At the February 2009 Oklahoma Technology Association’s conference, keynote speaker Will Richardson told a story about the worksheets his own students bring home from their public school each week which resonated with me. Will said he’d contemplated keeping all the papers for an entire school year in a big stack, and then photographing them to document the school-communicated learning they’d experienced all year. I then thought about doing the same thing, since our two oldest children (who are in elementary school) bring home a “Thursday folder” each week filled with the worksheets they’ve completed.
Last night, Alexander asked me to review his paperwork for the week and sign his folder. He was particularly proud of a very challenging social studies test which he’d aced, as well as a writing assignment he completed: A time-capsule letter to a future student at his school in 10 years. After reviewing all his papers and grades, we spread them all out on the floor of our living room. Several of these documents were multi-page, stapled together. This is a week’s worth of worksheets from his school, sent home this week in the “Thursday folder.”
Alexander and his sister DO attend a wonderful school, but in many ways it defines “a worksheet school.” The students DO participate in wonderful musical programs, participate in memorable class-wide events like the re-enactment of the Oklahoma land run, and participate in living history museums. They also have time each day for recess, which is more than the Texas school we left three years ago provided for students in grades three and above. (That was due to high-stakes testing pressure – The school was “exemplary” but they still didn’t have time to let 9 year olds have recess during the day.)
At our current Oklahoma elementary school, “learning evidence” from the week is communicated to parents almost exclusively via the “Thursday folder” and the worksheets it contains. Our school is very common in following this procedure in Oklahoma. This is what kids do in most schools today in 2009: worksheets. This is how most schools communicate with parents about the “learning” their children are allegedly doing in class each day: by sending home worksheets.
My problem with this situation? It’s twofold. First, many of these worksheets are stupid, irrelevant, busy work. Second, worksheets tell me VERY LITTLE about the things my child understands, perceives, knows, and wonders about. Worksheets are almost useless to me as a parent interested in the learning activities and developmental progress of my child, compared to alternative forms of assessment. It’s good to see how Alexander’s writing skills are developing, including his handwriting. But it saddens me to see worksheets like this which he’s spent HOURS in some cases completing.
There are SO many more valuable ways to spend heartbeats than completing word search puzzles. This is busy work, and I think assignments like this contribute very little, if at all, to meaningful learning experiences for my children inside and outside of school.
Included in the assortment of worksheets sent home this week in the Thursday folder were several pages about science and the unit on light they’ve been studying. I asked Alexander if he’d done any experiences during the unit on light. He said yes initially, but further questioning revealed HE had not done the experiments, he had watched the teacher demonstrate some things in front of the class. He had not formulated ANY hypotheses and tested them with experimentation and observation. How is my son supposed to learn the scientific method and become the engineer he aspires to be, if his school does not provide him with REGULAR opportunities to learn the scientific method by PRACTICING the scientific method? (David Thornburg’s message from CoSN09 burns in my mind when I ask these questions.) The answer? Like many things (including writing with social media and learning about hyperlinked writing) it’s up to us as parents to teach these things at home. What about other kids whose parents are not focused on these issues? Who is going to “turn these elementary age kids on” to science? If we really care about STEM, why are we not insisting on a hands-on approach to science in our schools which involves regular experimentation instead of endless note taking and worksheets?
Alexander recorded this short, 90 second video explaining about his Thursday folder and demonstrating what happens at the end of Thursday night after we’ve looked at the pile of worksheets: They get thrown into the trash can. (We did save his social studies test he was so proud of, however, and put it on the fridge.)
I dearly wish our school district was willing to embrace the constructive potential of social media to help students “show what they know” and more meaningfully document their journeys of learning with images, audio, and video than anyone can ever do with mere worksheets. After Alexander shared his “time capsule” letter with me last night, I asked him to quickly record it onto a short, three image VoiceThread for which he selected the photos. This took five minutes for us to do together, and I posted it to our family learning blog. His grandparents in Kansas were able to listen to him and watch this today, and told us on the phone they loved it. They hadn’t realized he’s planning to major in robotics at Kansas State in college! I hadn’t either until I read his essay. Without this technological documentation of his learning, there is little chance his Kansas grandparents would have EVER seen, read, or heard this letter. Thanks to technology sharing tools like VoiceThread, however, they did and now you can too. This is extremely important and valuable stuff to Alexander and to our family. And, it’s free to do.
We need to get digital tools into the hands of ALL our students in grades three and up as soon as possible, as well as our teachers. This morning I had a chance to briefly examine a $200 Lenovo S10 Netbook owned by James Deaton, and I marveled at the size, capabilities, and price point of this device.
Hat tip to Dawn Danker for taking the first photo in this series of me with the netbook. 🙂
When are my own children going to be able to use technologies like these IN SCHOOL here in Oklahoma? The clock is ticking. They’re learning plenty about how to use technology tools here at home, but we have much more limited opportunities to digitally create, collaborate, and communicate compared to what could be accomplished during the school day.
I have my fingers crossed that our state’s educational technology stimulus money will be used in an innovative way to empower students in a few more Oklahoma school districts (in addition to Crescent, Howe, and Lowery) to learn in 1 to 1 environments.
Meanwhile, we’ll continue to watch the stream of worksheets come home each week in the Thursday folders.
assessment, learning, edmond, oklahoma, school, science, stem, hypothesis, handson, thornburg, lenovo, s10, netbook, technology, voicethread, onetoone, 1to1, pbl, assess, measure, worksheet, folder, thursday
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