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Too many worksheets? What parents should expect for homework

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Worksheets.

What memories does the word conjure up for you?

I still have a deep olfactory memory of the damp mimeograph worksheets we used to sniff in class. Sometimes they were so damp a pencil barely worked.

You’d think that all school worksheets today would be online but they’re not. Some kids – right here in high tech happy Colorado –  are still coming home with mountains of good ‘ol worksheets.

So, do these pieces of paper really assist learning? Some probably do. Others, not so much. If you’re among the parents who question the value of so many worksheets at the younger grades, then you’ll appreciate the advice recently shared with EdNews readers from expert, teacher educator and mom Kathleen Luttenegger.

She offered the following tips to a mom who complained that her first-grader was coming home with five to 10 math and literacy worksheets EVERY DAY. Her son is bored, she says.

Luttenegger says 10 worksheets a day is indeed overkill. (Read her complete response here). 

Why teachers use worksheets

She says there are many reasons why a teacher might be using so many worksheets. One of them is TCAP prep.

In fact, some schools have adopted strict guidelines requiring teachers to use specific curriculum in specific ways. Teachers in these schools may have very little say in how many and what kinds of worksheets they are required to use with their students. In these schools, every first-grader would likely have the same homework every night, Luttenegger says.

Another contributing factor may be increased class sizes. With school budgets stagnant or even decreased over the past several years, class sizes have risen in many Colorado schools. A teacher with 30 kids in the class may resort to using worksheets with students – other kinds of approaches may be more difficult with larger numbers of students.

Luttenegger says if your child attends a school that has a great deal of pressure to raise test scores or that has been impacted by larger class sizes, the worksheet problem may be school-wide.

She suggests talking to other parents to see if others view this as a problem as well. She says the best chances for change include getting involved with the school and expressing your concerns to the administration. There is power in numbers.

If this is a school-wide problem, Luttenegger says you may want to consider if this school is the right match for your child. Not every school is a good fit for every child. You might look around and see if there is another school in your area that provides a more active and engaging environment for all students. For example, many districts now have STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) magnet schools. These types of schools often provide more hands-on types of activities that may suit the learning style and interests of your child. There may be charter schools in your area that are better suited to your kiddo (e.g., expeditionary learning, Montessori, etc.). Even a different neighborhood elementary school in your area may provide a learning environment better suited to your child’s learning style.

Now to the tougher issue. How do you address these types of issues with the teacher?

Approaching the teacher

Lutteneger suggests beginning your conversation or conference by letting the teacher know that you are excited to hear about how your child is doing in school. Also let the teacher know that you have a few specific questions that you would like to ask, so to please leave a few minutes of time for these questions at the end. Be sure your body language and tone of voice show engagement and interest. You don’t want to put his teacher on the defensive.

Listen to what the teacher has to say about your child. Is he doing well in school? Is he making progress? Does she talk about her  getting into trouble (mischief) at school?

After you have listened closely to the teacher, Luttenegger suggests sharing some positives about how your child learns best. Have there been any examples of activities this year (or even in the past) that have really engaged him or her in learning? If so, share these with the teacher. Some examples might be:

▪   I have noticed that my son learns best when he is able to move around a lot. He loved the game in math when students got to hop as they were working on math facts.

▪   I have noticed that my daughter really enjoys working with partners or small groups at school. She couldn’t stop talking about sharing his writing with his friends in class.

▪   My son talked a lot about the science experiment that you did in class with the students last month. He really seemed to enjoy the hands-on nature of the activity.

▪   We really enjoyed the research project we worked on as a family last semester – it gave us time to look at books closely together.  And, she really enjoyed using the computer to create his poster.

After you have shared some examples of how your child learns best, you can ask: “I am wondering what other opportunities my child will have to engage in more of these types of activities?” This will allow the teacher to highlight any similar kinds of activities planned for the upcoming weeks. If the teacher said that your child sometimes gets into trouble at school, you can use this opportunity to say that you notice she tends to be more on-task when she is really engaged in his learning. It is not uncommon for kids to make trouble when they aren’t really engaged at school.

Another approach you might take is to talk about homework, Luttenegger offers. You can ask if there are there other ways your child can show mastery of learning. For example, if he is working on basic math facts, could he practice them through computer/iPad games?  You could say: “I’ve noticed that my son has a worksheet each night practicing math facts. He seems to learn math facts more quickly using interactive games. Could we do 15 minutes of math games in place of the math facts worksheet?”

When is it time to talk with the principal

Luttenegger says some teachers will respond positively to this type of conversation and some won’t. She suggests that if you try working with the teacher and nothing changes, you may want to set up a time to meet with the principal. Let the principal know your concerns, again focusing on the needs of your child.

EdNews Parent editor Julie Poppen is a former daily newspaper journalist who has covered a multitude of school issues in Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver. She is also the mother of a fifth-grader in Boulder Valley. Sign up for the EdNews Parent newsletter by clicking here. 

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Comments
  • comment avatar Paulra March 23, 2013

    One of the things I LOVE about our daughter’s school is that the teachers are very creative and rarely send home worksheets. A friend of mine had her 1st grade daughter out for Spring Break (5 days) and was given 55 (no, I’m not kidding) worksheets as make-up work. There’s something wrong there.

  • comment avatar Amber's The Mile High Mama March 23, 2013

    The homework at my daughter’s school doesn’t match what they teach. In the classroom, it’s creative, out of the box, experiential. For homework, it’s worksheets, which she and I hate.

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