Yes. But no.
If all you're doing is skipping the process of pressing print and distributing work via Classroom, Remind, or a seemingly countless number of ways, you might as well join the party that admonishes the 8.5"x11" black-and-white handouts. You could even be using Desmos, although I've seen lessons built in Activity Builder that are better off left on a sheet of paper.
Me? I like worksheets.
I don't like many of them that are in the wild right now, and think very poorly of ones I've created for my own students, yet I like worksheets. They carry the potential of conversation starters, head scratchers, and reflection gatherers. The worksheet isn't the problem. The problem is that what we think a worksheet is is the problem. The ones I really like are:
Did you hop onto Kuta Math and pull a free thirty problems?
Did you slide into the Pinterest boards and pick something up that another teacher crafted?
Did you hastily write down a dozen problems related to yesterday's content?
Me, too! Plenty of times; It doesn't make the decision right. At the same time, it doesn't make the decision wrong.
If I'm going to put something in front of a group of students, I want it to be a true reflection of what I want them to show me. In order to create that experience for my students, I need to be careful of what I am asking and what I am not asking students to do.
To me, carefully designed has as much to do with the space around the problems as it does with the problem set itself. How much room am I providing the student to explain her reasoning? Does she have enough space to show her work? Get messy?
There's a good probability that if you're putting more than six problems on a page, it's too much... no matter what grade level you're teaching. Make sure the problems are not only spaced out but also have a clear separation from one problem to the next.
Even if this work of art never gets printed, and is instead assigned digitally, the careful design implies the need for a careful response from anyone completing it.
It wasn't until my sixth year of teaching that I realized the increased volume wasn't getting me increased results. The kids who could do it were doing it and the kids who couldn't... weren't. It was creating a larger divide between the "haves" and "have nots" of math knowledge. Quickly, I changed course and started being more intentional about the questions on worksheets as often as possible.
- No more than six questions
- No extensions beyond what we have learned in class
- Aligned directly with the standard and/or learning goal for the day
- Problems that would give me good data on student progress
One of the hardest parts of teaching is finding the best way to assess multiple students who are at multiple places in their learning journey. Doing it in six questions is even harder, but it's necessary work. Otherwise, why are we assigning anything at all?
- How are question 1 and question 4 related? Other than the values, how are they different?
- What do you think a common mistake would be in problem 3?
- What would happen to the solution if I changed problem 2 to a (fill in with something relevant here)?
Of course, there are some worksheets that stand out among the others, the ones with no numbers whatsoever. Brian Bushart talks about the "Numberless Word Problems" and I love them. They hit all elements I speak of, especially the idea of being thought-provoking.
What do I want students to walk away with? How can I have them express that?
It may be a two sentence synopsis of what they learned. It may be a picture that represents their results. Whatever it is, it needs to exist and time needs to be given so that students are not rushed through this step. When students are rush through a task, it sends the message that it carries less meaning than the rest of the day. I've done it, and plenty of times. "Hurry up, class, just put the exit ticket on the desk and I'll look at it later!" They know darn well that I'm not valuing those slips because I didn't give them time to finish.
By starting with that end in mind, it gives me the chance to value what I care about most: the students' thought processes.
With all of that, here are some worksheets:
There is a place for reflection.
There is space.
There aren't many problems.
I like it.
- There are too many problems
- All I'm doing is changing values
- There is no deeper thought
- There is no reflection
So how about if I switch it up? Here's a possible alternative:
So now it's your turn. How would YOU define a good worksheet? Drop me a comment or write up a blog post. I'm interested!
Here are some tweets in reply to my original comment: