The second annual no worksheet week was celebrated in our school district by teachers and students last week. Students let out a cheer with wide smiles on their faces. Just the words “no worksheets” seemed almost unbelievable to them. The roar of the copy machine was more of a soft hum. Lesson plans were descriptive and creative listing more than a page number.
What about the teachers? These educators were natural facilitators posing thought provoking questions, providing assistance during small group activities,and guiding students in evaluating information and organizing it. Modeling the how to for a skill or strategy and letting students apply it without using a worksheet was not the issue. It was the assessment. How will I get enough grades? How will I show student progress without grades for daily work, homework, and tests?
I have seen a mountain of papers heaped on a desk next to the teacher telling me he or she just doesn’t have any time for trying new ideas. They are overwhelmed with behavior charts, schedules, recess and bus duties, and papers to grade. Yet packets of papers are created to keep student occupied rather than engaged in learning. “It has worked for ten plus years without any changes. Until a new textbook series is purchased, this is the plan for instruction.” So last week one big time thief, grading papers, was replaced. Teachers observed and took notes on the student’s thought process. Performance assessments, student conferences, and rubrics were used to collect data. Homework and daily worksheets were replaced by hands-on activities and students writing.Teachers learned so much more about a student’s progress than from a number on a graded paper. Less time was spent grading, filing, and shuffling papers back and forth to students. Even if one chose to give the assessment test and eliminate or minimize the number of daily worksheets and homework, it was still more productive. Is it necessary to fill every box in the grade book for every subject every quarter to measure a student’s mastery of the content? What is the feedback to students when they see a number grade? Do they even know why this answer is wrong? If you are not a good test taker, do you ever show what you have learned?
Some teachers plan to continue “no worksheet week”. They began writing lesson plans building on this past week’s experience and thinking about new methods. With a little time and practice, it will be easier to come up with alternatives to worksheets. The prize outweighs the effort. Take the challenge!