets.  Take a look at Matt’s Autopsy of a Worksheet post or Rae’s Thinglink image that takes on a 4th grade worksheet about sentence rules. You can see more examples of #NoWorksheetWeek ideas or share your own on our collaborative Padlet wall.

The Two Big Ideas of #NoWorksheetWeek


  1. Increase the 4C’s – Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Communication in the classroom.
  2. Bring relevance to learning through real world applications of learning and authentic assessment.

What Does a Worksheet-Free Classroom Look Like?


Do more of this Do less of this
communicate thinking busy work (work that’s required but which doesn’t advance learning)
sharing ideas learning about other people’s ideas
discover answers trying to put down the ‘right’ answer instead of the best one.
communicating understanding showing the teacher you can provide the answer they like/are expecting
creating authentic learning products using technology as a substitute for a worksheet
engaging students in meaningful, academic conversations asking students for the ‘right’ answer

Please participate in the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge and share your experiences using the hashtag #NoWorksheetWeek.  We will be sharing some of your best ideas on our blogs, so get creative!


You can also join our Google+ Community


A Shard of Chaos

Yesterday afternoon, the Superintendent of our district, Dr. Todd Koehl, sent out an email to the staff and to the Board in which he tries to make sense of the Sandy Hook Incident.  It’s worthy of sharing with others because it touches on some fundamental truths about our school system and perhaps why the damage caused by this incident (and ones like this) can be felt across the US.
This is a sad day.  A young man, mad at the world, walks into his mother’s school, shoots several students students, the principal, teachers and staff, and then kills himself.  There is no real sense in this.
We could debate a variety of issues with this killing spree, but none of the debatable issues is as basic as the fact that the killer was most likely known to the staff who man the door and welcomed in.   A school is a safe place where people are known.  A school operates on the basis community, partnerships, possibilities.  A school is the one place where when your innocence is destroyed, you can go to revel in it, even if it is for  the sole purpose of destroying it for someone else so that they suffer the way you have.  
I believe that it is the betrayal of this basic innocence, manifested in trust, hope, promise, that spurs the kind of destruction and tragedy that happened today at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Something went terribly wrong for this young man and his anger and despair overcame his sense of right and he acted in the way that settled his internal conflict with the loss of innocence.
This person’s mom may have worked anywhere so this could have happened anywhere.  But, it didn’t.  It happened in a place built on hope and promise and operating in trust and respect.  Schools have a uniqueness about them that resonates with all of us. They have a certain smell, a certain order, a certain comfort.  Hardly anyone can walk into a school and not drop into the kind of routine inherent to the system.  In essence, for a great number of Americans, school is the blueprint of our childhood: books, desks, breaks, summers, teachers, recess, buses all hung on a specific framework upon which we grew up and from which we detached ourselves at the right time. For the most part, we all share this common experience.  In this sense, schools are ubiquitous.
As teachers we return to school for the order, the framework, the innocence. This is at the core of our decision to teach.  We can read the blueprint of the framework and help others to learn to embed it and then leave it.  We protect, nurture, and grow the innocence.  Throw aside all of the negative press that has dominated teaching in the last year and get back to the basic reason that you, we chose the profession:  we love school.  We love, the smell, the order, the comfort.  We love the trust, the hope, the promise inherent in each day.  The tragedy of this day is that someone stepped into that world seeking justice for something lost by robbing others of it.  There is a certain parallelism to this, but not real sense.
Tonight I encourage you all to think about school and what it means to you.  I have been in school almost my whole life since I was 5, and I have never been through a time when schools were so much at the front of so much controversy.  Today’s event, however, has shed some light on the issues surrounding our schools.   We hold something that others have lost and are seeking to redeem: trust, hope, promise, and innocence.  Let’s find a way to share this with our families, friends, and community so that we never share the darker history of Sandy Hook.