23 November 2014

Banning Worksheets or Prohibiting the Use of Cell Phones and CrayonsWon't Increase Student Learning

Banning worksheets or prohibiting the use of cell phones, crayons, or other tools in the classroom won't increase student learning. For any of you who read my blog regularly and know what I think about worksheets, you might be wondering why I would begin this post with a strong statement like this. You see, I've been thinking more about why (Thanks to my recent reading of Simon Sinek's book) we do what we do. My reading of this book collided with my attendance at a GAFE Summit (Google Apps for Education). Perfect. Instead of just complaining about the ongoing situation with worksheets, I can actually offer some solutions.

But first. A Story.

Several years ago when I was still teaching in a local high school classroom, the district conducted walk-throughs and decided too much coloring was happening in the schools.  Quickly, an across the board ban on crayons and markers ensued, and teens rebelled by wearing crayons on a piece of yarn around their necks (not because they wanted to color worksheets but because they felt their opportunity for creativity was being denied with an across the board ban on a tool). The idea of the ban was to make a point about the lack of meaningful tasks being completed in some classrooms. The problem with the ban is that it took away a tool (coloring instruments) instead of tackling the larger issue of poor instruction provided by some people. What do you suppose happened with this ban on a writing instrument? Did it improve instruction across the board?

Fast forward six or seven years to my experience now as a parent in this same district. My eleven year old son brought home a coloring sheet for homework recently. I emailed the nameless school to inquire as to the directions because I couldn't believe the directions were to color, but yes, the directions were to color tastefully and not to scribble. That was it. Now, keep in mind, this is an assignment given at one of our state's top performing schools. I refuse to blame the teacher because we have a problem with our system, and across the board bans on tools (crayons, or cell phones) clearly--

 A) do not stick over time,
and more importantly
B) do not improve learning experiences for all students.

Fortunately, we now have tools beyond worksheets and crayons, so let me share some options I learned about recently when I attended a  GAFE Summit. One of the sessions I attended was titled No More Worksheets. Here, Holly Clark, a NBCT and a Google Certified Teacher shared ideas with us for eliminating worksheets in classrooms. Thankfully, the ideas she shared were not merely electronic versions of paper handouts. Rather, she shared meaningful teaching ideas and tools for engaging students in relevant learning. She emphasized the importance of using the tools well so that students make their thinking visible. Obviously, all of the tools she shared could turn into their own type of worksheet if we aren't thoughtful about how and why we use the tools. Teaching isn't easy, but using tools properly can help ease the load and increase student engagement and learning.

A formative assessment tool (kind of like Are You Smarter than a 5th grader)

Clark emphasized the importance of using the quick questions and non-multiple choice portions for deeper thinking.

The point Clark made with this tool is that we must make sure to offer mathematics instruction that's more than a worksheet or series of problems in a textbook because now the problems can be scanned and completed by the computer. Watch the video--it could blow your mind!

This tool allows you to speak your answer (maybe use it as an exit slip?). You can even send responses to parents. If you set up a private croak and teacher site, you can avoid public site nonsense and inappropriate croaks.

Explain Everything
Here's another app that allows students and/or teachers to create a voice over on an interactive whiteboard. You can also annotate, animate, import and export presentations.

**Stay tuned for at least one more blog post on the GAFE Summit in Kentucky. I still have to share about the tools  Donnie Peircey shared for interdisciplinary learning.
Photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sally_12/312460637/">*Sally M*</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>