Want to strike fear, disgust and dismay into the heart of any middle school students? Tell them that in class today they are going to “do a worksheet” or that you have a packet for them. Eyes will roll, groans will erupt, and kids will shut down. According to students, worksheets are boring busywork that teachers assign when they have something else they want to do. They are useless time wasters.
Except when they aren’t. Because sometimes they’re not. Practice is important. It’s not reasonable to expect that a student who has been exposed to an idea only once can sudden apply that idea appropriately in a problem based setting. It’s not always feasible to have concept application be problem based, although it would be nice if it was feasible. Sometimes I need my kids to practice. Not practice in a drill-and-kill kind of way, but practice in a simulation, word-problem, answer the question kind of way. Practice is a – dare I say it? – worksheet kind of way.
But to call it a worksheet is a kiss of death. So I began to reflect. Part of this is my National Board Certification mindset, part of it is my natural geekiness for data and rationale, part of it is my how-can-I -get-the-kids-to-eat-their-vegetables mindset. Why do I need them to complete this practice/application? What will they get out of it? If I can justify to myself that it is a valuable use of time (which, by the way, is my most valuable resource), I’ll assign it. If not, it gets discarded.
I needed to find a way to spin the work – to but a label on it other than worksheet. The label needed todescribe why the assignment was made and what I wanted to achieve. I tried changing “homework” to “home fun” for a year. It did not work for me. I was not eager to repeat that mistake and I knew I wouldn’t. Changing homework to home fun only changed the label and not the content. The stuff was the same. The difference was what I called it. (It reminded me of Andrew Clement’s book Frindle. Nick starts called a pen a frindle, and his friends do too. It’s still a pen, it just has a different name.)
I decided to call it a “Learning Opportunity” or LO for short. That’s what it is. It is an opportunity for a student to learn. The emphasis is on the LEARNING, not on the working or the keeping busy. It’s all about learning.
It’s working really well for me. Students don’t fight LOs. They don’t roll their eyes. They don’t moan and complain. They get right down to work because, after all, they have been given an opportunity to LEARN.