Sunday, March 30, 2008

More on my use of worksheets

Both Angie and Gabriela responded to my last post about eliminating worksheets. And I owe them a response, so here it is.

Gabriela, I really appreciate your comments. I have changed a little what I want them to do, so there will be lots of sharing before the end. And as soon as I read your comments about the grammar, that all came together for me, too. I still have some work to do, but it is nearly finished. Thanks for your encouragement.

As to why we use worksheets in the program I teach in... I am not sure. But it is easy for the people who buy into it. I know that there was no money in the beginning, and I think they were doing the best they could, but it is not at all in keeping with any kind of current thought about ESL teaching that I am aware of. We had a meeting about the curriculum last week, and there was a lot of discontent when the director said we were going to choose a textbook series and use it next year. Change is difficult for a lot of us.

Angie, you raise some great points. There is so little time and so much to do that worksheets are a big help. But most workshets don't require students to think or to really make much effort at all. They don't promote skills that extend beyond the worksheet. They don't, really, promote learning.

This is where I struggle with the concept of worksheets, though. Students need practice. Worksheets have traditionally provided that practice. If I want students to practice using a particular verb tense, for example, it would be easy to have them complete worksheets where they fill in the correct form of the verb. If I don't do that, are they getting enough practice? I am not sure. But I know that no matter how many worksheets I give them to complete, they aren't going to be able to use the correct verb in free speech or writing. So the practice doesn't guarantee they will be able to produce the form in real life.

I try to give my students a lot of practice with whatever we are learning. We talk a lot in class and they have to write fairly regularly. It isn't as much practice as they could get from a worksheet, but I think it is higher quality practice. It has more carryover to real life, I think. I hope.

One thing I need to make clear is that I am not trying to judge anyone here. We all do what seems best to us at a particular time. Have I used worksheets? Sure! Will I use them again? Probably.

What this is about for me is reflective practice. The worksheets I was using weren't ones I had invested in at all; they were given to me to use. In an attempt to make these classes my own, I have moved away from those worksheets. In an attempt to make the class more meaningful for my students and more cohesive, I have moved away from them. But if there comes a time when I think my students need a quick review of something or if there seems to be some other reason to use worksheets, I will most likely use them on a limited basis. But they will be reintroduced to my classes after reflection. That makes all the difference, I think.

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