Why I'm Pragmatic About Worksheets
I live in the grey.
I know there are some Montessorians that will say categorically that worksheets are universally bad and should not be seen in an "authentic" Montessori classroom or homeschool.
I'm here to share why I am pragmatic about them and how I (currently) use them. Like other areas of my teaching my pedagogy on worksheets has changed overtime to be one where I use them less.
I'll rewind a bit and share how I used to use them. When I was a newbie teacher and still finding my feet I found worksheets comforting. I could see when a child had finished them and "voila" I felt a sense of relief that I had proof that children had been taught a concept.
Sitting in the uncomfortable.
After a while I could see how 'double-up' worksheets were getting in the way of natural activities, extensions and lessons the children could have with the Montessori equipment, I moved away from my instant gratification to sitting with the children and meeting their needs with the follow up work.
Why I do still use worksheets
While I believe the Montessori classroom and curriculum are awesome. I don't think our system or education is static. There are concepts, ideas and curriculum areas that Montessori wasn't aware of and teachers need to find ways to cover those.
Before you think I saturate my teaching day with worksheets, I can say I have used a follow up worksheet a total of twice this week to revise with a student certain spelling patterns using Elkonin boxes. I envisage I will probably do similar sheets with him later in the week which makes a total of five worksheets.
I understand that not all teachers have the time or money to "Montessori-ise" curriculum areas and sometimes a worksheet may need to be used to cover a topic.
I do tend to use worksheets for the occasional literacy task. An example could be learning a spelling pattern or follow up questions for a group of children after a guided reading session. Some teachers have asked, why not simply have the child "copy" questions from the board? There are a couple of reasons (I actually did use to have children copy from the board but have moved on!)
Firstly for children with dyslexia or visual processing copying from the board or a main sheet is incredibly detrimental to their learning.
Secondly for some children the time and energy it takes them to copy could be better spent elsewhere so providing a worksheet helps respect this.
In a homeschool situation where a homeschooler may not have access to many peers worksheets can bring in the "game," or second period of learning that a class of 25-35 children naturally offers. This worksheet suited my child down to the ground as it met his need for fun and showing his learning without having other peers to bounce ideas off. In this worksheet he had to "pick" the right picture to go with the word. The activity also had a definite end which for his ADHD brain was very helpful.
In some places students need to be familiar with different testing formats to cover state mandated tests. Worksheets that help the child become familiar with say cloze exercises or multi-choice tests are important to give the child confidence.
Example of a cloze exercise
For some children with ESL, disabilities or mental health issues, worksheets are very helpful as the child can see the work that is needed, and knows when the work will be over. This is less stress inducing for a child then say a follow up that is, "Pick some task cards from Set A." A child with anxiety could find that overwhelming. Which cards? What happens if they are the wrong ones? What one should I pick - there are 50 here?
What I don't use worksheets for (My pedagogy as of 2021)
I don't use worksheets to introduce new concepts. I use them to revise or consolidate concepts. Wherever possible hands on Montessori materials, life experiences and books are my first port of call.
I don't use worksheets if it is developmentally inappropriate
I don't use worksheets to "keep kids quiet" so that the class is peaceful. Learning is sometimes noisy!
I don't use them as the basis of my curriculum or to dictate what I should teach, for example I wouldn't buy a book of worksheets and have the child work through from start to end.
I don't use worksheets to make myself feel better. I know that children show knowledge when they are ready. If I am feeling anxious or stressed about whether a child knows something I know I need to step back, observe and think about how I could check in with the child in a low key manner.
I would love to hear from you about how you use or don't use worksheets.