The EDsitement website, funded by the National Endowment on the Humanities, offers lesson plans that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. I have modified several of these lessons; other lessons on this site are familiar fare in English classrooms. One example is the lesson on Carl Sandburg’s Chicago which asks students to pick a location and respond to prompts such as, “If this place were a person, what kind of person would he or she be? What noticeable physical characteristics would this person have? How would he or she act? What would this person wear and do?” The lesson on Arthur Miller’s Crucible is also familiar, “Have students answer the following questions: What is John Proctor’s dilemma in Act IV? What motivates Proctor’s initial decision to lie?”
While there is always a need for more resources and support for teachers, I have two complaints about theEDsitement site. The featured lesson on the site this month is Vengeful Verbs in Hamlet for grades 6-8. The targeted age group and the objectives for this lesson are inappropriate; Hamlet is not for middle school students. That leads me to question the appropriateness of lessons for other students as well.
The second problem is a worksheet filter option on the site where lessons can be identified as offering worksheets or not. Worksheets? In the 21st Century, with all the digital possibilities, the National Edmowment for the Humaties is promoting worksheets? Why?
Many educators consider worksheets the “busy work” of education. Worksheets have correct answers; they are prescribed and limiting. Early childhood experts have pointed out that many worksheets do not allow the kind of problem solving that involves an element of risk, saying “if we want children to learn to solve problems we must create safe environments in which they feel confident taking risks, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying again” (Fordham & Anderson, 1992). Activities that require creative problem solving or critical thinking should be the goal of every teacher. The worksheet can limit both.
Additionally, worksheets are expensive. Paper and toner ink are the first expense, but the second expense is time. How familiar are teachers with the number of hours that are wasted in front of copy machines copying worksheets? Sadly, very familiar. What happens when the copier breaks down? Frustration. A teacher who relies on worksheets is forced to scramble when an unreachable tiny scrap of paper lodges into one of the copier’s feeders, or when the toner is low, or when code505 appears on the digital screen. In contrast, the increase of digital platforms in education allows teachers the opportunity to spend time more productively setting up documents that can be used by individual students or collaboratively.
Students have so many ways to record responses digitally, for example on Google docs or blogs or wikis, so why waste paper? The worksheet should be relegated to files of emergency backup lesson plans for a substitute.
The National Endowment of the Humanities should lead the way in weaning teachers off the worksheet. The emphasis on filtering lesson plans for worksheets should be eliminated. The availability of lesson plans aligned to the Common Core State Standards is a great resource that is cheapened with the pedestrian 20th Century tool of worksheets. EDSitement should not straddle a 20th-21st Century divide. With funding support from Verizon Thinkfinity, a foundation firmly in the 21st century, EDsitement should lead.