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I saw a video a few months ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. In the video, a high school student named Jeff Bliss stood up in the middle of class and basically expressed his frustration to the teacher in the room:
Okay, now let’s get something out of the way: Yes, this student was disrupting class and his behavior is disrespectful. I will acknowledge that. On the other hand, we don’t know exactly what happened before the camera was turned on. Based on what he says in the video, my guess is that Bliss had just voiced some kind of concern, the teacher told him to quit complaining, and at that point, I guess he’d had enough.
What I have gleaned about Jeff Bliss from the internet is that at the time of the video, he was an 18-year-old sophomore. So apparently, at some point, he had not been successful in school. For some people, this takes away his credibility. For me, it makes him an even better source of information about why school isn’t working for some students.
Disruptive behavior aside, the content of Bliss’s outburst tells me that his teacher’s primary mode of instruction is through packets. This was what got me. This is what made me watch this video six, seven, eight times over. Because I just believe him.
I believe him because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen classrooms where teachers deliver instruction overwhelmingly through worksheets, or packets of worksheets. I have seen my own kids’ schoolwork come home, and I have asked friends, other parents with school-age kids, and colleagues who consult in lots of schools, and nearly all of them tell me that a lot of our students’ instructional time is being spent hunched over some kind of worksheet.
That’s a problem.
I want to spend some time looking at this problem from all sides: What distinguishes a “busywork” worksheet from something that delivers real value, why teaching with worksheets is usually not the best choice for learning, the reasons teachers default to worksheet teaching, and what other learning experiences would be better for our students.
Not all Worksheets are Created Equal
Let’s start by agreeing on some terms.
First we need to define what we mean by “worksheet.” Technically, a worksheet is anything printed on copier paper and given to students to write on. And since you can print just about anything on a piece of paper, we really can’t say that worksheets per se are good or bad. That would be like saying “books” or “movies” are good or bad. It’s a medium. A delivery system.
And there are plenty of instructionally rich things you can do with a worksheet: A graphic organizer is a wonderful tool for research, pre-writing, and notetaking. An excerpt from a primary source can be printed on a worksheet for close study and annotation. Worksheets can be used for analyzing data (like this collection from Maria Andersen), as scaffolds for notetaking, as tools for reflection, or as formative assessments. They can also be used as recording tools alongside more active experiences: data sheets for labs, planning sheets for group projects, and so on.
In my experience, when people criticize worksheets, they are referring to a specific type of worksheet, what I will call a busysheet, the kind where students are either doing work that’s fairly low-level recall stuff–filling in blanks with words, choosing from multiple-choice questions, labeling things–or work that has no educational value at all, like word searches, word scrambles, or coloring stuff in cases where coloring adds no extra layer of understanding.
Sometimes the difference between a busysheet and a quality learning tool is obvious, and other times it’s a judgment call. After talking to lots of educators about how they use worksheets in their classrooms, I think it’s most accurate to say that every worksheet falls somewhere on a continuum: Some worksheets are clearly nothing but busysheets, while others, like note-taking sheets or data collection tools, directly support student learning; I’ll call these powersheets. I think a lot of worksheets fall somewhere between the two. Because there is such a range, the only person who can really make the call is you.
Packets, to be clear, are simply a bunch of worksheets stapled together. They could contain a lot of powersheets, but when a student refers to them as frickin’ packets, it’s highly likely that they are mostly made up of busysheets.
Possible Busysheets in Disguise
Some formats have come along recently that have the potential to deliver the same kind of work we find in busysheets, only they don’t always look like it. While each of these certainly could offer instructional value, they could also be just another way to keep kids still:
- Computer programs or apps that have students performing the exact same activities we see on busysheets.
- Interactive notebooks: These vary widely in quality, with some offering true interactivity and others just offering the same value of a worksheet, just colored, cut, and pasted into a notebook.
- HyperDocs: If these are thoughtfully designed, they have the potential to offer wonderful variety, exploration, and differentiation, but they could also just be a new way to organize busywork.
The Problem with “Busysheet Teaching”
“Busysheet teaching” is when we use busysheets in place of other, better forms of instruction. This type of teaching might take the form of bell-ringers, homework, early finisher work, classroom centers, or even the main learning activity during regular class time.
So what’s wrong with teaching this way?
It’s disconnected from anything meaningful.
Busysheets isolate skills so much that students have trouble connecting them to real life. When a student sees little value in an activity, he is not truly engaged. Take this reading worksheet, which has students read a short passage about Maya Angelou, then answer four fill-in-the-blank questions about the passage.
This type of busysheet would most likely be used to teach reading comprehension or serve as a Black History Month activity.
Let’s unpack these one by one.
- Reading comprehension: Having students answer low-level recall questions about a passage of writing that offers no meaningful context doesn’t do a lot to make them better readers. If the questions were more challenging, if they asked students to choose which textual evidence supports some particular idea, for example, that might move it up the continuum a bit more toward the power end, but is this the best way to give students reading practice? If students do this kind of work day after day, with passages instead of real books, they won’t be reading enough. So much of what we call “reading instruction” is far inferior to having students read real books.
- Black History Month: Giving students a packet of these types of busysheets–where the work and contributions of significant African Americans are reduced to one-page blurbs followed by some cute activity–is inadequate in so many ways. This article from Teaching Tolerance lists much more comprehensive and authentic ways to honor Black history in your classroom all year round.
It often misses the standards.
Even if they are labeled as addressing certain standards, the kind of work we see on busysheets often misses the mark. Take, for example, this typical grammar worksheet:
This type of worksheet, where students are asked to label or identify various grammatical constructions, has thrived for decades, and in the days before worksheets, it existed in the form of exercises from grammar books.
Apart from the well-established fact that teaching grammar outside the context of meaningful writing does nothing to help students become better writers, and in many cases makes them worse, the skills being practiced in this kind of worksheet don’t actually teach or reinforce the goals set by our academic standards.
Here’s what I mean: For convenience, I’ll use the Common Core Standards as a reference. There is no mention anywhere in the standards of students being able to identify or label these verb tenses. Nothing. It does, however, require students to use them correctly in their writing. So it would make a lot more sense to show students these different constructions, then have them find places in their writing where they are using them. If they aren’t using them anywhere, have them try it. They never ever have to actually know the names of the verb tenses or a whole lot of other grammatical constructions. Despite this, tens of thousands of students are required to complete busysheets like this every day. And I bet they get tested on the same kind of information, too. Meanwhile, little to no time is being spent giving them opportunities to use these constructions in their real writing.
It often has no instructional value.
By definition, a busysheet’s goal is to keep students busy, not necessarily teach them anything. The most egregious types of busysheets are word searches, word scrambles, and and crossword puzzles, which might as well be a list of definitions with blanks next to them.
I have watched my own children do word searches for homework and stress out about not finding every single word because they would lose points. If there is any pedagogical justification for that, I certainly haven’t found it.
It requires lots and lots of sitting still.
The more teachers use busysheets, the more students will sit and sit and sit. Yes, it’s possible that there are teachers who use a lot of busysheets but have great alternative seating options in their classrooms, but my guess is that in most of the classrooms where busysheets are abundant, students are basically sitting in desks. This is far from ideal. In 2014, teacher Alexis Wiggins spent two days shadowing her students and was shocked to discover just how much time they spent sitting, and how exhausting that was. And we hear all the time about the studies that are confirming how dangerous it can be to sit for extended periods of time. So planning for extended periods of sitting, all day long, just isn’t good for our kids.
It requires a ton of copying.
Anyone who has ever had to wait in line for a copy machine or found themselves staring desperately at a cryptic error message on the copier knows that relying heavily on worksheets wastes a lot of time and paper.
It gives you more stuff to grade.
Many teachers who use a lot of worksheets also grade them, calculating those points as part of a student’s overall grade in a course. This approach creates two problems. One, it erases the value of formative assessment: If worksheets are meant to be used to teach students something or give them practice on skills they are learning, then why would students be penalized for making mistakes on them? I can see why teachers might give points for completion, but going through and marking wrong answers, then taking off points for something students are still actively learning is really missing the point: That’s what summative assessments are for. The other problem is that this system creates a ridiculous amount of grading for the teacher. If you are going home with piles and piles of papers to grade, you’re assigning too many things to be graded. If you can shift some of these activities from graded to “practice,” you’ll be giving students the practice they need without creating a lot of extra paperwork for yourself.
Why We Do It, and What to Do Instead
Teachers have a lot of reasons for leaning heavily on busysheets, and some of these may seem unavoidable. Let’s look at the most common reasons, along with some ideas for what we can do instead.
1. No Textbooks, No Tech
If your school is short on materials and technology, it may be necessary to use printables to build your curriculum. Much of what we learn comes from reading things, so if you don’t have good science textbooks, for example, worksheets and handouts can serve the same purpose. What’s important is that we do this thoughtfully.
- Even if you download a whole unit or curriculum, only use the parts that are going to provide value to your students, rather than just marching students through the whole thing.
- Beware of cute: Some materials are so beautifully designed, they may make it hard to notice if they’re thin on quality learning. If you can get both at once, awesome, but always scrutinize for the learning first.
- Not all students need the same materials: Consider making some handouts and worksheets available to students as resources, rather than giving everyone the same stuff. Show them how to select the materials they need and where to store them for future reference.
2. Skills Practice
Many teachers use worksheets to give students practice in required skills. This seems to be most common in math (or, in the later grades, with things like chemistry equations). While this method obviously gives teachers some of the results they’re hoping for, if you take a few things into consideration, you can probably refine the practice. Here are some questions to consider when heading to the copy machine:
- How much practice is really needed? Does every student need the same amount of practice? Can they stop when they’ve had enough?
- Would other activities be just as beneficial–or more beneficial–than practice problems? In this youcubed article, professor Jo Boaler describes four other ways to develop number facts and number sense. She also shared a strategy in a recent tweet where a problem is placed in the center of a paper and students use the corners of the page to show four different ways of solving the problem. These kinds of activities get kids to actually think and talk about the math they’re doing, rather than just completing problem after problem.
- I’m going to bring this up again: If you’re recording a grade on practice work, especially if that grade is based on accuracy, it’s not practice!! Keep this in mind when deciding how many problems are really necessary to give students the practice they need.
Teachers often find that creating leveled packets of work is a simple way to personalize learning for each student. But again, does that have to mean each child gets one of three large, comprehensive packets? Let’s look again at the suggestion I made earlier, where handouts (containing information) and worksheets (offering practice) are offered as resources, and students decide which they need. To see this idea fully developed, check out Natalie McCutchen’s self-paced math classroom: Students work through units on their own, and they decide how much practice they need before taking the assessments, so some students do a lot, while others do very little.
4. Grade-level Alignment
In some schools, teachers are required to teach the same thing as their grade-level counterparts, on the same day, and document the whole process in detailed, standards-aligned lesson plans. When I talk to teachers about why they’re burned out, it’s policies like these that they often cite as completely draining them. This type of requirement also causes many of them to resort to teaching entirely with packets: Find a workbook that says it’s standards-aligned, then everyone use the same set of pages every week. Done.
This makes for incredibly dry, uninspired learning, and unfortunately, I don’t have a good solution for it. My best advice is to share this post with your administrator so they can see the impact that this type of policy is having. I would also urge you to question the integrity of the standards label: Is the packet really getting kids to do what the standard says, or is it a “lighter” version of that? These packets may act as a stopgap for now, but if your team has been using the same set for several years, now may be the time to look more closely at them to see if some pages could be removed and replaced with other activities.
5. Sub Work
When we have substitute teachers, sometimes packets seem to be the only option. This is another tricky one. If you really have no other option, at least do everything you can to make sure the worksheets lean more toward the “powersheet” end of the continuum. Another option that can work if you know you’re going to be out ahead of time is to train a few students to lead the class in an actual lesson, then let the sub know that the plan is to let these students teach. This would obviously require a lot of work up front, and you need to have built a classroom culture where students want to behave while you’re gone, but I do think it can be done.
6. Crowd Control
In overcrowded classrooms it seems impossible to do anything hands-on, any kind of group work, anything interactive. Worksheets keep everyone in their seat and under control. This, again, is more of a systemic issue that could only truly be solved at the policy level. With that said, I still don’t believe worksheets are the only option. Sure, you might not be able to do big, sweeping hands-on stuff, but you can do paired work, set up tasks around the room in stations, or even split the class in half so that only some are doing the “active” work while others are seated and calm, then switch. More than anything, just don’t throw in the towel on this.
7. Bell-Ringers & Morning Work
In order to maximize instructional time, we are advised to make sure students have meaningful work to do from the moment they walk into class; hence the birth of the bell-ringer. I have definitely seen the value of a good bell-ringer, and saw a huge difference between the year that I didn’t use these and the years that I did. But if that work isn’t really meaningful or isn’t helping most kids learn, it’s a waste. Here are some other options:
- Have students do self-selected reading for the first 10 minutes of class.
- Give students a great anticipatory set to introduce the day’s learning. There are so many options for these, like the thought-provoking images that Christina DeCarbo-Wagners now uses instead of morning work, or the “appetizers” recommended by math teachers Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens in their book, The Classroom Chef.
- Establish morning choice: Why not offer students a variety of choices for morning work? In this fantastic post, principal Adam Dovico describes how one teacher made this shift, allowing students to choose between artistic expression, problem solving, computer time, leadership, collaboration, and game time. The big key in making this successful was that she rolled it out slowly, giving students experience with each station first before giving them more freedom to choose later on.
8. Some Kids Like Worksheets
For some students, busysheets give them a nice, calm, quiet activity to pass the time. But this alone is no reason to make them standard fare in your classroom. What you can do is make busysheets an option for free time, as something to do to decompress, or as one of several options students might choose to practice a set of skills or test themselves on some aspect of your content—not for a grade, but for practice.
9. Students Need Fine Motor Practice
Early childhood educators sometimes rely on worksheets for handwriting practice or to have students color, cut, and glue items to develop fine motor skills.
- Although worksheets offer one way to give students fine motor practice, there are lots of other ways to do it, too. This post offers 40 ideas for fine motor practice, and this one offers 30 more.
- Once a child has gotten to a certain level of fine motor development, do they still need to keep practicing it the same amount as other students?
If you’re going to cut down or eliminate your use of packets and worksheets, you’ll have a lot more instructional time, and that’s a good thing. Here are some things you can do with that time:
The Challenge: Do a Worksheet Audit
Everyone teaches differently, and as we have established, all worksheets are not created equal. There is no single prescription for what kind or how many worksheets you should be using with your students. Only you and your students can know that for sure.
So my challenge to you is simple: From now on, every time you’re about to use a worksheet, ask yourself if it’s contributing to student learning or if it’s actually just keeping them busy. If it’s the latter, start replacing your worksheets with better, richer alternatives. Your students will learn better, school will be more fun, and you’ll waste a whole lot less time in line at the copy machine. ♦
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I wrote about this same topic. Worksheet upon worksheet are the worst! “If You Give a Child A Packet…” http://www.diaryofapublicschoolteacher.com/2016/06/if-you-give-child-packet.html?m=1
Thank you for posting your blog post. I enjoyed reading. I too was shock and proud of Jeff.
A lot of the Packet Push comes from the call of grades. Discussions, Think Pair Shares, etc., don’t readily lend themselves to the mandate of grade and/or categories of many school systems. Also, the more interactive/participatory the instructional modality the more time needed. Again, system expectations re pacing/schedules pose teacher disincentives for using these sorts of experiences.
For Math, I’ve found approaches/tools such as Robert Kaplinsky’s Open Middle Problems and Greg Tang’s “puzzle” meaningful replacements for standard worksheets. These tools lend themselves to sparking conversations at all phases of instruction and, with thoughtful planning, can also support differentiation.
Second year teacher here and Carole is right that district expectations and state test requirements drive packet use. I used a lot of projects and more open ended assignments to drive instruction last year, but I found that they left out so many of the skills that each standard requires, despite aligning to the standards. For example the standard 7RP.2 requires students to identify proportional relationships between quantities, in graphs tables, and equations. There are so many skills layered within the standards that I often find myself stuck in a packet rut to make sure students have practice with all types of problems. Often times those skills require their own direct instruction lesson which limits even more the amount of time to have more engaging activities and the packet cycle continues.
Such rubbish, if they would just apply SOLO/BLOOM verbs to the learning outcomes and grade the cognitive levels of engagement through the session the learners would be able to flex both memory and cognition and actually feel like they have achieved something. One only needs to look into Biggs or John Hattie even at a surface level to realise that change at the instructional level is both possible and effective.
I have seen a LOT of misuse of Bloom’s verbs, where teachers call something “analyze,” for example, where they aren’t actually doing any analysis. I’m not sure what you’re referring to as “rubbish”…do you think using lots of worksheets makes for good instruction?
Keep in mind that no matter how much teachers understand Bloom verbs, students know much less. An important aspect of learning (and the culture) is language. Students need to learn and understand that they are being asked to do (via a Bloom’s verb or other instructional design)
I have seen one teacher give 19 sheets as a weekly take home packet for at home learners. This is just one class out of 8. Wow!!!
If someone refers to the work of John Hattie, then one needs to be aware that sifting, sorting, and seeing teaching as a list of strategies that work the best, or are the most effective, according to how many research studies have been put through the statistical analysis is a bit simplistic for my liking.
That list changes when a new research paper is added and confuses his use of an economic formula to predict outcomes. I prefer to look at the work of the educators from the city of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, the work of Project Zero at Harvard, and Ron Ritchard’s Cultures of Thinking work. These people are in schools. Hattie…not so much.
Just my opinion, of course.
Holy smokes! I cried a little reading this, and now I have a little bit of a tummy ache that may last awhile. Sigh. Thank you for delivering a message of such importance and magnitude. We can’t just raise the bar and rigor for our students, we must also do it for ourselves.
We as teachers must continuously stay updated on improving our craft and engaging each child who sits in front of us. Today’s students are digital naive and the four walls are not enough.
I get tired just thinking about keeping up with changes in education. Not because keeping up is tiring, but all the other “non-negotiables” at school suck up so much time: IEP and parent meetings, paperwork, entering grades in edline, parent phone calls, proctoring exams, writing referrals…. none of it actually ‘teaching’ or time with Ss.
But I am currently spending my Spring Break reading about Project Based Learning in an effort to learn new strategies to engage my students and bring greater meaning to my lessons.
Cried! Ana! Why? I hate hearing that. I hope it ultimately ended well?
Disrespect aside, the young man is right. I fight this battle, parents often want the packet for easy As. I make students think, not so easy for them or me.
I just watched the video of Jeff Bliss and his Honest passion to demand that his teacher educate him and not give him another packet. With what our youth have shown this week with the “March for Our Lives” protest, and myself as a former teacher and current teacher coach, I am proud of Jeff. I am also glad that I had the passion as a teacher to engage my students because I always viewed teaching through the eyes of the learner. I hope this teacher was able to reflect on what was said and improve her craft and I hope the best for Jeff. Thanks for writing this post.
I give it to you….busywork sheets are terrible. BUT, I also am curious….when is the last time you were in the classroom? How many students did you teach in each period? When you are teaching 5-6 classes a day with close to 50 students per class period, it isn’t just “Crowd Control.” It is sometimes the ONLY way you can get one-on-one time with some of the neediest students without spending hours (that you already spend) on planning. Please advise, realistically.
It’s been 10 years since I was in the classroom. I taught middle school and my class sizes ranged from 25-32 students, with a total of about 130 students every day. One thing I know for sure is that the culture has definitely changed since I was a full-time teacher, with a lot more emphasis on test prep and number crunching. This is not a positive shift, in my opinion, even though I do believe we need to be responsive to how well our students are learning. To keep current now, I talk to dozens of teachers about their work every week and I also have three kids of my own in school, so I’m pretty clear on the kind of work they are doing every day.
I can definitely sympathize with how incredibly difficult it must be to teach 50 students at one time. That is completely unreasonable and no one would blame you for doing whatever you could to get something accomplished, even if it meant keeping everyone in their seats all period. My best advice is that you not give up entirely on switching things up. I don’t know what subject you teach — if you could come back and share that, I might be able to give more specific advice. In the meantime, I would suggest you start by looking at my post on class discussion strategies, some of which don’t require students to get out of their seats. I would also look at the work of Persida and William Himmele, who show us how to get more participation out of every student without taking any extra time from class. This podcast interview digs deep into that.
I would like to hear more about what you’re currently doing to manage the class size and what your content area is so I can help point you toward more resources. I hope this helps.
You’ve raised some important concerns that many teacher-professionals have. You lost me on the admittance that you haven’t taught in 10 years. Woah dood. Why? Money and time presumably? A quote in your bio brings me back to my concern with some of the accusatory apostrophe of this particular blog: “When I was full-time in the trenches, I was too busy teaching to fully develop my craft… I have made it my full-time job to do this for you“. Be a teacher or don’t, but please consider your diction and tone when you’re offering advice. Few people are insulted into change. You have great ideas and important concerns; don’t let them get lost in self-righteousness.
If you don’t mind, can you point to a place where I was accusatory, where I insulted teachers, or came off as self-righteous in this post? I try very hard to validate the difficult position teachers are in and offer help, so I certainly don’t want to come across that way. The reason I never went back to teaching is because I got a position teaching pre-service teachers while on maternity leave, and I really fell in love with that work, so I eventually turned it into a full-time job on this site.
Do you mean “Whoa, dude”?
After reading this blog for a few years, I have to say that I think Jennifer knows what she is talking about. Whether I agree with a particular post or not, there’s always food for thought here. Doesn’t matter a bit that she’s been out of the classroom awhile- she was in the trenches once and she gets it.
I’ve been out of the classroom for 12 months and plan to return shortly. Busy work is busy work.
What do I learn for myself as a teacher/learner/researcher about the learning needs of my students if I teach them by busy work?
Parents who want busy work can download worksheets from the internet so why do we need teachers then? Are we merely reduced to glorified childcare so parents are able to work?
Thanks for a well-argued article, and not just some worksheet bashing. Looking at the video I want to add another angle. It seems (from the bit we can see) that while the students were given packets to work through the teacher is sitting behind her desk.
Even the best-designed worksheet or powersheet is less effective if the teacher is not teaching and by that I don’t mean lecturing, but playing an active role in the class. A good worksheet can sometimes give you the perfect opportunity to explain something to the students that need it personally or in a small group, but that doesn’t happen when you sit behind your desk.
Yes!!! That is definitely the first thing I noticed, too. I fully agree with you…great comment!
I fully agree. I am a Math facilitator and work with math teachers in our school. I am also tasked with doing walk-throughs in all classes. I won’t do them in my math teachers’ classrooms because no matter what you say, teachers feel judged by walkthroughs and I don’t want to ruin the relationships I am trying to build with them. Anyway, nothing makes me sadder than walking into a room and seeing a teacher at the desk grading or something while students are working on papers (not an assessment, just busy work or practice) and not using that quiet time as an opportunity to work with individuals or small groups. That is the best part of teaching. Right now I am teaching one block of math to a very rambunctious group of 7th graders. They would like nothing better than to be given some mindless worksheet that they could put any old answers on, say it’s done, turn it in and tune out. They hate thinking! Sometimes a “practice sheet” is what I do to gain some quiet time, but that time becomes my chance to work with several planned groups on gaps, or to push those that need it further. Thanks for this post. I love that Jeff knows what bad teacher behavior looks like.
I’m a relatively new principal at my current school and had a slight meltdown about something similar in a staffmeeting today. Teachers who are pedagogically stuck. They refrain from trying new ways of modern learning practice and try to hold onto the old and familiar. It’s like choosing to drive an old VW Bug when someone is offering you a free 2018 BMW. They love their “frickin packets”. SMH.
I’m so sorry to hear this. When people are comfortable and feeling successful with what they already know how to do, they’re sometimes just scared to take a step or two out of their comfort zone…anything beyond that feels pretty vulnerable. Change takes time. But I’d encourage you to continue sharing bits of research-based practices, sharing something you just learned about, and invite dialogue. See if anyone is willing to give something a try and then let you know how it goes. It also might be helpful to reach out to other admin or create a Mastermind group for some support.
Pedagogically lazy is more like it.
I think it’s valid to introduce pedagogically sound “new” concepts to the staff. But by the same token, if these teachers are highly effective, then please don’t try to force “modern learning practice” on them. New and modern does not always equal better. If old and familiar ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it.
Also, build relationships and trust, then these teachers will be more open to your ideas.
Many of the ideas are not new. As Jennifer noted, the Anticipatory Set comes from Madeline Hunter, who developed a lesson plan format called ITIP in the 1970s. Engagement strategies such as the jigsaw technique, popularized by Spencer Kagan in the 1990s, as first introduced by psychologist, Elliott Aronson, to help groups work through their racial biases in the 1970s.
This is the most thoughtful and comprehensive look at worksheets that I have ever read. Thank you for making the distinction between power sheets and busy sheets. Your options for how teachers could get away from using busy sheets is impactful. I hope this post causes many teachers to stop, think, and reevaluate the kinds of worksheets they’re using so that better instruction will prevail.
Stacey, I work for Cult of Pedagogy — so glad to hear this! Thanks for sharing!
One place in which the left end of the worksheet spectrum is valuable is in second language acquisition. Reading comprehension in particular is often the place where early language learning is strongest; spoken language generally comes much later, and starts out like primary language does – as individual word responses and sentence fragments. For the most novice second language learners, those “busysheets” are often the only way they can demonstrate understanding and acquisition.
Thanks for sharing your persepctive, Rowena!
I am glad to see your perspective on this. I teach English as a Second Language and students often struggle with even the left hand side of the worksheet spectrum.
Hello, Katelyn! I know exactly what you mean because I teach high school Spanish 1. Because everything is brand new for the kids, it’s a little scary at first. Sometimes, it only seems logical to give them a wordsearch or crossword puzzle as vocab practice because we think that’s all they can do, but we both know it’s never going to get them talking and using the language. However, it might help them remember certain words and phrases for skits you want them to perform later on, or it might help familarize them with vocab that will be used in an upcoming short story you plan to read as a class. Either way, I think some teachers use worksheets because it is less scary (and less work) for both the students and the teacher. Good preparation and planning takes time, but the end result is worth it for everyone. I started making slow changes, baby steps, because it gave me the opportunity to learn and grow with my students, without feeling overwhelmed by a ton of changes all at once. Maybe you could try the same thing…do something new once a week (or even once every other week) and build upon it. Because we know the kids ultimate goal will always be to speak the language, we must get them talking. For example, instead of requiring them to complete an adjective word search, have them choose a funny/surprise item from a bag and walk around and ask 5 people to describe it with 2-3 adjectives in the target language before recording their answers on their sheet. This type of activity allows them to not only laugh and have fun, but it also gets them up and moving. They are also able to practice (1)Their speaking (with at least 5 peers in a repetitive manner, and since they are all at the learning stage, they won’t feel as nervous speaking to each other), (2)Their listening (of at least 10 different adjectives), and (3)Their writing/spelling (when they record the answers on their sheet). When they are finished, you could come together and have them do the same as one big group with you (out loud) with three different, but related, items or pics of people, of your choice. I like to make sure my items/pics pertain to (4)The target culture, so that they can see the value and real-life application in learning adjectives (again, only an example) and how their use connects with their lives and everyday interactions. Because my classes are only 50-55 min, it is usually time to go by then. For your bell ringer the next day, you could do the (5)Reading component of the lesson by preparing a short, five sentence story or movie-like slideshow (gets longer as their skills increase) that incorporates your three items/pics from the day before. Then, in the larget language, ask them basic questions about the paragraph or slides using the vocab they practiced the day before (as well as giving them the opportunity to practice/continue talking with vocab they have already learned, like the names, ages, nationalities (people) or locations (landmarks), etc.). The only prep for you is to find items for them to choose that are interesting and easy to describe, find your three items, create a sheet to record answers while they walk around, and write a short paragraph or slideshow movie about your three items. The lesson will be memorable, the kids will have fun, and they will have more confidence speaking because they will have gained a better understanding of how to use the language than they would have if they only were assigned to find adjectives in a word search. If you liked doing the activity, try it again the next week…or try something else that gets them using the language. My kids did struggle with this at first because they hardly knew anything in Spanish, but with consistent practice, we improved! They now look forward to coming to class…and, I don’t have to spend hours making copies or grading worksheets! Yay! Give it a try…you will do great, and before you know it, you’ll be having conversations and reading short novels in the target language. 🙂 Good luck!
**As an fyi, this is my 19th year teaching high school Spanish and English in a Title 1 district. We do not have books or technology for student use, however, I do have a laptop and a white board to use for my lessons. My smallest class has 28 students, and my biggest has 43. I am the only language teacher in our entire building right now…for as long as I can remember, we have never had a full staff at any given time, so some of my students have subs every single day in some of their classes. We have a hard time keeping staff…mainly due to the difficult/challenging behavior of the students. Worksheets and packets make things MUCH worse because the kids see no value in completing them, which then leads to even worse behavior. My students have no interest in learning for the sake of learning. It is our job as educators to create meaningful, relevant, and engaging lessons that provide opportunities for self-discovery and growth. Kids cannot do this on their own because most of them do not know how. If they did know how, there would be no need for teachers. If I can do it in these conditions, imagine the difference we could all make together! 🙂
So, teachers, do what you were born to do! You became a teacher for a reason. Whether you need to re-discover your passion for teaching or help the teacher next door re-discover his/hers, do it. Remember to keep being awesome…you are amazing!
I just found this discussion on Twitter and loved your thoughtful, useful response. I often see replies commenting on the original post but with no useful approaches to add. This whole lesson sounds engaging and great fun. Thank you for taking the time to post.
Wow Tara!!! Just WOW!! I know I’m late to this discussion, but your comment has helped inspire me to dig out of my current teaching “rut”. I am concluding my 21st year teaching high school science. I found much inspiration in your comment! Taking “baby steps” is so important when making a true paradigm shift (especially in education) is such an important step (strategy?) . I am thankful for your acknowledgment of this notion. Keep up your good work. And amen for continuing to remain earnest in your approach- even with the challenges of behavior and class size. I very much appreciate your words and the influence they have on my own pedagogical approach.
Yes! Exactly what I was thinking. However, differentiating the worksheets and demonstrating with I do, We do, You do can be very effective when teaching a second language and giving practice worksheets. I have found using technology in teaching my content is very tricky because they are more apt to “cheat” by using a translator and then not being able to demonstrate their knowledge with paper and pencil. I still include speaking and listening in my lessons and assessments as well, but practice worksheets still fulfill a need in my class.
That video is heart-wrenching. We all have to strive to do better for these kids.
Packets yes! Worksheets no! And a packet of worksheets NO NO NO!
Let’s differentiate between the two.
I give out virtually no worksheets. But student learning and teacher time is often focused on and driven by packets.
For example, this week the students are filling out a 20 page packet of 1) background / context to the 1930 movie All Quiet on the Western Front, 2) guided reading for the scenes we are watching, 3) poetry from the Great War – 10 poems – students answer questions for 3 for homework, 4) art of the Great War.
Students are also reading a packet. Adam Hoschild’s introduction to Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 2016, The First Day of the Battle of the Somme https://vimeo.com/76336385. Then students will look at the book – which one could argue is just a 24 page packet of visuals from WWI.
The 2 packets, the movie, and the book are the basis for an entire class discussion on the uses of industry and the experience of soldiers in WWI.
I would guess that my students use about 40 packets during a year with about 120-130 teaching days. And though some have worksheet elements to them – guided reading questions for example – I would not call any of them worksheets.
So up with packets and down with worksheets!
I have to wonder where Jeff Bliss is now… I am hoping he was able to finish high school and is aspiring to become an educator. He sadly understands more about what great teaching is than some teachers. (Engagement and Enthusiasm!)
I cannot condone teachers, elevating this student as a “hero”. You already pointed out that he hasn’t been successful and he was rude and disruptive. If he had a real concern he certainly could have addressed it better.
I’ve had students who are never satisfied no matter what you do. They don’t like homework. They don’t use computer lab time in class effectively. They complain about “boring lectures” and “meaningless discussions”.
There as nothing substantive in his critique. The only thing he gets out is that he hates filling out the “frickin’ packets.” As a fellow educator, you cannot legitimately comment on the packets unless you know what they contain and how they are used. The packets could contain a reading assignment, journal response, team activity and evaluation sheet. Students might use them in teams or are allowed to progress at their own rate. This could have been (more like was) an alternative learning environment. The fact is WE just don’t know and don’t have enough information to determine. I just find it disingenuous to elevate his outburst above what it was.
As someone once said, “Just because you say with conviction and you’re loud doesn’t mean you’re right.”
I am glad you made this statement. The article is beneficial at pointing out the need to provide different learning strategies, but is degrading this teacher without acknowledging that we are unaware of how she taught this lesson. I have had students voice frustration over two pages of reading (one sided) and call the activity a packet. I provide a diverse number of learning strategies within my classrooms and I do walk my classroom extensively. I have “fitbit” proof to show that I try to work with every student. I have experienced students who say you did not teach us this or this is too much, because they didnot pay attention and are frustrated.
Also differentiating can be difficult when you have extremes regarding learning and reading abilities in large classes. Most of the high schoolers I work with read substantially below grade level, struggle with decoding, and basic reading comprehension. Higher level learners are frustrated with the teacher desire to provide equity to lower level learners. Lower level leaners are upset when you have expectations of them. I have had students lash out because I wanted them to redo an assignment or add more detail. We cannot ignore that there are kids with trauma and cognitive struggles due to trauma. Brain-based learning strategies help, but it is important that we discuss better discipline in schools where problem behaviors can be life threatening.
A podium was thrown at one of my colleagues last year, a student was sent back to my class after a fight in my class, and student movement often occurs before fights. We do not know why this teacher is using this technique. It may be for her safety or the safety of other students.
What do you do when you work with students who read significantly below grade level and exhibit a great deal of behavioral problems. My students will not do anything unless they believe a gradr is attached. They are accustomed to that, so I tell them everything counts and classwork is essential since homework which is typically reading and interactive practice is turned in by approximately 25% of students. I agree that gallery walks, collaborative work, read alouds, and discussion are a better use of time. I enjoyed the article, I just believe we need to be careful.
Amen!!! I am finding value with the article and comments DESPITE my personal opinions regarding the “hook” this video provided this former classroom teacher’s post. Mr. Bliss COULD be correct in his rant- but there is simply not enough information for any of us to make a conclusion with regard to the accuracy of his rant. His rant could serve as teaching moment insofar of ways to express his views in a more appropriate manner. However, we simply do not know WHAT the content was of the “packets” of which he was complaining. I also wonder if posting this video is fair and just to the teacher in the video. We also do not know the type of school, classroom, district in which is this event occurred.
I agree 100% with this post. Who knows what materials the teacher was using. To elevate this student’s disrespectful outburst to something of meaning is crazy! Teens complain about school the same way adults complain about work. I don’t think that means we need to take Mr. Bliss seriously. It’s his sort of behavior that makes teacher leave the workforce. So if this podcast is suppose to be advocating for teachers please do so. No one should go to work and be spoken to in the manner.
I also agree with a previous post that said worksheets provide a tangible grade that think-pair-share and the other suggestions don’t provide. My district requires that I enter two grades for students per week. I need physical work to show at Open House and Parent/Teacher conferences.
I think that’s why some of the comments took offense to what you said about worksheets. Because it sounds like advice from someone who hasn’t been in the classroom in a decade. It’s not very realistic and doesn’t answer the basic question if not worksheets then what am I entering into the grade book twice a week?
Lastly, I think you beat up to much on coloring in the classroom. As a teacher I have seen my students calm down when asked to color a map. It might not be your jam but I don’t think that makes it bad or non-effective. Coloring has shown to really help reduce stress and has been used in therapeutic settings. I wish you stop making it seem like a time killer without some study to back that claim up.
I completely agree with you!
Thank you for posting this article! After teaching for 21 years I now work with social studies teachers in our district and I am going to share this with them next week as we talk about student-centered learning. I also like that you didn’t bash all worksheets and get the reader to think about the purpose of the assignment/activity.
Thank you for the acknowledgment that graphic organizers are not worksheets! Thank you, also, for the acknowledgement that requiring teachers to “teach “in lockstep, at the least, causes burn out and at the worst is not true teaching!
Worksheets do not allow for responsive teaching. They do provide easy answers for teachers who are too lazy or too incompetent to teach.
I loved the video of the Ss going off on the teacher. She deserved the lecture. Too bad it wasn’t from an administrator!
Although I did appreciate the post, no teacher deserves to be treated like that. Part of why the student may have been so unsuccessful thus far is that he lacks emotional control. At his age, it is imperative that he learns to channel his frustration and have respectful, productive conversations with peers, teachers, adults, etc. We are currently living in a climate of bash the teacher and seem quick to champion “telling teachers off “and “showing them the door” as a means to “drain the swamp” so to speak. This is the wrong way to invite people into the conversation, and this is the wrong type of behavior to encourage in our students. As we encourage the implementation of new and better teaching methods and challenge the validity of outmoded, less responsive methods, let us always be mindful to do so civilly.
I have used crossword puzzles in my classroom as bell ringers with great success! I’ve found the benefits to be classroom collaboration, vocabulary study and great discussion! Now I’m feeling guilty! I teach alternative education where many students have such a limited vocabulary and read very little other than Facebook posts! Although I understand teaching vocabulary outside of context isn’t ideal, my students all participate and seem to enjoy the challenge.
Please don’t feel guilty! I, too, taught in an alternative education program so I understand what you are talking about. I wonder if you are perhaps underestimating the value of what you are doing–specifically that if students are being introduced to new vocabulary, and are collaborating and having discussions, then you ARE using your puzzles in a valuable way, in order to further learning, not just give busy work. When you see students aren’t engaging, then you’ll know you’ve overused them and it’s time to try something else.
I use crosswords and madlibs for vocabulary practice and it helps. it is not the same as a word search.
I think it completely depends on how the worksheet is used. Most importantly, the teacher needs to be actively engaged with the students. There have been instances when a worksheet led to powerful discussions in our classroom, and I’ve also had instances when a project-based learning experience fell flat on my face and left me eating a bag of Skittles under the table. We, as teachers, need to know our students and create responsive instruction based on their needs. Sometimes, I think we put too much pressure on ourselves to do what is instructionally “in vogue” that we forget to teach the children we have in our classrooms. Planning is important, but we teach children, not the plan.
While your article is informative, and more or less on-point, I decided to comment because the Jeff Bliss “rant” to his teacher is a train wreck I cannot stop watching. True: we do not know what happened this day or all the other days before the video was filmed. True: he was disrespectful in his approach. However, he lays out a valid argument with passion and valid points and without superfluous distasteful language, something few students (and dare I say adults) can do these days. He clearly wants to be taught. He craves it! And he craves it for his classmates also! I don’t know what happened to that young man, but I hope he went on to study rhetoric and will maybe make a change someday. Maybe he was even inspired to become an educator! Bravo, Jeff! The teacher missed a HUGE opportunity here to allow him a voice in the classroom and engage him in an analytical debate, allowing him the chance to critically develop his argument and help him outline some alternative ways of lesson delivery. The engagement was there. She missed the mark.
Devil’s advocate here- saying he “clearly wants to be taught” isn’t necessarily true. I had a student who was upset because I corrected his loud hallway behavior lash out in a free write, saying that adults are supposed to “shape young minds” instead of acting like jerks. Someone else reading the paragraph might take him as a passionate, upstanding citizen. It just made me chuckle. We can’t assume anything without context!
Your comment is ENTIRELY your personal inference. His comments do NOT provide any real proof that he “craves” to be taught. He MAY be entirely valid, but how could you know? Sadly, your comment provides fodder for students who seek a way OUT of their responsibility of obtaining the free education our nation affords them. I find your interpretation invalid.
I appreciate this post so much! I am teaching high school Spanish for the first time after teaching at the college level for the last 20 years, and I’ve found it hard to come up with enough activities to fill all the time I have. I’ve gotten a few complaints about some of my assignments, but in general students are pretty cooperative because I’ve told them that I don’t assign them stuff just to keep them busy; I only assign things that I believe are beneficial to their learning. This means that we have more free class time than I’d prefer for now because I don’t have enough hours in the day to prep that much meaningful practice, but it’s much easier to get student buy-in on assignments when they know that I’m not just doing stuff to keep them busy. (I disagree with the categorization of a crossword puzzle as something with no instructional value; though. In World Languages, anyway, the clues help them work on reading comprehension in the target language, and the structure of the puzzle provides some scaffolding/immediate feedback to help students eliminate incorrect answer choices. It could just be a regular worksheet, true, but I think that there’s value in making it into an activity that’s more game-like. My students love doing crossword puzzles, and they’re actively engaged in trying to decipher clues in Spanish, which means they’re engaged in the learning process.)
Well thought out post as usual! I’ve found two examples where worksheets are beneficial. One is NOT copying some supplemental textbook material or downloading it from the Internet. If you are going to create worksheets, automate the process so you can adjust the complexity level and make unique worksheets. This way, students will talk about HOW to perform the task and not just copy answers. The other way is to capture the student work. There are plenty of tools where students submit their work and get an automated right/wrong answer so they can move ahead. The key is capturing the student work and not the actual answer.
If he is 18 and in 10th grade he is probably in some kind of make-up summer class. My children had to do that to make up failing grades during the year. A test in patience is all it was. There is no way to make up the learning lost only the seat time. But it takes time, money and willing teachers to reteach content to disinterested, unmotivated students. Tough situation.
I’m sorry but I really see this student’s rant as a power trip and a way to get attention and/or out of whatever they were doing in class. Versions of this happen all the time, regardless of who the teacher is – students constantly blame the teacher for failing grades because it’s the teachers fault for not making it interesting/engaging enough. It’s definitely not their apathy or obsession with a girl in the class or a million other potential reasons…right? I know it is super taboo in today’s teaching climate to say that sometimes learning isn’t super fun or contain high-level thinking but… sometimes it’s doesn’t. There will be parts of learning that are AMAZING and inspiring and there are also times when you just have to memorize multiplication tables or verb conjugations and it doesn’t FEEL life changing but it is still really important.
Also, if this student really cared about learning, why did he have an outburst in class instead of approaching the teacher or, failing that, an administrator? Why didn’t he talk to his parents and ask them to have a talk with the teacher? Or maybe he just wanted to make a viral video and seem like a cool rebel?
This is my 39th year of teaching and my hardest. I teach 9th-12th grade students with multiple handicaps at varying degrees of intellectual and physical ability levels I have made many changes in my teaching styles over the years as I have grown and learned a wide variety of styles as they have come and gone. But I am now trying to break away from my current comfort zone and become more innovating and enlightening with new ideas of how to enhance my students’ learning. I have learned so much in this reading and I have many concerns and I’m not sure how to change my teaching strategies. My dilemma is that I use worksheets (or I hope you would call them power sheets) for my students. I teach four levels of English, three levels of Science, Music Appreciation and Theory, and Arts & Crafts. My classes have students of all four grades in them (such as – Eng. I, II, III, IV in the same class). My worksheets are geared for the abilities of each student (three groups – independent working, one on one instruction, and tracing the answers, all at the same time in the same class). I’m trying to develop academic games, but they are too hard for my students who are lower functioning. I have no English books and only 5 Biology books. The rest I try to glean from the internet. But I have to revamp all of the worksheets or samples I do get because they are too hard for even my highest students. The state says I am supposed to be teaching 9th-12th grade material to my students who are between Pre-K and 4th grade academic grade levels. I have done my best so far to bring material of quality into their realm of understanding, but now I see I need to expand my ability to broaden their knowledge while not letting myself become burned out on paperwork (and copying!). Do you have any suggestions for my situation? I would greatly appreciate your advice.
Hi, Robin–My name is Holly and I work as a Customer Experience Manager for Cult of Pedagogy. Thank you so much for writing in and sharing your situation, a difficult one indeed. I was stuck in a similar situation as I feel many other teachers are, too. My seventh graders were doing well if they tested into fourth-grade level reading, yet everything in the classroom was required to be grade level. I once tried to sneak a 6th grade reading passage on a test and got busted! I wanted nothing more than to set up my students for success, but all the standards, etc. didn’t allow for it.
It sounds like differentiation is key here, and I can see how frustrating it could get trying to do anything as a full class. A Starter Kit for Differentiated Instruction could be a good place to start, and I’d also check out Using Playlists to Differentiate Instruction.
The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies is my favorite post and may help with getting some ideas rolling–no standing in line at the copier needed 🙂
Is technology available for your students? There are some great websites that can accommodate multiple levels at one time: Listenwise, CommonLit, Newsela. If you’re short on tech, you might be interested in this post.
I hope something here helps!
Hi, Holly! Thanks for your suggestions. I may be able to reformat the starter kit idea for my classes. It had a very simple and visual layout that my kiddos can understand.
I really appreciate your help, Robin
I really enjoyed reading this post. Being a secondary school languages teacher, I don’t really have time to use ‘packets’ and avoid using the activities on the lower end of your continuum. However, you’ve made me think about whether the reading comprehension sheets that I use are as effective as they could be. Thanks for giving me something to think about!
I love this blog!! I absolutely felt the same way when the boy spoke up for his classmates. I think worksheets are a crutch for teachers these days. I teach Kindergarten, and I do 12 groups a day, and we do not use worksheets. Many ask how I get my students so far, and the main way is with engaging lessons that are differentiated. It’s so nice to read information about the harm of so much paperwork. I’ve seen it as a parent and in many classrooms. The sad thing is that many of those teachers think they are the best, because they aren’t letting their kids waste time “playing.”
idk if you saw this, but I linked to one of your posts in my PBL News roundup on May 4: http://www.bie.org/blog/top_pbl_news_stories Loved your point that (good) worksheets can be useful. Would you consider writing something about the use of worksheets in a PBL unit? Some PBL fans think they should be banned, but I disagree, if they’re used sparingly and wisely.
I meant to add, could you write something we could repost in our blog?
Hi John! I work as a Customer Experience Manager for Cult of Pedagogy and ran your request by Jenn. As of now, Jenn doesn’t have plans to write a post specifically about worksheets in the PBL classroom, but I’ll add it to our list of things to consider. She also doesn’t allow reposts but is just fine with people writing their own posts either in response to or as an introduction to one of her posts and then linking over to the site.
Thank you! The thoughtful approach you take throughout this examination of packets demonstrates valuable learner-centered perspective. As always, teaching comes down to meaningful learning. What the students take from the class matters most. I particularly appreciate the way you demonstrated how technology just for the sake of technology doesn’t elevate an assignment; technology used to replicate a weak paper assignment still provides a weak assignment. The phrase “busysheets in disguise” will stick with me. Your comments about Black History Month also resonated a great deal, and I thank you for sharing the Teaching Tolerance link.
Posts and podcasts like this can inspire robust faculty meetings and professional development conversations. I can just imagine the ways a teaching team could engage in a collaborative worksheet audit after reading this.
Finally, I really appreciate the conversation taking place in the comments, and how clearly you maintain respect for all hardworking teachers and students. Education is challenging work. Cult of Pedagogy supports everyone trying to do the best they can to succeed at that challenge.
Hi Gayle! Thanks so much for taking the time to share — it’s great to hear you’re finding value in Cult of Pedagogy! I’ll be sure to share this with Jenn.
The amount of assumptions people are making about the video above is disheartening. As teachers all of us would be upset if someone were to judge us without context. Yet here we are with teachers making all types of assumptions about this situation. It is disrespectful to the teacher to make these type of leaps and I am saddened to see fellow teachers jump at the chance to criticize.
I always hated the word PACKET and I have spent the last 6 years trying to be as paperless as possible. Unfortunately, in my new school, I am being met with the challenge of working in an environment where packets are the thing. I currently teach 6th-grade math in a small town about 30 miles from St. Louis, MO. When I walked into my new school in August of 2019, I was treated like I was new to the profession. Regardless of my 20 years of diverse experience, extended learning, and level of motivation, I have been told when, where and how to do my job. My mentor and teaching partner is 29 years old with about 5 years of experience with teaching math at the middle school level. When we met for the first time, she handed me a booklet of worksheets she had stapled together with Unit 1 and 2 printed on the card stock cover. She was so excited to share the curriculum she spent all summer “writing” for 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade math. Contained within these packets were several handwritten math problems & notes, worksheets downloaded from OERs (Open Ed Resources such as Engage NY), scanned documents from old textbooks and believe it or not, several photocopied pages of lined paper. I didn’t speak up at the time about how I was feeling after all this was the first time we had met and I did not want to start out on the wrong foot. However, I realized that I was going to have a really hard time seeing eye to eye with my teaching partner on this curriculum. I am not a textbook teacher and I haven’t been for years. My instructional materials include things like tables, not individual desk, Chromebooks, dry erase boards, sticky notes, scrap paper, scissors, colored pencils, a composition notebook, personal devices if they have them and tons of collaboration. On the second day of school, she left me 3 copy paper boxes filled with these packets and a note attached saying “here are your textbooks for units 1-4. Let me know if you have enough.” When I asked her not to make me any more copies of units 5-8 she became very defensive and asked me if I was going to use them at all. I told her I would not be sending a copy home with each student. This time I was going to send them home with only those students who wanted one or with the students who’s parents requested one. She seemed genuinely upset. I feel like I am so isolated and it is causing me to be physically, mentally and emotionally drained. How do I work with someone who is so diametrically different? She believes her way is the only way and actually rolls her eyes at the things I do in my classroom. She came in my room last week with a whole arm full of worksheets which I tried to get rid of at the beginning of the year along with about 8 copy boxes full of worksheets left by a 30-year veteran teacher who had retired. They were puzzles and riddle pages containing 6th-grade math problems, Copywrite 1992, and she said students love them, making a very strong suggestion that I keep them. I keep asking myself daily if this a place I can continue to work? I do not feel comfortable talking to her about how I am feeling since she is really stubborn and doesn’t respect me as an equal. Instead, I do my best to stay true to my teaching philosophies and do what I feel is best for my students.
In the short time that I have been with the school, I have won over many parents and students with my style of teaching. This is really important for any educator in a new school. This does not mean that I am going to become complacent and do nothing to effect change. As a teacher leader and a change agent, this just means I am going to work hard to build trust in order to open lines of communication necessary to avoid conflict. We can’t allow ourselves to be stopped by the roadblocks that will pop up in our way. We must persevere. We must keep pushing the envelope and fighting the fight to give our students the best possible education. Because each and every one of our kids deserve it (Nesloney & Welcome, 2016).
Nesloney, T., & Welcome, A. (2016). Kids deserve it! Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
Hello Kimberly, thanks for your comment. It is so difficult to be in a situation where your experience and expertise are not valued. Hang in there! Be confident in the teaching philosophies you’ve worked hard to cultivate over your career. Have you had the opportunity to get to know any other teachers in your school beyond the one who you’re having to work most closely with? When we feel isolated in this profession, it’s essential to find community with those who build us up (see Jenn’s Marigold post).
One aspect that I love about this post is how Jenn includes that worksheet continuum visual, going from the busysheet to the powersheet. In situations where teachers are required to use certain textbooks or worksheets, there are still ways to “open up” that rigid format and make your instruction more creative and effective. You mention several such strategies in your comment. If you’re finding success with your students, hopefully that will eventually have an impact on this other teacher. You also might use your background and knowledge base to have a positive impact on her. At some point you may even find an opportune time to share this post with her.
I know it’s not easy. Sometimes conflict is inevitable, but I hope you find the strength and support you need to overcome this roadblock.
Hi I Demiren Anderson I am dyslexic and I have a problem with my teacher Ms.Nix she uses packets Street from the workbook to teach and I told her that I was dyslexic and had a hard time at reading but pocket after packet every day of school and it’s very stressful for me and I can’t remember most of the stuff I read because I have trouble reading it with all my other teachers they understand me and help me then I get better grades but with her she sits behind a desk and just talk about how God is great stuff and I hear about people complaining about how she hasn’t put in great stuff
If you won’t to talk about just email me
I’m really sorry to hear this. Since your other teachers have made adjustments that you’ve found helpful, have you tried talking to them to see if they can jump in and help? If you’re comfortable, you may also want to reach out to other trusted adults, perhaps your counselor or the administration. Explain to them what’s going on, your frustration, and how you really want to learn – ask them if they can help or offer any advice. Hope this helps!
I disagree with this opinion piece and I disagree with the video completely. It basically comes down to respect. Students get the class lessons that they deserve. Teachers are not clowns who are there to entertain the kids in order to get them to learn. It starts in the home. This is why countries like China are outpacing American children and as long as there are parents and even educators pointing fingers at teachers, the problem will only get worst. Students should come to school because it is a privilege. They should already be engaged and ready to learn as soon as they leave their house and enter school grounds. They should respect and view their teachers as experienced adults who have knowledge to impart upon them. But when entitled brats have the mentality, “entertain me or I won’t bother to listen to anything you say,” then you’re stuck always coming up with ways to dance for them. WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THIS BS OPINION IS ABOUT. I guess Ms. Gonzalez has never worked in the inner city where she assigned a project and 2 out of 32 students actually did it, and not very well either. These students are not looking for abstract projects and assignments. They need structure and consistency. The only way to get American children back on track is when schools are actually allowed to fail them and hold them like the good old days. Let administrators and teachers regain control and not cater to the delusional whims of parents who basically just use public schools as daycare anyway. The way public education has devolved is as silly as if the medical community started allowing patients tell them how to diagnose and treat. School boards only care about ensuring that they get elected or voted – that’s why they’ll cater to the ridiculous demands of parents. Now do I encourage busywork sheets? No. Nonetheless, in some school districts that is really all that the students can accomplish if even. It’s become so appalling that teachers are leaving in droves. The turnover rate is ridiculously high. It all starts in the home. Finger-pointing at teachers who are already overworked and underpaid is not a solution. DO YOU HONESTLY THINK TEACHERS DON’T WANT TO ASSIGN FUN PROJECTS AND INCLUDE ENGAGING CLASS ACTIVITIES? Some times it’s not just pressure from the admin but the student body. When there are classrooms full of children who simply refuse to do anything, worksheets they will get.
I just came across this blog and felt that i need to say something about Jeff Bliss. There is a lot more to this story then what you see.
I was work in the alternative school in the district when this happened. He had never been sent to the alternative school for behavior issues and he was not sent for this. He may not have handled the situation well, but what he said is not wrong, if we do not engage our students and get from be hind the desk there may be more Jeff Bliss’s.
There were interviews done with him and his mother, which is a school teacher, that can be looked up on line, So before we pass judgment listen to them and then go back and listen to his rant.
With all due respect, no one here agrees with rude behavior. Most are understanding the frustration that has led the student to behave this way, perhaps.
I believe you have completely misunderstood this entire article. If you are in education, this is scary!
I’m still waiting for when students will actually be held accountable for their own learning and parents will finally parent. I’m in a district where every other year there is a new superintendent who promises the community that change is coming. New teachers, new ideas, and new fun things await. Bright and shiny objects for the kiddies! The problem was, is and always will be THE STUDENTS and THEIR PARENTS!!! I’ve lived in this disparaging city for more than a decade and the results are always the same no matter if the superintendent is a shiny Harvard alumni and the teachers come from fancy private schools. Sooner or later they quietly leave because they know the problem is THE STUDENTS. They leave before the community turns on them and causes a blemish on their resumes. Opinion pieces like yours do nothing but enable and abate such communities to continue acting like they have to put no effort in their own education. If a student can’t or won’t do a word puzzle, I highly doubt they’re willing to do a research paper or a project that actually requires them to do some critical thinking. In my experience, schools where you have this type of population, the students do not want to go beyond straight facts and structure – and neither do parents. Abstract projects may require parents to get involved in helping their child. Such as, going out to purchase a poster board, printing pictures, going to the library (if they don’t already own a computer), and so on. Parents in these type of school districts are not about to do any of that. Now you are giving them work. I’ve actually had students say they would rather do a quick worksheet then go on the computer for interactive learning. In schools where computers aren’t readily available, digital learning means the student has to wait to get home to do the assignment. A worksheet means they can get it done during study hall. In no way am I saying that there aren’t bad teachers, but I am saying that students get the lessons they deserve. If they’re not motivated about their own education then they’re essentially telling a teacher that it’s okay to write them off. No amount of creative learning is going to get them excited and even if an enthusiastic teacher tried, s/he would only be raising the antics. You give them an inch and they want a mile. That sort of teacher is telling the kids, “hey, I’ll have to keep outdoing myself to keep you entertained. I so desperately need you to like me and my assignments.” I mean, who the heck is the adult in this classroom anyways?
Please don’t forget that while school is a place of learning for students, it is also a place of learning how to respect adults and authority for children.
It’s okay, Ms. Gonzalez. Your students don’t have to love and find every one of your assignments relevant or fun. Stop breeding entitlement because reality is going to be a big disappointment to your students. In the real world, they might have to keep a job they hate in order to pay the bills. In fact, that is practically a guarantee for students who don’t care about school.
I do not know what district you are from, but Duncanville ISD borders, Dallas, Texas, I have worked there for 15 years. Just two months ago one of my students was shot and killed over drugs. The year before I had three students that had murdered people, 2 that were killed, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, And one that was killed while try to out run the police in a stolen car. I also work with students that have beaten up teachers and principals, and the only thing that happened to them was they were sent to the alternative school. Some of these students have come from good homes. I feel the problem comes from the teachers not being able to teach, because we are to worried that the test scores will be low and we will lose funding, so we teach to the test. And the administrators can only do so much when it comes to discipline, and the curriculum, they do not have the control they need.
Thanks very much for the post. I was brought here as part of a self-learner course on virtual learning and preparing for the fall. Some of our students will not have reliable tech, so packets are an answer. Your continuum of worksheets will help be formulate an alternative to putting packets together with student workbook pages.
Also, your alternatives to worksheets have been very useful, and I think I will check out Classroom Chef, or something. The morning bell work as the introduction to the lesson may be useful, and is something i should incorporate, along with review of previous skills, and other stuff that is actually fun.
Great post! I wrote this in 2016. I agree completely. There is a time and place for packets, but all the time? NO!
“If You Give a Child a Packet” https://www.diaryofapublicschoolteacher.com/2016/06/if-you-give-child-packet.html#.XzBq-ihKiUk
Great post to cycle back, especially since many of us were drowning in “FRICKIN’ PACKETS” in the spring because of COVID. I had a good laugh at the title, and loved the information contained. Thank you!
Wonderful! I love the intro video. While I know teaching can be a slog at times (and not only due to poor teachers), I love how this student stands up for himself and for better learning experiences. Thanks for some very inspired ideas about alternatives to mindless busy work. I teach at the CC and Univ level- no worksheets, but I learned some great ideas nonetheless. One of your best posts! Thank you.
Wow, what a wide range of responses. Jennifer, I appreciate being on your mailing list and receiving your weekly blogs/articles. I always forward them to the other teachers and assistants in my building. Sometimes, more info than I can take in at one time, but the articles are always worthy and valuable. I was surprised with the amount of venom coming out in response to this blog. I noticed that many of the responses were before remote learning during the pandemic. We were all told to get packets ready this Spring. At first it was a challenge for me, ADHD, copying double sided or single sided, keeping things organized, remembering to number pages, but I did get the hang of it pretty quick. We all adapted. There are some good habits I developed doing the packets. We all love teaching, love our students, and want to teach them the skills they need. We are individuals, the students are individuals, and there isn’t supposed to be a one size fits all way of teaching. Lighten up folks, take what you like and leave the rest.
Thank you for re-posting this podcast/article and reminding us that teaching comes down to meaningful learning. I appreciate the worksheet continuum and the thoughtful approach taken on the examination of packets demonstrates valuable learner-centered perspective. If students aren’t inspired to learn and develop their own interests then what’s the point? The links within the article lead me to many useful and engaging ideas – in particular morning choice routines. This article made me reflect on my own school experiences with copious amounts for worksheets stuck in binders, that I would for sure threw out at the end of each course or year. I’d think” Wow, what a waist of paper, and Wow I’m not that smart because I really don’t remember any of this, and Wow so boring and so much sitting to do these! The wealth of interesting alternatives and reasons for cutting down on busy-work related to worksheets is vast as you show. I also appreciated the way you demonstrated how technology just for the sake of technology doesn’t make an assignment better. Technology that simply replicates a weak worksheet still provides a weak assignment and may just add to the busy work.
Thank you for reminding us right now, more than ever to make what we do meaningful and important as we engage with students in person, online or in blended learning situations.
I have enjoyed reading the comments and opinions, and appreciate and how clearly you maintain respect for all hardworking teachers and students. It is clear that Cult of Pedagogy is supportive in trying to help teachers be the best they can be, while gently nudging them to evaluate their own practices and rise to new challenges.
I remember when I was in school that I hated busy work and it seemed like packets were part of the busy work. I remember telling myself that if I ever became a teacher that I would never give busy work. I have been teaching for 25 years and I have never assigned busy work.
Looking back on my own learning experience I remember doing word searches. For some of my friends it was fun and they enjoyed doing them. For me, I remember thinking to myself “what is the point”. I did them anyway and I did learn from them but nothing about the subject.
I very rarely use worksheets. I use guided notes that come directly from the state standards. The students get the guided notes and then can either watch a video of my live class to fill in the missing information or look at a pdf of my class presentation that has the same information.
I am a school counselor so I only use worksheets on occasion.
This content was interesting. I agree with all of the information about using copies as templates, organizers, research outlines and interactive experiences.
I still use worksheets. In anatomy, a worksheet to label the bones they just learned which is followed by putting labels on a plastic skeleton helps in learning the bones.
Thank you! What a wonderful read!
Thank you all for the help and the support , wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Respectfully Domenica clark Mrs. Freedom
I find that the lower level learners get more form paper pencil than computer input. They do like the creation process as long as directions are easy to understand and state the task they are to complete
Great read! Packets can literally wear you OUT! Who in their right minds would want to grade all of that stuff??
Oftentimes younger students can benefit more from paper and pencil.
I love this! Thank you! I’m going to pass this info along to my school’s administrators. 🙂
That’s great, Tamara! We hope they find it useful, as well!