Worksheets Are Not Teachers4 min read

Do you know what activities my kids have learned the most from during this quarantine virtual learning time? Worksheets.

Ok, not really.

There is a viral tweet going around right now from a parent who emailed her child’s teacher politely informing her that her child would not be participating in the virtual classroom the rest of the year. She explains in her tweet, which has been liked over 35,000 times at this point, “Our goal is to have our son come out of this happy and not be long term emotionally scarred (lord knows life will do that anyways). BLEEP worksheets. BLEEP BLEEPY math worksheets especially.” But she didn’t say bleep.

And I think we know why her tweet has gained so much traction: because we can all relate with it. We all get that the last thing our highly stressed, anxious, and disrupted kids need right now is busy work that doesn’t actually teach. Now, worksheets can be a great way to pass the time or challenge our kids, but students are not exactly learning from them. Worksheets serve to reinforce learning that has already occurred. That’s what worksheets fundamentally do; they’re for reinforcement and practice, but worksheets are not teachers.

Worksheets are for practice and reinforcement.

My son, a kindergartner, learned a lot of the fundamentals of reading and writing this year from his teacher. Then a global pandemic happened and it turns out it is really hard to teach reading and writing to kindergarten children remotely. So a lot of the academic time being spent right now is reinforcing what he learned when he was in the classroom with his expert teacher. Practice. reinforcement. There are worksheets, but they are for review. This is why it can be so frustrating when I hear about all of the teachers being forced to assign their students all of these worksheets and paperwork as if those worksheets were doing the teaching. Because that is not what worksheets do.

Teachers do the teaching.

Peers and other students do the teaching.

Hands-on experiences and getting dirty and solving problems and collaborating and critically thinking and playing does the teaching.

But not worksheets.

School needs to be meaningful now more than ever.

The mother has a follow-up tweet that says, “I give you permission to Let It All Go. It doesn’t BLEEPING matter. School doesn’t BLEEPING matter right now.”

You can feel her pain and frustration, which I recognize. But if I could talk to that mother I would to say to her, “Don’t just quit this temporary, virtual classroom. Worksheets that don’t actually teach do not bleeping matter right now, but that doesn’t mean school doesn’t matter. School should be more than worksheets. And it is more than worksheets! In the past couple weeks I have observed so many teachers doing so much more than giving out busy work to their students. I’ve seen teachers do read-alouds with their students every single day; teachers singing songs for their students over the internet; designing projects that encourage them to get outside and solve problems. They’re doing Zoom show and tell, providing spaces for kids to get to see one another and have some type of social interaction with their friends. I’ve seen teachers send thought provoking videos, assign students to listen to compelling podcasts, and issue fitness challenges. I’ve seen example after example of teachers doing parades and driving by their students’ houses.

School does matter right now, just not all of the redundant worksheets, or work that misses the point that we are in a pandemic and need to focus on more important things. So maybe let’s just quit or lessen those, and then focus on what is most important with our students.

And as a side note for those teachers out there who are being required to send your students packets and worksheets, I am hoping someone shares this article with your principal.  

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Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.