A year without worksheets

I’m not a big resolution maker, but I was surfing around Facebook this morning where I spied a really cute back-to-school new year package of worksheets. “So cute!” I thought, zooming in for a closer look. “And free! Great!” Then I took a close look at the work the worksheet actually asked of students, and… “ugh.”

Just because it’s cute doesn’t make it engaging. Sure, it fills time… print out, pass out, go back to enjoying that coffee while the kiddles work. But what if there were something better?

…and, here’s a poorly kept secret, there is…

Let this be the year of no more mindless worksheets. Instead, try:

1. Digital Technology

If your first foray into using digital tools in the classroom is to substitute a technology tool for a worksheet then congratulations! You just waded into the SAMR pool! Replace a worksheet with an app or a G-suite fillable worksheet. Great! Step one done! Keep going until you’re swimming in the SAMR deep end! Invite a guest speaker via Skype. Play mystery Skype. Have students blog or podcast. Use a padlet! How about all-student response systems like Plickers or socrative?

 2. Visual journals

Usually if it’s a worksheet it can be adapted to a visual journal page. Yay! That’s step one! Now… go beyond adapting worksheets by trying sketch noting, or visible thinking routines like see, connect, wonder, concept webbing, or a visual journaling technique.

3. The everything notebook

Write a journal entry. I get it… a blank page can be intimidating. But it can also be creatively freeing. Instead of writing on a photocopied worksheet, let students work in their journal or in their everything notebook. If they need a prompt, I still think it’s not a horrible idea to photocopy a prompt or a cloze paragraph starter. But photocopied pages of blank lines? That’s called a notebook.

4. The everything binder

Looking for a way to move beyond a storage device for worksheets? Try interactive journal pages and personal practice. At first glance, an interactive journal page looks a lot like a worksheet. Don’t be fooled. The difference is that students come back to the interactive journals later for practice while they complete a worksheet and never look at it again. The interactive journal pages I have made so far have the “I can” statement at the top in student-friendly language and then there are 4-5 questions that demonstrate that the student, in fact, can. These often involve some kind of flap so that during personal practice time students can use the pages to review the “I can” skill. Personal practice time is only about 5 minutes each day reserved for review of skills, but I know that each child is reviewing skills relevant to them and I can work during this time in math conferencing.

5. Really think about why it’s being written instead of discussed.

Think about whether or not it really needs to be written down. A well-planned discussion might be a better use of student time than the time spent filling in a worksheet, especially for our second-language learners! They NEED more talk time!

I’d love to hear other ideas! How are you making the photocopier obsolete?

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