I have a confession to make, I actually really liked worksheets when I was in school; or rather, I liked some worksheets. My favorite worksheets were in history. It wasn’t that I found them particularly engaging, or that I learned anything as a result of filling them out. I really struggled at understanding and grasping history. I couldn’t make sense of how all of the names, dates, and places fit together. It didn’t tell a story, for me it might as well have been a grocery list. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was actually taking place and turn it into a story the way some of my classmates seemed to be able to do. Which brings me back to my love of history worksheets. I may not have understood history, but I had an excellent grasp of how the worksheet system worked. It was all linked directly to the textbook and all I had to do was find the answers. I know this didn’t come easily for everyone, hence the C’s and D’s that were passed around when the worksheets were returned. I was lucky enough to have had a teacher in elementary school teach me the secret of the textbook. All I had to know was how to use the glossary, bold text, paragraph headings, and charts. The answers are always there. I easily completed the matching and multiple choice first and then would go for the short answer. Those were supposed to make you think; if you ask most teachers why they include short answer/essay questions they will say that it is the best indicator of student understanding…not so. I didn’t have to understand what I was reading to answer the questions; all I had to do was turn the question into a statement and then it was just another fill in the blank. The tests were equally welcomed because I had figured out the trick for those as well. They went like this: study all of the answers from the worksheets in the unit. Memorize them. Fill in the blanks on the test, match the vocabulary, circle the multiple choice answer, change the questions into statements. Easy.
I didn’t understand history, didn’t ever feel like I was “good” at it, and yet I had straight A’s in history all the way through school. Why? Because I understood the system and I used it to my advantage. I liked the worksheets because they let me fool everyone (teachers included) into believing I was successful in those subjects where I wasn’t. I didn’t mind that I didn’t really understand because the goal was the letter grade, not the learning. I was concerned with the way that others perceived me… I was smart and excelled at every subject. I knew how to work the system.
My last post was about cheating, it made some of you mad. I think that is a good thing. I think it is good for us to talk about education and have those uncomfortable discussions. I tell you about my love of worksheets to illustrate what true cheating looks like. I was a cheater not because I copied someone’s homework or used a mobile device during a test. I was a cheater because I was playing the system and cheating myself from the learning. This is the reason that we have to completely rethink the system we are in. I was the kid who was good at memorizing facts to spit back out on a test. But don’t be fooled, it wasn’t because I had learned anything. I didn’t get straight A’s because I understood history. Dishonesty comes in many forms and dishonest behavior needs to be dealt with appropriately. We want to shape students who are honest and ethical, who follow the rules and when they disagree, do so respectfully. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that students don’t cheat every single day within the system. Let’s don’t pretend that just because they are following the rules of the system that they aren’t cheating. We have created a system of education that is false. We believe that students who do well on tests have learned the material. This just isn’t true. The point of my last post was that we have to rethink education. We have to think about why we tell students that they can’t use resources on tests. Why can’t they? Then we can’t come up with a good answer about why the rule exists, we need to amend it and give students new parameters.