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Got any Worksheets?

Occasionally, parents demand “worksheets”. I have a tepid reaction to that request. First, I personally believe that a tutor is not meant to be a “worksheet provider”. Sometimes parents want their child to be “drilled” into learning. Those parents may feel that the only way to acquire skills and/or knowledge is to force it into their child’s psyche by repetitious action – worksheets. Most parents do recognize that a tutor has excelled in a particular area of study, but some still trust education to the worksheet. A thesaurus lists as synonyms for “tutor” the words: coach, educator, guide, mentor, and instructor. (Nothing about “worksheet provider”!) Nevertheless, parents still get “hung-up” on worksheets, and demand “lots of them”. From a purely educational stance, worksheets can be used only one way. Worksheets are generally considered to be convergent materials by professional educators.Worksheets lead students to believe that there is only a single correct way to use them, and worksheets require little, if any, higher-order thinking. Worksheets typically demand a “right answer.” Students learn quickly that putting down a wrong answer is emotionally costly and at times frustrating, (Especially when they have no idea of the process to “get a right answer”).

Worksheet activities may make some percentage of students feel ignorant and incompetent, so that they learn to stop taking risks by guessing. The mere accomplishment of a worksheet does not signify the student’s ability to solve problems, read or comprehend material or demonstrate a mastery of the subject. Worksheets typically demand a “right answer.” Students learn quickly that putting down a wrong answer is emotionally costly and at times frustrating. (Especially when they have no idea of what the process is to “get a right answer”). Worksheet activities may make individual students feel ignorant and incompetent, so that they learn to stop taking risks by guessing. The mere accomplishment of a worksheet does not signify the student’s ability to solve problems, read or comprehend material or demonstrate a mastery of the subject. Finally, worksheet-based curricula dampen enthusiasm for learning. “Teachers who use worksheets believe they are demonstrating a child’s learning progress to parents. Unfortunately worksheet activities are not developmentally appropriate and can cause many problems.” (Dr. Sue Grossman)

Our goal, as professional tutors, should be to provide instructional lessons that encourage divergent thinking, not convergent thinking. Another goal, as tutors, should be focused on solving the “mental sticking points” that are preventing students from fully grasping the subject material. Removing those “blockades” increases student confidence such that students can “do it without a hovering adult”.

I politely suggest to those parents who hire me to be a “worksheet” monitor”, that their efforts should be on supporting their child’s journey to understanding and leave the worksheets behind.