Why I love worksheets

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.


  1. Ooh~ I like this idea of rethinking the goal of education, from when we begin as learners. Is it the grade? Is it the experience of success and failure, examining what that means for our self-identity? Is the goal perfect processing?
    I’ll take a look at your prev post about cheating (or coasting?).

    1. Thank you for your comment Jes, it is important to know where we have come from and where we are going in the learning journey. Without those reference points, what is education?

  2. I love this refreshing take on worksheets. What a great discussion piece this would make on a professional day to get us started on thinking about what kind of work we expect from our learners. Brilliant!

  3. Ktenkely:
    Great post, but it may only apply to history. I am sorry to hear that you didn’t get that history is all about cool stories. Unfortunately, you are not alone. Since the first part of most history text “stories” is so loaded with dates and facts, they don’t draw readers in. If you look at most news articles, they do just the opposite. They save the details for later paragraphs and try to put some kind of grabber up front. If you get a chance, check out my blog, which features book summaries that I hope are valuable to educators who don’t have as much time to read as I do.
    Doug Green

    1. Dr Green, how I wish that this only applied to history! For me history was just one example. I survived Chemistry, British Lit, and Government the same way! Thank you for the link to your blog, I look forward to digging in more! I am only now really getting into history, I love the story there and wish that someone had presented it to me differently when I was in school so that I wasn’t playing catch-up!

  4. Just because a student can use online resources and regurgitate information in a different manner still isn’t an accurate measure of learning. You are only proposing a different method for an “open Book” test. Maybe what we should focus on is instilling the value of learning, of education, and not how to work the system. The reason for your blog, your sites, your job, is that the value of education was instilled in you by either your teachers or parents and they have created a lifelong learner. Shouldn’t that be your goal as and educator? To develop a classroom of lifelong learners? Tests are a point in time reference and a measure of learning. Revise your testing policy if you are only trying to assess rote memorization.

    1. Kerry, read my post again. I think that worksheets and testing and textbooks need to be completely rethought in education all together. Let’s rethink testing. I am not interested in a student regurgitating information back to me by using the Internet, but there is value in knowing how to search for, and find, information. I’m not proposing a different method for an open book test, I’m recommending that we totally rethink everything that education is today. I’m suggesting that we stop taking for granted that school means tests, textbooks, worksheets, and rules about when you can and can’t use resources.
      How do you instill a love of learning? How did I get my love of learning in the middle of “working the system”? I am naturally a curious person which is why I was so good at working the system and looking things up. Luckily, I also had parents who modeled learning for me on a regular basis, only they didn’t call it learning, they called it life. In order to develop lifelong learners, we have to model what it looks like. Testing, textbooks, etc. don’t lend themselves to this. What does lend itself to real world learning is knowing how to find answers to questions when you have them.
      I’ll encourage you to read my other posts on this site so that you can get a more complete understanding of my views on education.

  5. You are so right! When we are coralled into doing work that is purely a matter of jumping through hoops, we will find ways of making those hoops easier to jump through. In the end, we are the losers.

  6. You post pretty much describes my education, as well, in history and all other subjects. I had no idea that history could be about thinking critically until I went and took my first college history class, which led to me eventually becoming a high school history teacher.

    Some of the best advice I got when I was a student teacher was never to ask a question I knew the answer to, because it was just a waste of time. If I know the answer, I should just tell the students the answer so they can move on to applying the information in some critical or creative way.

    Thanks for the great post – I’ll be sharing it with my department.

  7. I believe being a life long learner is the most powerful form of learning. The reality though is how do we quantify that learning. Our society wants to compare and contrast who is “getting the education”. In my own life I learned more in some of my C classes than I did in my A classes.

    I also know that some students are externally motivated. I think this is the problem we are all grappling with – How to make learning real and how to show the public we are accountable for our teaching.

    This summer I have had the opportunity to participate in the education alliance II. I have learned a tremendous amount about writing, blogging, education and technology. I think what I have come away with is the critical importance of peer support and forming a personal learning network. I want to empower my students to achieve in the same way.

    Now the crux of the problem – I see my students one hour a week. I have one computer in my classroom.

  8. I’m late finding this, Kelly, but I want to commiserate with you on having gotten through way too many classes simply by using the system. This is precisely why my classes can’t be aced this way, which is precisely why a lot of students complain about my classes: “Why can’t we just do worksheets??” That’s not to say that I don’t ever use worksheets; I do. But never as an end-all.

    1. Jo,
      It is hard for students who have learned to play in the system to suddenly have the rules change on them. I remember feeling this way in some of my classes in high school. I wished that the teacher would just make it easy for me and let me continue playing in the system. They many not appreciate it now, but when they reflect on their school experience, yours is a class they will remember.

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