I try and find my weekly inspiration from my interactions as they happen from parents and kids.
This week’s comes from a seven year old second grader, Jonah, who told me he was not a big fan of school. In fact, he was clear in stating that he “hated it.”
I pressed Jonah to tell me why.
“It’s all this testing,” Jonah started. “The stories are nice, but the worksheets are really boring – they really get on my nerves. I try and stay as focused as I can be.”
We need to face that the “work-sheeting of childhood” is not working. To so many kids worksheets represent one more compliance hurdle after another. (“Do this worksheet and then do another and while you’re at it, here are two for homework.”)
Why does this worksheet stuff matter? Why has this been a near obsession of mine over the years?
Beside the fact that I need to get a life, practically every day parents come in with large folders stacked with worksheets that their struggling child is asked to endure. Sure, the kids on the “smooth road,” the ones lucky enough not to be struggling, tough it out like dutiful soldiers and they get one good grade and smiley face after another.
For the 30% or so who are struggling for a whole combination of reasons, they are also toughing it out, but the feedback isn’t so great. Putting a frowny face on the page with a circled ‘F’ on a worksheet is helping no one.
It’s my impression that the boys in particular are disdaining school because of the constant drudgery. (I’m not saying it’s any better for the girls, but maybe because 98% of the teachers are female, they feel a greater sense of connection and are more motivated to please their teachers.)
Worksheets are not motivating. No child ever came home saying, “Hey, mom, guess what? I got a great worksheet today in school.”
Math word problems are particularly confusing to a considerable number of children. Even if the words could be read (many of them cannot be), the way the problems are written, they are confusing.
Here’s a sample of a one that a second grader who was struggling with reading had recently:
Jake bought some stickers at Sticker Station. He bought 4 strips of ten sun stickers and 3 single sun stickers. He also bought 2 strips of ten moon stickers and 5 single moon stickers. How many stickers did Jake buy?
In this confusing attempt at being cute with the story of Sticker Station, there were at least eight to ten words that the second grader couldn’t easily read. (Not to mention that the mathematic operation involved here ([4 x 10 +3= 43] + [2 x 10 + 5= 25] = 68), seems a bit heady for a seven year old, if I did the math right.)
There was a time in school when worksheets did not rule the education landscape, when real literature served as the primary instructional vehicle in the classroom with stories that captivated kids with imaginative experiences to get them connected.
Don’t you think seven is a bit young for disdain?