Not Another Worksheet! Please, No!

When I was going through school the most degrading, demeaning, and condescending task I could endure was filling in the blanks of a badly mimeographed (pre-photocopier) worksheet.

As an active and engaged child, I was full of wonder and was interested in the depth and breadth of learning and understanding. Why and how do things work? What is beneath the surface? It is no wonder I study systems now and am so interested in breaking our collective obsession with the worksheet and everything it represents.

We have been taught to think that ‘content’ is master. Content is content, and I can reach all of it I want through Google, and so can you. Content has nothing to do with learning.

Think about something you know deeply and do well. Was it learned from filling in the blanks? No. It was learned through experience and practice combined with reflection and feedback. This is how we develop knowledge. If content were master, everyone with a phone or a computer would be so smart… well, it is just not true. Content is content.

So, here we are coming back (we hope) from COVID 19.

Are we going to prepare for the next wave or another pandemic by designing a better delivery system for the classic worksheet? Here’s a good (not) policy idea: let’s send worksheets through the mail, deliver them, pick them up, send them electronically, push content to the user and call it learning… Please, No!

No. Learning is a multi-faceted, deep, and integrated-with-life process. And, it is really not that hard to design and teach frameworks students can use to create projects and challenges and solve problems that have purpose for them, and which are of meaning to them. Our research shows us exactly how to do this, yet, I worry out loud… are we going to design a ‘better’ worksheet and a 'better' delivery system and call it done?

Across the globe students are disengaging from learning more than ever in history. At K, 95% of students are fully engaged. By the time we get to high school there remains about 35% engagement – and this data comes to us from multiple sources. Think: a full 65% of students are NOT engaging with school after 12 years of practice. Shouldn’t they be getting better at school? Why?

Because… content has no relevance.

This is the chance to change. It is not hard, or complex. The answer is exactly how we have learned as a species for time immemorial. The answer just isn’t status quo, however. Status quo benefits from how things are, and status quo feathers its own nest. Status quo tells you to fill in the blanks, sit down, be quiet, and let the lights slowly go out of your eyes.

If the worksheet worked, students would have been doing their school work with record levels of engagement during the entire COVID break. But we know, students are now even less engaged than ever they have ever been. A better delivery system for a poor product, does nothing to improve the product. To improve education, we must fight status quo, learn deeply, and destroy the worksheet.

Dr. Ross Leadbetter, CEO iHub Learning Inc.

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