Sunday, April 12, 2009

How do you feel about worksheets?

It is Easter weekend and I have been avoiding the computer all weekend. I don't know why? I haven't wanted to check blogs, read or write. I think I just needed a break. I have taken 2 -two hour naps this weekend on Saturday and earlier today. I hinted to my husband that there is something wrong with me. I can't tell you the last time I have napped, let alone two days in a row. It felt wonderful.
After napping I was ready to run into school to get ready for the week when I realized I left my coat (that hold my school keys)at my dad's house. Oh well, it was a good enough excuse to wait for tomorrow morning. That is when I finally flipped open the laptop. I have to say, I was glad to see that Franki had posted her thoughts and links to 21st Century literacies. Her first link caught my attention and I felt ready to read and write again. She had read a post at Moving at the Speed of Creativity : the weblog of Wesley Fryer. Wesley has an important post about the "uselessness" of worksheets. I immediately connected with Wesley and his thoughts (and routines for pitching) about worksheets.

As a rule, I avoid worksheets as much as possible. Quite frankly, (there is no better way to say it) I just hate em'! That doesn't mean that I haven't used them especially since I am required to use resources handed out by my district. I have. But, I am always finding a way to differentiate and present curriculum in new ways. When I do this, I send a message to my students that learning (and teaching) is a creative process. I also almost always involve the students in the unit we are learning about. Inquiry for me is a motivator and connector. When kids share what they know, what they want to learn and their ideas for what to do next...the learning is meaningful and productive. Lastly, I try to think about how I can make the assessment authentic. When kids feel like they are doing real world work and recording thoughts, ideas, and observations like the professionals, they are more invested. They again, understand how and why learning is important.

What does this look like right now in first grade?
Well, I am all about combining standards and curricular areas when jumping into a study. Knowing I have quite a few science standards left ( earth/space/life) , I decided to talk with my students about how we will be focusing on a unit called "Sharing and Caring for the Earth." I introduced it by reading a story called Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell. ( A wonderful story abut a classroom observing a blue jay family in its nest outside their classroom window.) Knowing they would want to do the same (watching that is) I also had 2 bird feeders, seed and measuring cups ready to go.
We had a general conversation about ideas that come to our minds for "sharing and caring for the earth." We talked about what they knew about caring for the earth and many ideas about recycling came up (yeah!). We also talked about who we share the earth with and many living things came up (yeah!) Many kids shared what they knew about birds, caring for animals and one student shouted out that we should make bird feeders. Another student said that we could use something that we are recycling. Then many of the students began chiming in that they could bring in items from home to help out. G offered to bring in more bird seed. K said we would need books about birds and offered to bring some from home as well as sort out the bird books from our non-fiction basket as school.
The conversation was full of excitement but we also had to regroup and make plans for the feeder. I asked the kids to think back to previous units (like when we explored motion) and remember how scientists set up experiments, observe and record what they notice. We decided to set up our feeder as an experiment. We thought through where to hang it outside, we measured (connecting this to the math unit on measurement we are immersed in now) 2 cups and filled the container. As we hung it, I had students take pictures of the feeder.

This week:
We will begin to watch for birds, check the seed level and begin to write about our plans. I will introduce a science journal and read other science journals to get ideas for how best to record what we are observing. We will also be researching and reading about the kinds of birds we see (cross your fingers that we get some bird action). We will be taking pictures and video using our flip video. I will also be having kids teach other kids how to search on kids google (a tool already used by a group of boys who love to search for non-fiction info for their writing workshop stories) for ideas for the bird feeders we want to make with recycled materials.

I am happier as a teacher when I have opportunities to create and learn with my students. A worksheet would never be able to show all the thinking, collaborating and conversation about our plans for sharing and caring for the earth.


Mandy said...

Just FABULOUS! Enjoy your learning and growing.

The Book Chook said...

It was wonderful to read about how engaged your students are!

Anonymous said...

You are an amazing teacher, Katie! I loved reading that you are a "napper" as well. Lisa G.

Mary Lee said...

Your title hooked me! I was talking back to it even before I clicked in: "Do you REALLY want to know how I feel about worksheets? REALLY? You SURE?"

Yeah, I loved that Fryer link, too.

I also love standards mash-up units!

Anonymous said...

You wrote what many of us are feeling and working through daily as we struggle with district-mandated initiatives. Thanks for posting your thinking. It was fun talking with you at Carl's workshop. Keep Smiling! Shelly

Karen said...

I missed this post of yours earlier. I haven't been online with blogs as much lately.

Glad I finally read this. I couldn't agree with you more. There has to be a better way to further students' learning -- thanks for sharing!