As I write this, I take a breath and wonder… how did I learn to love writing? I’m certainly not that great of a writer, so how did words become for me significant impactful drivers of language, communication, and passion?
Was it a worksheet? Ummm… no. Simply no.
Worksheets do not grow writers. Authentic, meaningful, purpose driven writing grows writers.
So, how do worksheets fit into this space? Well, they don’t really… not really. At least, not the “drill-and-practice” kind. There are some worksheets that do well to support the process of a writer, and then, there are those that absolutely, unequivocally… do not fit.
Is there really a difference? Yes. One benefits the writer, and the other does not.
They do exist. Student-centered worksheets, designed to fit the needs of novice writers in the classroom, really do exist.
When teaching writers, these… types of worksheets can be used to help a writer be accountable for their work, notice pieces of themselves and their writing in ways that help to move them forward. These worksheets are open-ended tools used to support authentic student writing. Growing writers with differentiated open-ended tools like these, helps create independent writers who experience enough authentic writing to help them thrive and grow. Katy Wood Ray offers some great examples in her book: The Writer’s Workshop, Working through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts). You will also find free copies of a Writing Workshop Daily Log in both English and Spanish below.
In a writer’s workshop, we want all learning to be student-centered. Unfortunately, the worksheets that typically reign in many classroom environments are not student-centered. They are instead, skill-based.
On the opposite end of the teaching spectrum, there are those “other” worksheets. They are what we typically call “drill-and-practice” worksheets.
These are the fill-in the blanks, bubble-in, check the box, cut and paste, underline the word that best fits, circle the correct answer (because there is only one correct answer) type of worksheet, offered in single sheet form, packet form, workbook form, and manufactured by many, many different packaged writing programs. They are, more often than not, a “one size fits all” type of worksheet.
They are easy to grade, often designed for the drill and practice of isolated grammatical skills or formulaic structure, and centered around… not the student, but around the practice of isolated skills. Using worksheets to teach isolated grammatical skills can stifle a writer. It may increase an ability to select the correct answer on a worksheet, but it will NOT grow fearless fluent creative writers.
One Test Says A Lot
Besides the well-established research on the topic of worksheets, I had the opportunity to witness the disheartening results of one student’s writing test.
Buried within the many scores and results of the 2018 State of Texas Academic Assessment and Readiness (STAAR) Writing test, I noticed the results of one particular student. This one stood out. With my own eyes, I looked upon the results of a student who passed the 4th grade STAAR Writing test. This student answered the multiple choice section, completely neglected the composition portion of the test, and passed. This student passed the State of Texas 4th grade writing test without actually having to write a single word.
Not one word.
Let’s stop for just one moment and think about that… How does one pass a writing test, without any actual writing? Is it just me, or does anyone else notice that ginormous red flag billowing across our clear Texas sky?
Could this be the result of a "test prep" classroom, one centered around worksheets? Isn't this what happens when worksheets come before opportunities for real writing? How are we allowing young learners to experience real writing? This is not a question up for debate. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Worksheets do not make writers. Writing creates writers.
This is a problem, but problems are forever pieces of the fabric of our lives. Should it change the way we teach writing? Yes, if your classroom is led by worksheets. No, if your writing workshop is led by authentic student writing.
In case that wasn’t clear enough, what matters is that we teach kids to write. Again, because right is right, and wrong is wrong. Anything less than that is unjust.
How do we change things?
One important change that can make an impact in a classroom where we work to grow writers is to ensure the absence of skill-based worksheets. It will be hard, but it will be okay. There are many other ways to check if kids are “getting it.”
Pushing drill-and-practice worksheets can be detrimental to the development of a writer. This is especially true for bilingual and multilingual students. I implore teachers of writing to experiment without a worksheet, reach out for help, and then try again. This is after all, how we expect our students to try something new, learn, and grow.
Life-long learning happens when learners get to play with what they’re learning, manipulate it, and create something new with it. This kind of learning happens outside the limits of a worksheet.
The best way for a student to become a better writer is to… write. Write every day. Write for authentic and meaningful purpose, in language rich environments that center around the writing process.
Writing matters. Worksheets don’t.
In the summer of 2017, I attended the Heart of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. It was at the completion of my 12th year of teaching 4th grade dual language, in College Station, Texas. What happened that summer was simple. I learned to become better at what I already loved. I learned to become a writer, a stronger guide for the learners in my classroom, a leader for my district, and a growing voice in the world of education.
I was not always a teacher.
About two years ago, I began blogging with my students. The experience changed my classroom. It changed the way my students took on learning. It changed the way I took on learning and teaching those kids… you know them… the ones who have and use technology as almost an extension of who they are.
The experience impacted all of us.
Kidblog: Dual language podcast, listen to student and teacher perspectives!
Full podcast HERE:
I keep a quote wall in my classroom. It holds quotes by some of the humans I most respect in the world. On it are the words of Aristotle, Einstein, some Chinese proverbs, along with the words of some of my former students. Hanging above our classroom pet snake, Fluffy, is a quote by one of those former students. It reads: “I’d like to go to Harvard, but I’d rather go to Hogwarts.” It is a sweet reminder that we are all obligated to make our own path to push and learn more.
Last week, one of my former students and I accomplished our first podcast. It was one of the most challenging and extraordinary experiences I have had the pleasure of having.
The experience exhausted me, both physically and mentally. It was amazing to have lived it… all eight plus hours of it. The best part was inviting a former student and author of the Hogwarts before Harvard quote, Josefina, to join me.
Podcasting is only one of many experiences that grew out of our adventures into blogging. What we learned most from blogging was much more valuable. We learned to grow.
Published March 21, 2018 on
Teach Write, LLC #TeachWrite Chat Blog
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For the past two years, my students and I have been purposely learning how to move about in this world of technology to write, learn, and grow. We learn together, and we blog together. It has been, and still is, a priceless experience for all of us. I have learned much about teaching, guiding, and this world, their world, of technology.
What I discovered is that today’s students do not need us to teach them how, they need us more to show them what is important and why. Most students already know how to take the world they have at their fingertips and find, within seconds, how to do pretty much anything.
"When we walk to the edge of all the light we have and take the step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for us to stand on or we will be taught to fly.” -Patrick Overton
A few years ago, my dormant imagination awoke. Now a little older, wiser, and experienced with things that life sometimes forces upon you, I took a breath and welcomed my imagination back.
I began with a simple question… What if? What if I put aside my fears and tried stuff that was new and scary? What if I stayed up late and prepped for something a little extra? What if I pushed a little harder to learn something new? What if I did everything possible to do different, reaching for something greater, without knowing exactly what the outcome would be? What would happen?
In a few weeks, our classrooms will be filled with nervous smiles and worried parents, all wondering what the new school year will bring. Some excited for their children to get started on a continued path of learning and growth, others a bit more worried. Sometimes we feel like it is our job to save each student, and the thought of maybe not reaching every single student affects us in more ways than one. The reality is that we can’t save every student in our classrooms in one single school year, but we can have great impact. Teachers are not superheroes, we are human.
Visit http://afhogan.com/10-tips-student-blogging/ for this blog post.
Marina Rodriguez is a California native, National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project, Teacher Consultant, living and teaching in Texas.