Friday, April 17, 2015

No Worksheet Week

I teach English to ninth and tenth graders all day, in a time of insane standardized testing. Seriously, my sophomores take a high stakes test, or a predictive test for a standardized test, every month of the school year from October through May. They equate learning with stapled papers and bubbles to fill in with number 2 pencils. Between the testing and the worksheets and packets I see them completing for other classes, I’m surprised they have any interest in school at all. Not to say I don’t give the occasional worksheet, but I want to do everything in my power to make school a positive, fun, and productive place. I want my students to do, to create; if they don’t create things now, they won’t be likely to create things as adults.  Needless to say, I was completely on board when I heard of the #noworksheetweek challenge on Twitter.

Comic Summary of The Invocation
Immediately, I thought, “this won’t be hard; I rarely give worksheets anyway!” I participated in my state’s Twitter chat (#inelearn) the week beforehand and even gathered some new ideas. Then, I found out I would have to miss at least half the day on Monday of #noworksheetweek, and my first thought was, “I’ll leave some handouts for the sub...oh snap! #noworksheetweek!” This is the real struggle.  It IS pretty easy for me to teach without worksheets, so why is my response different when I won’t be there?!  Sure, some students try to push the boundaries a little with a substitute teacher, but I have good students.  We’ve built relationships. I have them do and create all the time! Why would I leave them anything less when I have to miss a day? They deserve better!

Working on the Iron Chef Activity
Just a little more thought helped me plan out a creation activity for my absence.  My sophomores were easy--We spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday writing and peer editing argumentative essays.  Thursday and Friday were rounded out with watching a film to prepare for a Socratic seminar the next week.  My freshmen were a little tougher.  We were just beginning to read the Odyssey and write a research paper. On Monday, they read, created a comic summary of one of the scenes, and searched for evidence of strengths/weaknesses of Odysseus’s leadership for a graphic organizer we will continue throughout our reading. Tuesday found us discussing the reading and practicing paraphrasing and summarizing different sections of a news article. Wednesday we generated research questions as a group, collected articles, and formed a tentative Works Cited page. Thursday brought an Iron Chef assessment of the Cyclops section of the Odyssey, and on Friday we read and marked up our research articles and planned our own epithets based on our personal traits, modeled after The Odyssey.

The whole week, I did not use a single worksheet, but I wonder how often I do it without being intentional? I wonder how much more I can do it if I AM intentional about planning no worksheets? As I asked my students to reflect, their response was all the same. They liked #noworksheetweek, but they didn’t feel anything unusual was going on in my room. Instead, they urged me to keep fighting for them.  They are creative, capable, intelligent beings who can Do and Create if we allow them to do it! They asked me to spread the word, to show other teachers what is possible if we do away with the worksheets.

What could your students do if they weren’t doing worksheets? What are some of your favorite non-worksheet activities or non-test assessments? Please share in the comments below!