If not a worksheet, then what?
Guest blog post by John Stevens
Before the first semester ended, my son’s first grade teacher sent out a survey asking us about homework. For context, the work being sent home was a series of five worksheets, one for each day, that would be assigned on Monday and due on Friday. Was it too much or too little? How much time is being spent at home doing school work? Any other suggestions?
To me, this was a call to action.
I replied back and his teacher decided to ditch the worksheets for him and a few others, opting for something different. Great! But then what?
In education, we focus on the time our students spend in our seats and blame a lot of the faults on the time out of them. Think about some common comments:
“The kids have no structure at home.”
“In (current grade – 1), they should’ve taught (desired concept).”
“It’s because (different subject) is taking up all their time and attention.”
Opportunity to Affect Positive Change
Truth be told, we have an incredible opportunity to affect positive change on the students we serve every day, every year, for the entirety of our teaching career. However, we as a profession have been leaving our biggest ally in supporting students on the sidelines for far too long. There are a lot of factors that we cannot control, but there are some we can. We can create more meaningful tasks, empower our students to have a voice and choice , and we can provide them with a safe space in which to do all of this. So you’ve listened to Alice and Matt Miller and you’ve decided to get rid of worksheets…
Now What if No Worksheets?
If you’re no longer sending home worksheets, like in my son’s case, then what? What are you sending home to help me as a parent stimulate his learning? If you’re tossing worksheets to the side, what are you replacing them with? It isn’t easy to just toss out what doesn’t work; something that does work needs to be ready to use in its place. Something better. Something that gets kids thinking and sparks a discussion.
This is a big reason why I started tabletalkmath.com, a free weekly newsletter for parents that shares one quick and easy prompt to try out at home. But hey, if you’re a teacher looking for new ideas, you’re welcome to try them out as well! The newsletters are written in a parent-friendly tone and will often be written by guest contributors, parents who are also learning how to navigate a life of caring for another (or more than one!).
How many pipes are on the trailer? How did you count?
This is a visual that can be approached in a lot of different ways and can have a lot of different answers. The best part of all is the exploration option each person takes in order to reach their conclusion. Did you count the bottom left stack’s rows, then columns, then multiply them together? Did you then take that and multiply it by eight? Or did you do something else?
Whatever we lacked in money as a kid, my parents filled in the gaps with quality time. They were always talking with me–not at me–about the world I was seeing and experiencing. They were always challenging me to think differently about what I saw and why that was so important. In the book, I share a story about getting tickets to the local harvest festival, and here’s a piece of that:
“All right boys, would you rather get the all-day pass to the Harvest Festival or do you just want individual tickets?”
Our mom always gave us perplexing predicaments, and her question at our town’s annual fair was no exception. We grew up in a town called Pahrump, a bedroom community to Las Vegas. There wasn’t much to do in the one stoplight town, so the annual Harvest Festival was—and still is—an event you simply didn’t miss. And we sure didn’t want to miss making the most of it! But with so many distractions—friends running past us, the smells of freshly-spun cotton candy, recently delivered rodeo hay bales drifting into our nostrils, and the screams from carnival riders nearly piercing our eardrums—our already tough decision turned into an all-out dilemma. I looked to my nine-year-old brother, two years younger than I was, before questioning my reply as it came out of my mouth.
“Ummm, let’s do the individual tickets…?”
Wait! What? What did I just say? I’m at the Harvest Festival! So many fun things to do require tickets—the water gun game, the impossible basketball shot, the sledgehammer game—and who can forget the rides?! Clearly, I’d made a bad decision that would definitely come back to haunt me. Idiot! John, you did it again! You missed another opportunity!
Mom could have simply handed us two tickets, but she chose to put the decision into our hands, have us work through it, and help me and my brother only if it was necessary. This doesn’t only have to happen outside of a local fair, a big event, or a field trip.
What are some things you’re currently doing (as a parent and/or teacher) that could be changed to give more student choice and voice? How might you step aside and let them dive into the problem?
How to Support Parents
We could sit idly as parents want to help, or we can step up and support them; I hope you choose the latter and join me in that effort. Give students a meaningful experience, an interesting challenge, and a reason to invest in a concept. I encourage you to head over to tabletalkmath.com and join the free weekly newsletter that provides an accessible prompt or idea each week, most of which are translated into Spanish by Ed Campos. Make sure to check out previous newsletters to see what you’re missing, and also get a copy of my latest book, Table Talk Math, available on Amazon now!
Thank you for improving math fluency with your child(ren), one table talk at a time.