I was in school during the worksheet boom. Sometimes I wondered who was doing the teaching, the teacher or the worksheet. It felt like every class had worksheets. Worksheets kept students engaged back then. Sure, the students hated them because they were mindless busy work, but they kept us focused and quiet in class, for the most part. Luckily, worksheets are no longer the in-thing in education and are now rarely used. When students see a worksheet now, they get excited because they are novelty. It’s so crazy how trends in education change as often as my son changes his clothes.
To engage students in the classroom, teachers use various active learning approaches. They will engage the students in discussion, Think-Pair-Share activities, Socratic discussions, projects, and other hands on activities. We find ways to make the learning fun and interactive for our students. Sometimes, though, I wonder if these new approaches do really engage all students. Are there other ways to be sure that all students are engaged and on-task in the classroom?
Today in Humanities class, I attempted to engage the students in various types of class and partner discussions to get them thinking about communities and what they want to learn about the community in which our school is located. I posed several, what I thought were great, critical thinking questions for the students to ponder and discuss. After explaining to the students the importance of not being a distraction to their peers and staying present in the moment, a few students did not seem engaged in class today. They were fiddling with various objects and talking to their peers. When I called on them to see if they were paying attention while fidgeting, as some students can, they were unable to address my question as they weren’t genuinely paying attention. I then spoke to the whole group again about not staying focused and being unable to meet the expectations of the class. This didn’t make much of a difference, those disengaged students remained disengaged throughout.
So, what happened? What caused them to be unfocused and disengaged? Were they bored or uninterested? What could have helped them be more engaged in what was going on in class? In moments like these, I wonder if having a specialized worksheet would have helped those fidgeting, disengaged students. While I’m not generally a fan of worksheets, if the students had something they needed to fill in that was graded, perhaps this would have helped keep them motivated and interested in what was being discussed. Is that my only option though? Could I try other approaches to help keep those two or three other students from distracting their peers? I’m not sure at this point what other ideas could help but I will definitely be trying the worksheet solution during our next lengthy class discussion period. Perhaps this will help keep all of the students focused on the learning and engaged in what is being discussed. Well, it looks like Justin Timberlake isn’t the only one bringing something back. I’m bringing the worksheet back into the classroom, at purposeful and specific times. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to make this a regular practice; however, if it helps my disengaged students stay focused, I might implement it during class discussion days.