The Worksheet is Dead… Long live the worksheet…

Last week I posted a One Minute Workflow that showed how to take a traditional worksheet, distribute it to students, have them annotate the document and then export it back out to be submitted within The Hub.

 The result of this video was a spirited debate on the role of worksheets in the classroom, which has really challenged my thinking on the topic.  In the digital age with inquiry based learning a driving force for pedagogy, is the worksheet dead?

Worksheets have long gotten a bad rap.  I can remember in teachers college hearing math worksheets referred to as “drill and kill”, being asked during staff meetings to cut down on the amount of photocopying by not using worksheets with students (ironically, the request was to have students copy down the questions they were to answer in their notebook and then answer them beneath) and even thinking myself, “why are we photocopying reams of worksheets that get completed and then stuffed into a binder?”  So should this be a eulogy for the worksheet?

New teaching strategies often emphasize providing the student with choice in their learning.  Inquiry based learning is all about building from the interests of the students and allowing them to ask questions that lead to learning. It would seem, in this structure of learning environment, that the worksheet has no place.  After all, it isn’t generated by the student, isn’t necessarily based on their interests and doesn’t necessarily fit the learning style of all students.  But at the heart of it, what is a worksheet?  At it’s most basic level, it is a sheet where students do work.  The nature of that work changes based on the worksheet itself, but having something that students can complete, that structures or scaffolds their work, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For example, within an inquiry-based activity, I might want my students to organize their question and learning into a structure that makes it easier to see their progress and for them to reflect on what they’ve learned.  While the final product the student produces to demonstrate their understanding will vary based on the question, their learning style and their interests, this worksheet serves as a framework for both the student and the teacher.  Perhaps, this is the scaffolding that will eventually lead to them organizing their own notes using their own strategy, but the worksheet itself isn’t inherently poor teaching.

Additionally, the idea of “drill and kill” can serve a purpose too.  There are times when you need to practice a skill to make sure you master it.  Doctors practice hundreds of surgeries before being certified; lawyers run mock trials before their bar exam; all of us took driving lessons and practiced the skills prior to attempting our drivers test (hopefully at least!) and I don’t know any sports team that doesn’t practice prior to a game. Practice is an important part of skill mastery.  If I’m learning how to name chemical compounds, conjugate a series of verbs or learn how to factor a polynomial, I need to practice these skills through repetition along with feedback and coaching.  It’s in the absence of this feedback and support that the practice is irrelevant – at that point I could be simply reinforcing bad skills.  But in an environment where I practice my skill and have a teacher provide me with descriptive feedback and suggestions for improvement, that practice should result in improved learning of that skill.  Again, the worksheet type of activity as a strategy for some (not necessarily all) with appropriate supports from the teacher (and the teacher reflecting on the learning the student has demonstrated to scaffold subsequent instruction) can become a powerful tool in the classroom.  After the student has mastered the skill, having them apply it in new situations, make connections to the “real world” and demonstrate their understanding in their own way makes perfect pedagogical sense – and would be the higher order thinking that we expect of our students.  But asking them to build a house without first showing them how the various tools at their disposal work (e.g. the saw, the hammer, the screwdriver) and giving them time to practice using them before starting the project, will not lead to success, but rather frustration and confusion.

Even in our professional practice, we still see “worksheets” although we call them something else; forms, placemats, organizers.  When we want to collect information from a group of people in an organized fashion, potentially directing them on what to consider, so that we can then refer back to it in a meaningful way, we use a rose by another name, but it is still a rose.  There is value sometimes in having things recorded on a piece of paper.

So for me, the worksheet is still a valid tool, although the intended use of it has changed.  It is no longer the tool that all students use at the exact same moment in time, while sitting in rows, quietly completing to then put in their binder without learning if they were reinforcing the right skills and without the teacher knowing if they student truly mastered the skill.  It is now one more tool in the teacher’s toolbox to help them better know their students.  It is a tool for students to potentially practice their skills, have another opportunity to test their understanding, organize their learning or simply jot stuff down for “the next time”.  All of this potential, without having to kill thousands of trees, because we’ve shown you how to make it digital…

It’s Not About the Tool… It’s about the Pedagogy

Today a teacher came to down to discuss how they could build a rubric within The Hub to support a research project they were doing for their class.  They had already watched the videos on tv.HWDSB, but were looking for a little more support and direction.

Our conversation started with looking at the project itself, what the students were expected to submit for the project and working backwards to identify what skills were being targeted.  From there, we brought out the curriculum document to really nail down which specific expectations were being addressed and how that would tie into the overall expectations.  For this particular course, the teacher was doing a research project for each strand and we quickly recognized that researching skills were linked to a separate strand than the content itself.  This meant that it would be quite easy to create a rubric specific to those research skills that could be used throughout the course (rather than specific to this project) with an additional section that was project specific. The rubric we create can be reused many times during the course.  On paper we mapped out what a level 4, 3, 2 and 1 would look like and how we could make it specific to the overall expectations, but generic so that it could be used regardless of the topic (after all, it was about research skills).  The conversation kept coming back to what was it that the teacher wanted the student to develop with respect to skills and what the various levels of work would look like based on those skill developments.

With respect to the content specific requirements of the project, we quickly identified that the teacher was most interested in acknowledging if the student had demonstrated an understanding of 5 concepts.  Rather than a traditional 4-scale rubric, we created a three-scale checklist (again on paper) with the headings, “Incomplete”, “Progressing”, “Complete”.  Rather than trying to artificially develop descriptors around 4 levels, this allowed them to essentially say, “you did it well”, “you’ve tried, but missed the mark” or “you didn’t even attempt it”.

Once we had outlined exactly what we were looking for, we turned to The Hub and what the rubric tool could do.  We looked at how to create category groups within a rubric so that on one screen we had the 3-levels in one section and the 4 categories in the other.  We also explored the feedback functionality of the rubric tool.  This allows you to front-end load the feedback for the majority of students based on the level you select.  You can still “tweak” this feedback if necessary for a given student, but if well crafted, this could provide excellent descriptive feedback with minimal work.  For me, this is a key feature of the rubric tool as when I mark, the feedback on the first assignment is awesome… by assignment #30, I’m simply writing, “See me…” because I’m tired of saying the same thing over and over.  I have found that I write much better feedback if I have to do it once well, rather than 30 times poorly.

Finally, the teacher indicated that they had a checklist of what the student was to complete prior to submitting the project.  This is great as there is a checklist tool in The Hub that not only allows you to create the checklist, but you can also create release conditions so that the dropbox to submit the assignment won’t open until the checklist has been completed.

All of this powerful work took place during a single period in the day and the majority of it was independent of the technology.  The solid pedagogical conversations, the links back to curriculum, Growing Success and proper assessment/evaluation were all stemming from a need to make a paper task digital.  But it wasn’t just about “where do I click to…”. Instead it was about creating some good resources and then digitizing and leveraging the tools that we have to take it to the next level.

For me this highlighted a crucial component to TLE.  Not just that, “It’s not about the tool” as we have heard from Dr. Malloy before, but that we all have to be fluent in good pedagogical practice and know the capabilities of the digital tools that we provide.  It can no longer be, “I’m the IT guy who talks technology” versus, “I’m the pedagogical guy who speaks about practice”.  As an organization we have to know and support both sides of the equation (by learning about those areas we are unsure of), even if we aren’t always comfortable doing all of it – because in the end that is how we will Transform Learning Everywhere.

Week 3: Components of a Transformed Learning Environment

The shift to a “Technology-Accelerated” (Fullan) inquiry-based learning environment requires personalized, job-embedded professional development opportunities that meet the teachers where they are, rather than large group presentations that fail to differentiate for the broad spectrum of adoption seen within our classrooms.

Within each one of these six pillar components there exists a continuum of adoption strategies to help differentiate the transition for all professionals. These are not quick transitions: a classroom doesn’t shift from lectures and handouts to authentic inquiry-based learning overnight, nor does a classroom necessarily create a website, a Twitter account, and an online course; but classrooms with one of these items may consider the benefits of additional outlets as they grow more comfortable, and classrooms that begin relinquishing control and becoming more focused on student curiosity will quickly recognize the advantages of this shift. These recurring themes make up the “catalogue” of responsive Professional Development required at the school level.

Teachers who are just beginning to changetransform their practice, and those early adopters who exhibit facets of all six of these components, can all find additional growth opportunities within these broad categories. It is the role of the instructional coach (using that label to include all members of Leadership and Learning, Consultants, and School Admin, who help to coach instructional practice), to consider where the teacher is on this continuum, and then find the ways in which their practice can be enhanced, transformed, or re-imagined.

A transformed classroom contains characteristics of all six components.

The Digital Wing of the Classroom

Extending access to resources, and to other learners, beyond the scheduled classroom time, is an important facet of the changed learning environment we are trying to create. In the same way that students know the room in which their class occurs, we need to provide a digital space to centralize online conversations, connect classmates, and store resources for future reference. This space may be where all collaboration occurs, or it may be a launchpoint to other tools and resources necessary to fulfill the learning goals in the classroom.

There are a few different board-provisioned tools that help to provide a robust digital wing of your classroom: The HUB,
HWDSB Commons, Google Drive, or tv.HWDSB are all ways to extend your classroom into the digital realm.

Teacher as Activator

Creating lessons that differentiate for student strengths and needs, and involve tasks that allow them to extend their thinking and innovate, is a great first step. These types of activities can be made more effective through the use of digital tools and resources. This progresses into lessons that attend to student curiousity, and allow for individuals to explore and collaborate on real world problems. The teacher is no longer the sole source of information within the classroom. Content delivery becomes secondary to activating student interest, guiding the students towards rich sources of information, and teaching them how to learn for themselves beyond the confines of the school.

The Largest Textbook in the World

Accessing knowledge is different in the information age. Information is now exponentially more plentiful, more immediate, and can be accessed in multiple modalities. The “information highway” democratizes information sources, providing every individual bias a potential stage. This makes it possible to move beyond teacher expertise, to attend to student curiosity; but it also increases the need to explicitly teach critical literacy skills. Students who know not only where to search, but how to discriminate between accurate and faulty information, can be empowered to learn about previously inaccessible content, in deeper ways. Students and teachers can also contribute to this knowledge repository. Learning how to think critically, to curate information from multiple sources, and to contribute responsibly, are important skills to acquire. Knowing how to integrate web resources into lesson plans, to go “beyond Google” when researching, and understanding how to sift and sort information on the internet from both the board provisioned databases within the Virtual Library, and from external sources (Wikipedia, Khan Academy, MOOCs, CK12, iTunes U), is a key facet of this transformed learning environment.

Creating materials using centralized board tools makes it easier for colleagues to access, re-use, and remix resources. Sharing your lesson ideas in The Hub’s Curriculum Share, sharing student products on HWDSB Commons, or on tv.HWDSB, helps to provide adoption pathways as we collectively build student-centred, inquiry-based learning environments.

Teacher as Connector

Teaching students to be life-long learners requires that they understand that school, and their teachers, are not the only sources of information. It is important for teachers to help students connect with experts within the local community, and around the world. Learning can no longer be confined to the books on the shelf and the expertise of the individual teacher. Using resources like Twitter, Skype in the Classroom, Google Hangouts, Discussion Forums, or Virtual Researcher on Call, help to promote the ideal: a connected community of learners, sharing and building knowledge in social, collaborative ways. Teachers need to find ways to facilitate these types of connections, to help promote learning beyond the traditional classroom structure.

Make!

Innovations in technology now make it easier to create. Music and Film that once required expensive equipment and a recording studio can now be published from a tablet. Lessons for learning to Code websites or mobile apps are now readily accessible on the internet. 3D Printers are beginning to allow learners to engineer and fabricate solutions to everyday problems in ways that once required entire factories. Inexpensive microcomputers like the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino allow students to create computerized projects once too cost-prohibitive to explore. Lego makes creating and programming robots something that can be explored with younger and younger audiences. These examples, and many others, allow learners to share their learning in ways that supersede the more tradition pencil and paper task: increasing engagement, unleashing creativity, and differentiating for different learning styles and needs.

A Stage, A Window, A Megaphone

Sharing the learning that happens within the classroom can have a number of benefits. Learners are provided with a platform to publish that can make their work available to an authentic audience. Parents can play a greater role as a partner in the education of their child when they are able to access information about daily classroom activities. Colleagues can learn from each other and share best practices. Sharing lessons with The HUB’s Curriculum Share, or providing parent access to your course; posting classroom activities on an HWDSB Commons blog; sharing video on tv.HWDSB; or through social networks like Twitter; can all help to facilitate this transparency, and help provide connections within the school, across the board, or around the world.

Week 2: Transforming Learning Everywhere: iPad Distribution Nights

Tonight we embark on our first iPad Distribution Night at the elementary schools. These are the resources we will be using at the seven TLE phase one schools. These are different than the resources we utilized at Henderson Secondary. We will be working in the classrooms with those previous tutorials where applicable, to contextualize the iPad to the differing needs of a Grade 4-8 learning space. We will share more about the night after we are on the other side of the first session.

Week 1: Transforming Learning Everywhere

We’ve started distributing iPads to the students. This project, which began at seven elementary schools in the North end of Hamilton last year with teacher devices and classroom kits for approx 70 Grade 4-6 classrooms, has now TLE Day 1expanded to include Henderson Secondary, and Mountain Secondary, and will see iPads deployed to all students and teachers from Grade 4 to Grade 12 at these nine schools. We provisioned iPads to the additional teachers in early June, and have now begun a month-long distribution that will put devices into the hands of all of the students. Throughout the year we will provide ongoing professional development opportunities for the teachers to help leverage this technology to transform the learning happening within the walls of our schools. We hope to use this space to document that journey.

We’ve quickly realized that in order to do this correctly the process needs to include sitting with each student one-on-one at a variety of centres: creating iTunes accounts, configuring email, describing the ways in which students can access the HWDSB app catalogue to download apps, setting an onscreen security password, and signing in to Google Drive, The HUB (our blended learning environment), and the D2L Binder app. We are also helping the students to subscribe to all of the class calendars from the courses they are taking this semester. This service will push assignments to the student’s calendar so that they have a centralized space where they can see all of the different assignments and important dates that they need to attend to in order to succeed. Despite some being savvy at using the devices in their personal lives, in most cases the ways in which these tools can be utilized to enhance and accelerate learning in the classroom is uncharted territory for student and teacher alike.

There are a variety of instructional hand-outs that we are using during this initial process this that may be of use to others. We’ve shared those documents here:

Summer Institute Resources

We will continue to populate this blog post with additional links as we process through your questions and feedback.

PicSketch Courtesy of @bevkj

PicSketch Courtesy of @bevkj

Here is a link to the Google Drive folder in which we have shared a number of slide decks from the presentations: Summer Institute Resources

Airplay Information

Create an App Store Account without a Credit Card

Thank you to all the participants who came out over the summer to learn and prepare for the 2014-2015 school year, and thank you to all of our presenters:

Teri Thompson
Kelly Dunford
Scott Johnson
Kristen Armstrong
Terri Corneil
Sonya Clarke
Tim Kivell
Paul Hatala
Jared Bennett