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Putting Students at the Center
February 28, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 11
Table of Contents
Letting Go of Homework and Worksheets
I stopped using the word worksheet years ago while I was still hammering students with pointless assignments. I simply didn't like the implication of the word, and I was constantly trying to convince students that it wasn't work. Of course, they knew it definitely was work.
A successful results-only classroom is free from worksheets and the harm they cause. Among other things, worksheets have been proven to waste valuable class time and focus on teaching only rote skills (Volante, 2004). Most important, though, is that worksheets make students hate learning. If you don't believe me, simply ask your students, "Hey, do you guys like this worksheet? Do you think it helps you learn the material?"
I'm sure you know in your heart what the answer will be even before you ask.
Perhaps you think that the in-class activities you assign are not worksheets. Let's find out, before we explore better methods of teaching and learning in a results-only classroom. This challenge is so simple that you can do it in seconds. Just go to your file cabinet, textbook supplement, or anything else from which you might assign an in-class activity. The challenge now is to decide if what you select is a worksheet. The following questions make up my worksheet litmus test:
If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you have a worksheet on your hands, and you need to take serious action.
I'm attempting to inject a little levity here, but the message is a serious one. Students do, in fact, hate worksheets. Worksheets, workbooks, practice tests, or any other canned assignments—pretending to be something other than worksheets—bore students and make them hate learning. These assignments turn average teachers into weak ones and undermine the efforts of potentially brilliant teachers. Worksheets are crutches, used primarily as tools to teach to a test, and this creates a vicious cycle of bad education.
The cycle roughly follows this pattern. A science teacher has a unit on weather. She has a final test that she's been using for years. She has workbook lessons that require basic rote memorization, so her students can answer the questions on the test. The students have no choice in how they learn about weather. They complete worksheets, maybe review them, and then regurgitate information from the worksheets when they take the test.
A typical bell curve shows that 20 percent receive As (because they know the system), 20 percent fail (because they didn't complete the worksheets or review for the test), and 60 percent land somewhere in the middle (because they know how to do just enough to get by). What hasn't happened here is real learning.
Replace the worksheets and workbooks with web tools, hands-on activities, interviews with relevant experts or professionals, videos, and small group discussions, and the students will learn about weather. Both the worksheets and the test can be discarded.
The Results Only Learning Environment employs only the best parts of research by a variety of experts—all of whom vilify worksheets and similar tools in one way or another. Mark Forget, the creator of MAX Teaching, believes that when it comes to classroom learning activities, cooperation is king. Forget has developed numerous strategies that involve collaboration and summarizing techniques to improve learning (Forget, 2004).
Stephen Krashen, who has studied reading literacy for more than 40 years, also believes that traditional strategies, such as guided reading and teaching writing skills in isolation, are ineffective. Krashen has found that a wide exposure to books and intense individual reading dramatically increase literacy skills (Krashen, 2011b).
Intense voluntary, independent reading eliminates the need for the worksheets and workbooks that many reading teachers use. College professors Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel have studied effective and ineffective reading practices across the United States, and they offer a variety of strategies for better reading and increased learning, all of which shun the use of worksheets and working on skills in isolation. In fact, Allington and Gabriel very pointedly say that teachers should "eliminate almost all worksheets and workbooks" (2012, p. 14).
Once we recognize that leading education researchers suggest that basic note-taking, guided reading, and rote memorization activities do not increase student achievement, it's time to reconsider the value of worksheets and workbooks in every classroom.
This then leads to the following question: How do we provide useful instruction and practice without something that's been the centerpiece of classrooms for so long?
For more, read samples from the new ASCD book, Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom by Mark Barnes.
Adapted from Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Led Classroom (pp. 35–38), by M. Barnes, 2013, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Reprinted with permission.
Mark Barnes is a 20-year classroom teacher and creator of the Results Only Learning Environment (ROLE), a progressive, student-centered classroom that eliminates all traditional teaching methods, including grades. A popular speaker and presenter, Barnes is also a Discovery Education Network Star Educator and the creator of Learnitin5.com, a library of videos that demonstrates how to use any Web 2.0 and social media application in the classroom.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 11. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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