Friday, August 19, 2011

What Worksheets Are For

A friend handed me a stack of worksheets the other day and asked if I wanted any of them. My immediate reaction was to politely and simply hand them directly back to her and reply, "No, thanks." But then I thought that maybe I should look through them quickly and see if any of them gave me any new ideas. So I had an inward sigh and sat down with the stack.

Among the coloring pages, dot-to-dots, and math board games, I found one choose-the-right-word on needs and wants. Needs and wants is an important topic that's actually taught in public schools today, although I don't think any students or teachers actually internalize any of it. This paper listed scenarios and wanted students to decide if something is a good or service and a need or want. I'll list some from what I remember.

"Sally went to the barbershop. She paid for a __(good, service)__. Getting a haircut is a __(need, want)__."

Easy. She paid for a service; a haircut is a want. Alright, let's move on.

"Sally went to the mall. She paid for a __(good, service)__ at the store. Clothes are a __(need, want)__."

Okay, this one's a little trickier. Clothes are obviously a good, but because Sally had to go to the mall, the clothes she bought there are probably a want, not a need. However, the question just asked about "clothes" in general, which ARE a need. It's a little questionable, but acceptable. Let's check out the last one.

"Sally went to the pizza parlor. She paid for a __(good, service)__. Food is a __(need, want)__."

This one really got me. Because Sally went to a restaurant where food is prepared for her, she paid for both the good of the food and the service of having it prepared. Because it merely talks about "food," the answer should be "need." But again, because it specified that she went to the pizza parlor, pizza is a want, not a need. So although the "correct" answers are a "good" and a "need," you could easily argue either way.

And come to think of it, on the second question, when Sally paid for the clothes at the mall, which were undoubtedly overpriced, she probably paid for the service of having children in third world countries gather the materials and construct the clothes at the American equivalent of one dollar a month and at terrifying working conditions, the shipping of the finished products, the paychecks of CEOs that decided to outsource the company, and the employees of the store who marked up the price of the product by 75%. So, in fact, she paid for their services as well as the good itself.

With all that in mind, I wrote off the worksheet as stupid, cookie-cutter fodder common in most traditional classrooms across the country and handed the stack back to my friend.

But today I thought back to it and all of the comments I had. Wouldn't it be great if my students thought these thoughts as well? Wouldn't it be cool if I could use this silly worksheet to ignite these thoughts?

And then I thought, couldn't I use these silly worksheets to explain the molds that other teachers and other people in the world will try to fit them into? I could tell them, "This is what they will give you. And you know the right answers. That is, you know what answers they will be grading for. And you can try to talk to them about it, like we did together, but chances are, they won't listen. So you just have to put the answer you know that they want. And if you don't know, just guess. You may have guessed what they want correctly, and you may have guessed incorrectly, but it doesn't matter. Take your C and go sit back down because there's nothing more you can do with that kind of person. They just want to grade for what they think is correct and give you a score and label you and fit you into a category. And it doesn't matter. What matters is that you know that there's more to knowledge than that."

So that's what worksheets will be for in my classroom--preparing my students for the terrible teachers they will have in the future. Steeling their hearts for it and instilling more confidence into them. I look forward to the wonderful conversations about worksheets I will have with my students.