How To Unworksheet The Worksheets For Deeper Learning
You just covered a new topic. Now, you want your students to apply what they are learning; to problem solve. To accomplish this, it is important to give students the opportunity to use the information when it's fresh. And, I'm not talking about channeling that one teacher who talks the whole hour and then assigns 50 practice problems for homework. That is not teaching. And it sure isn’t learning...
So it is key to plan for classroom practice. See your students do it. Let them struggle and make mistakes. Give them feedback and time to collaborate and correct these mistakes. Show them how to and have them analyze their process. Model metacognition. Then, challenge them to think about their thinking. Teach them to truly learn.
Ideally, you want to do it all right after the information was covered. Maybe you have a worksheet to go with the concept. Hey, I’m not a proponent of drill and kill, but I recognize students need practice. While one may need to solve two problems, another might need to solve ten to achieve the same effect. The answer is different for everyone. One student’s drill and kill is another’s smart practice. Whatever activity you use, it will be better for some and worse for others.
The worksheet above is what chemistry teachers in my school use (myself included) to practice identifying reaction types, predicting products, and balancing chemical equations. It contains 16 problems for students to solve.
In the past, I gave students the worksheet after discussing predicting products (other skills were covered in previous lessons) to start and work on in the last 15 minutes or so of class. A few always finished it right away. Some started. Some asked for help. A few declared they'll get it done at home. This is how worksheets typically (don't) work...
I don’t have all the answers, but I think learning should be intentional. I want students to show me what they're learning and what they’ve learned. If I just give each a worksheet and say work on it some will and some won’t. If I tell them that I’ll collect it for a grade tomorrow, a lot of them will get it done. But how do I know which ones did it honestly, which ones got help, and which ones got answers from a friend from 3rd hour? And, can I tell who learned and how much he or she understands? Not like that I can’t, so I decided to unworksheet the worksheets. Check it out!
1. Unworksheet With Collaboration
Instead of just giving the worksheet and letting them go to town, I assigned a different worksheet problem to small groups of students. In this way, the first 8-10 problems were being simultaneously worked on by teams of 3-5 students. Doing this gave students just 1 problem to focus on and allowed me to check in with each group several times (as opposed to trying to check in each student individually).
2. Unworksheet By Letting Students Struggle And Make Mistakes
I asked each group to use only what is already stored in their brains to solve their problem. I told them I expect some mistakes and that they are more than okay; they help in learning. I told them we will eventually correct what needs to be corrected and that doing it this way will in fact help make stronger neural connections in the brain, which leads to better understanding and memory. Of course, there are always students who get it right away, in which case they will teach others and deepen their own learning - FTW!
I asked students specifically not to use their phones or notes, just their collective wisdom. I also asked each group to use their table to work on and record their solutions, so they, myself, and others can look at them. (Before I painted the table tops with dry erase paint, I used 2' by 2' melamine boards from Home Depot for such group reporting, so if you're looking for something cheap I highly recommend getting two 8' by 4' boards and cutting them into 16 squares).
3. Unworksheet By Giving Instant Feedback
As I circulated between groups, I asked questions to stimulate deeper thinking. I asked how confident they felt about their answers. If I saw mistakes, I'd ask even more questions with hopes of further reflection. When a group felt they were finished, I asked them to check their answer. They could use their notes or Google. Many did not know what to search for (this is chemistry after all), so I'd give them suggestions, which helps in developing a much needed skill.
4. Unworksheet By Letting Students Correct Mistakes
I asked each group to revise their answer based on feedback they received. In some cases, I had to give them feedback, because they were having trouble finding the right answer or simply weren't 100% confident that they found the correct way to solve their problem. Generally, I resist giving students the answer directly. I ask leading questions and tell them where to find the answer as a last resort. In any case, it is important that they have the correct answer and understand it before the class is over.
5. Unworksheet With Metacognition
Metacognition can and should happen all through this process. I asked students why they thought what they thought as they were working of solutions, but I also heard them talking to each other why they think a problem should be solved one way and not the other. I heard them explaining to their group members why they thought it was supposed to be done a certain (wrong) way even before I asked them to examine what they thought before and what they think now.
I asked them to talk about their misconceptions and misunderstandings in this way. I had a few conversations with them as I walked around too. I told students that if they make mistakes, correct them, and analyze why they made those mistakes, they will not make them again. They will understand. They will remember. They will learn. I also told them that they can and should practice metacognition in all their classes as it helps them become better students.
By the way, I told students not to erase their original (wrong, incomplete etc.) answer. I had them record the correct one underneath for comparison. And compare they did! More metacognition followed.
And yes, I recognize the fact that some students will successfully complete and analyze only one problem during class. But I'm okay with that knowing that they dove deep. They learned. Maybe they're not able to solve all the problems all the time as a result, but they know have more tools than they've had before to be able to figure them out, and with a little help will be able to. With metacognition, thinking about their understanding and learning, they're on their way.
6. Unworksheet With More Collaboration And Sharing
In the end, I asked students to write their group's solution on the 12 foot long classroom sidewall whiteboard (I highly recommend you ask your principal for one!). This provided students with a way to share their solution and check answers once they started working on problems other than their assigned one. This allowed me to take a second look at their solutions. In addition, other students noticed errors I missed and pointed them out, which further validated the method.
7. Unworksheet With Choice
I told my students that I will not collect the worksheet for a grade. I told them to be honest with themselves and decide how many problems they need to solve to feel comfortable with the concepts. I told them that whether they do 5, 10, or all 16 problems, they should feel confident about their learning. I told them to keep the worksheet so they can revisit the concepts a couple of times in the future and in preparation for tests or quizzes. It's up to them. It always was...
Remember that students need spaced repetition, so plan to periodically revisit the information learned in the past. Less is more applies here. It is better to revisit, repeat, and learn fewer things than to cover more topics that students don't really internalize, and thus don't really learn. Unfortunately, this is what occurs in many classrooms. Don't let it happen in yours.
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