Worksheets and Screens

When I attended elementary, each child had a single desk. One year it was a wooden desk with pencil groves and patterns carved in from years of use. The desk included a separate wooden chair that was so hard a child would never be able to fall asleep in class. A few years later I was upgraded to a single metal desk chair combo, with a hard fake wooden top that folded up and down. Inside the desk children stored books, pencils, paper and a few toys we brought into class hoping the teacher would not notice. One item our desks did not contain was worksheets.

When work was practiced in class, our teacher first lectured for a few minutes on the subject of study and then our books were removed from our desks for the lesson. The lessons were assigned and completed in class and involved paper, pencil and writing. As children, we produced our own worksheets by copying the questions from the textbook and completing our written questions with a written response. The end result of our efforts created a daily writing practice that all children participated in. The process followed a similar path for all subjects during my elementary years, including math.

Today the process embodies something different since most children's work is presented on a worksheet. Scores of math problems, questions about science and language are delivered via worksheets. A worksheet or multiple worksheets exist for every subject and as children change grades expectations increase. In our district, kindergarteners receive a packet of five worksheets, while our older elementary children receive up to five new sheets everyday. I believe utilizing worksheets represents a missed opportunity for children to work on reading, writing and language acquisition. Children lose the opportunity to process both the problem and the solution.

Sure, children write everyday completing homework in math, spelling and short sentence answers, but if you calculate the average amount of hours a young child spends in school and multiply that number by the days of school there exists thousands of hours of writing practice that have been lost. Are worksheets the screens of the education world? Or does the worksheet represent a distraction to a child's learning or equal a valuable tool for learning?

In an article titled “Are Worksheets a Waste of Time” David Didau a teacher of 15 years and author shared, “A worksheet is not just an instruction written on a piece of paper. It's a series of activities designed to give students work to do. The goal is to keep them busy and is not primarily concerned with whether they learn anything”.

Another article about screens and student skills titled “And Their Eyes Glazed Over” there was a comment about students skills in relation to screens stating, “a recent study from the University of Florida shows that what we read affects how we write, particularly when it comes to syntactic complexity. That explains why many college professors continue to note a decrease in students' writing skills. Apparently, online content, which tends toward simplistic syntax, has a greater impact on student writing than do writing courses aimed at students”.

Based on this article I was wondering if the simplistic nature of worksheets and the lack of reading and writing practice required for competition are having the same effect on children that screens embody on the college students of today. I realize the hypothesis is a stretch, but as I read the two articles my mind started placing the two images together one of a college student staring at a screen not in touch with learning and the children I encounter everyday staring at worksheets wondering why they experience more hours of busy work after being at work, in school, all day.