Autopsy of a Worksheet

This post was originally titled, “Anatomy of a Worksheet,” but such a title  implies something worth learning about and carrying forward.  I think it’s more apropos to learn about was, why it died, and how we can prevent it from happening again.

The first question people ask is, “What is a worksheet? I’ve been handing them out for years!”


Fill-in-the-blank worksheet: No understanding required.

My definition of a worksheet has three parts:

1.  Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.

2.  Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.

3.  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 is a worksheet not the best instructional model?

1.  Worksheets do not promote depth of learning.  In his keynote at #METC14 in February, @Kevinhoneycutt told the story about how he was tired of being the ‘dumb kid in the back of the class,’ so he asked to be moved to the front where all the action between the teachers and the students took place, and what did he learn?  All the right answers to the questions were in bold, right in the text!  He didn’t even have to understand what the words meant to start answering questions correctly.

2.  Worksheets do not promote creativity.  When students know there is only one right answer, they work to respond with what they think is expected.  Check out this video by Sir Ken Robinson from the #ASCD14 in Los Angeles this winter:

3.  Common Core does not support Worksheets.  Common Core is about teaching kids the HOW and WHY of things –  explaining, creating, analyzing, evaluating, and understanding.  A worksheet shows a teacher their students understand two things:  the WHAT of things, and that they are adept at filling in blanks.

I hope you will join our #noworksheetweek challenge the week of April 7 – 11, 2014.  Join our No Worksheet Google+ Community, and check out these other educators who are in on the Challenge:  Rae Fearing (CA), Dan Gibson (IN), and Kristie Burk (PA).

What do you do instead of worksheets to promote student creativity in your class?  What lesson are you the most proud of?

Teacher Challenge: No Worksheet Week

After all the hubbub of the Midwest Educational Technology Conference in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, I finally sat down – I think I was actually in my car, it’s where I do some of my best thinking – and reflected.  Besides winning the lottery and bringing my whole District to METC15, how can I work to move my teachers forward in their thinking?

The result of my drive/thinking time/epiphany was to challenge the teachers to a Worksheet-Free Week.  One day is too easy.  Two weeks is too long.  A full week after the State Testing period would do perfectly in my quest to move instructional pedagogy forward.  It’s quite simiple, really, with just two rules:

  1. No pre-copied sheets of paper where kids fill in answers on the sheet of paper.
  2. Take the same number of grades in each subject(s) during that week that you normally would.

After running the idea past our two curriculum councils (comprised of teacher leaders in the district), I figured I would have to water it down a bit – give some options.  Hence, the Olympic-themed Gold, Silver, and Bronze levels:

  • GOLD – 5 days of no worksheets
  • SILVER – 5 days of no worksheets, except in math
  • BRONZE – 5 days of no worksheets in one subject

The reflection/culmination activity will be a luncheon provided by the district the following week on an early release/school improvement day.  During that time, we will reflect on challenges, successes, and how this might be carried out in everyday instruction.

It would be great if other districts would join in.  We could set up a collaborative buddy system, and really start something new!  Let me know if you’d like to join in.Image

UPDATE 3/1/14:

Rae Fearing (@RaeFearing) of Crescent City, CA took the idea and added another dimension: badges!

Ms. Fearing also expanded the idea to incorporate Junior High and High School teachers:  The GOLD level is still a full week of no worksheets in any class.  SILVER is 5 days of no worksheets in all subjects but math (elementary) or in at least 2 periods (junior high/high school), while the BRONZE is 5 days of no worksheets in one subject (elementary) or in one class period (junior high/high school).

Brilliant!  Just another example of the power of collaboration and my PLN!  I’m so glad I joined Twitter and am a Connected Educator.  Thanks, Rae!

If you would like to join us, leave your name (individual, school, or district) in the Comments, below.  Let’s get this going worldwide!




UPDATE 3/23/14:  Seems that it’s now a ‘movement’ according to +Dan Gibson in his blog post #noworksheetweek.  Check out his slideshow summarizing the concept.