Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thinking Outside the Worksheet

What follows is the final essay for my Seminar 1 class and answers the question, "What issue have you seen in during your observation hours, what is the relevancy of the this issue, and how would you have solved it?"

During my observation hours this semester, I saw many worksheets given to students as assignments. I also saw many bored students. I think that these two occurrences are related and that this is a problem in the classrooms I observed in as well as others across America today.

The first grade boy in the general education classroom I wrote about in an Exceptionalities essay worked well and participated during whole class instruction, but displayed AD/HD characteristics and couldn't concentrate when given a worksheet over the material that was covered only moments before. I highly doubt that this was because the boy actually had AD/HD, rather I believe that the worksheet was not a creative enough assessment approach. It did not meet his learning style needs, and he was not engaged enough to work on it.

While I observed a high school special education classroom, one boy showed me the Lego creations he had been making in his free time before I arrived, vehicles fueled by solar power. He was passionate in his descriptions about how they worked, and when I asked him where he learned all his information about solar power, he explained that he liked to do research on the internet. He was still describing his Lego vehicles when the special education teacher walked over to say, almost rudely, that it was time for math and pointed to a worksheet of word problems on the desk. Although the high schooler sat at the table and didn't talk to me again, he seemed upset and fiddled with the Legos until the teacher gave him one-on-one assistance with the assignment.

Worksheets are easy. Find a page in the book or on a website and print off 25 copies. Worksheets are easy time fillers and easy to grade. Perhaps they are too easy. Giving such an assignment, one with a lot of ink and a little area for the student to write the single correct answers, creates students that are forced to think in one perspective, forced to be the same—cookie cutters. Instead, we should be teaching innovation, creativity, and how to think outside of the box, or worksheet, if you will.

The first grade classroom was learning parts of a book cover (title, author, illustrator, and publisher) before being given the “boring” worksheet, and while I observed, the student spent the entire time allotted doing anything he could think of but completing it. Because I could not intervene in my position as the observer, watching him and knowing that the assignment was not holding his attention or interest was almost painful. Couldn't there be a better way? I asked myself, and of course there was. If the teacher wanted to assess if the students retained the information about what is found on the cover of a book, they could have created their own book cover on a blank sheet of paper. At the very least, they could have done it together on the white board with more assistance.

The high school special education teacher, with fewer students in his room, had more time to spend with his students individually. He was aware of his student's interests, and yet still printed out a sheet of generic word problems for his technically-absorbed student to complete. Sure, it would have taken more time, but couldn't he have created problems catered towards technology or alternative energy sources? In fact, because the student is in high school, the creation of the problems could even be included in the assignment.

As a teacher, I must keep the interests of my students in focus. How can I expect my students to learn, let alone retain, any information I attempt to teach them, if they are too disengaged to pay attention? I must be a model for my students in regards to creativity and innovation, and that includes the assignments and assessments I give. I will not have cookie cutter students, and thus, I cannot give cookie cutter assignments.