It’s a point of pride for me…
That phrase should warn me that I’ve stepped outside of “rational”
… pride for me to use very few worksheets.
I think this year I’ve used fewer worksheets than any of my previous 17 years of teaching.
My first year – 1997 – I was a young teacher with some promise, and senior math teachers in my department tried to help me – not with my math, which was strong, but with classroom management, which was not. Estelle (her real name) visited my class – bedlam – and suggested that instead of writing out a long, lousy lesson plan, that I instead design a worksheet that contained all the problems I intended to do in class, plus some extras. She sat with me, I recall the daylight drifting across the table in the teachers’ room, we were alone, and laid out a row of four similar problems. “Do this on the board, do the next with them, and then ask them to do the third, faster students may try the fourth.” Then she started the next row, with four more problems, but with a new level of complexity (perhaps they included minus signs).
I had not, to that point, understood anyone’s advice about how to run a class. I was probably destined for one year and out – pretty common among new teachers in NYC in 1997, especially alternate certification (read – no student teaching). But Estelle’s advice was about how to construct a worksheet, with a logical progression. It was math. I picked up my pen and completed the work she had started. She praised the effort. I thought the lesson had been pedagogical – but it was a classroom management lesson, and it may have been the pivotal moment that kept me a teacher.
Worksheets were easier to design than lessons were to write in “Education School” format – so that was good. But all of a sudden, more kids were coming in and getting to work, paying attention. Damned if attendance didn’t even get a little better. In retrospect – it was Estelle’s Developmental Worksheets. Kids liked getting paper in their hand, with a clear expectation of what to work on. By my 3rd or 4th year, well-designed daily worksheets were my thing. I prettied them up, included homework assignments, challenge problems, starting typesetting them, but the basic structure stayed the same.
They were also my worksheets. I MADE them. But I started picking up bits of criticism about worksheet use, not directed to me, but directed to math teachers in general, about the lack of variety, dullness, repetition, the use of worksheets as a crutch. And I began cutting back. Which was easy, as I’d been overusing them. And cutting back more. And more. And I was still successful. It became a point of pride… and that’s where I got in trouble.
I realized these last two weeks, as I have occasionally gone for a worksheet of my own design, that I’d reduced sheets to a rarity. I’d also forgotten how well some kids respond to sheets. And in seeking variety, I had eliminated one form of lesson – I’d reduced variety.
Estelle’s Developmental Worksheet, is ironically, the mainstay of my lesson design. It’s just in the lesson now, and not on a sheet.
Next year some lessons will have worksheets. Not every day. But more than this year, or the previous year. A little variety should trump irrational pride.