Battling the Worksheets

I’ve been reflecting on my teaching, and teaching in general, lately. The three principles that guide my teaching are:

How you teach is just as important as what you teach.
– ELLs (English language learners) can do academically challenging tasks with some scaffolding.
– ELLs need for everything to be put into a meaningful context.

Now, under each of those I have lots more “bullets” I could add as details, but I won’t make you read all of those! Anyway, I am worried that I am not giving my students meaningful language tasks. Lately it seems like I’ve been teaching language arts via lots of worksheets, something that interferes with all three of my guidelines!

“Language” is a subject that has been, in my opinion, mis-taught for many years. From second grade to seventh grade, “Language” typically means doing mindless, isolated exercises out of a grammar text. Or mindless, isolated exercises on a worksheet. In theory, I believe that topics that are considered “Language” should fall under either Reading or Writing. (In fact, my school district has done away with Language as a subject on the elementary report card and replaced with with Writing – although that doesn’t mean teachers are teaching any differently.) I go through the writing process with my 2nd-4th graders about every other week, and I try to focus on a particular skill (compound sentences, subject-verb agreement, descriptive adjectives, etc.) each time we write, but I still find myself resorting to worksheets fairly often.

How does this really help my students? They don’t need to be able to circle all the nouns in the sentence; they need to use the noun correctly in syntax, both in speech and in writing. They can make words with prefixes on a worksheet, but misunderstand the word in the middle of a story they’re reading.

My challenge here is, first, to provide them with meaningful tasks that will easily apply to everyday English use, and second, to figure out a way to assess their learning without worksheets. Your ideas are welcome!!

By the way, I found a great website written by a Pre-K ESL teacher this week! It has lots of great non-worksheet ideas for early learners! I recommend it to teachers of children 3-7!

For more of my ideas about teaching, see my Traditional vs. Transformative Teaching series.

One comment

  1. wherewander says:

    The important thing is that you care and because you care, you´ll find the way to make it more interesting for your students.

    Here we don´t have a subject called “Spanish”. We call it “language” and we study it by reading books and by studying grammar analizing sentences in a similar way Chomsky does.

    Some classmates found it boring and some interesting, that had to do with the student´s interest. I always loved reading and writing so for me it was enjoyable.

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