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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Death By Ditto

By Peter DeWitt — November 10, 2011 3 min read
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Everyone uses worksheets but it can be very depressing to see a pile of dittos on a teacher’s desk waiting for students as they enter a classroom to begin the day. Although there is always a time when worksheets may be appropriate, dittos can be a symbol of a lack of creativity. We must try to limit there use in classrooms.

As class sizes rise and high stakes testing pressure increases we are running the risk of boring students to tears by using death by ditto. Death by Ditto is the overuse of using dittos to educate students. The overuse of dittos leads to lower student engagement, higher cases of boredom and an increase in discipline issues because students would rather do anything than another coloring sheet.

In these days of 24/7 connections and 7 year olds with their own smart phones, we need to lower the use of worksheets to educate our students. Although I do understand that it prepares them to take a state exam because those are about twenty years behind the times, the overuse of worksheets does nothing to help build our case that the public school system is an academic institution.

Dittos do not allow students to build language skills. In addition, working on pieces of paper minimizes the time that teachers can spend building relationships with students through authentic conversations. Dittos are one-sided, impersonal and allow for very little student engagement.

Authentic examples of work such as maps made out of clay, longhouses made out of wood or movies created on Animoto are authentic examples of work that students and parents hold onto for a long time. They remain in the memory of a child until adulthood.

Home-School Partnership

When students go home and their parents ask them what they did during the day, they certainly do not say that they did a bunch of really creative and engaging worksheets. Parents who open up their child’s book bag and see a pile of corrected and uncorrected dittos day after day become concerned that their children are not being challenged, and most times the worksheets get thrown into the garbage.

The work the child brings home acts as a public relations piece between a school and the home. What work the parents see is the symbol of what work is being done in the classroom. If children are bringing home projects or are completing blog assignments on the internet at home, parents will feel that there children are receiving a quality education. If children are only bringing home dittos, the message to parents is that their children are not being properly educated.

One example, from countless other examples, is one that my third grade teachers do every year. In the spring they have a “Travel Expo” where students choose which country they want to study and they take about a month to research their chosen country. The teachers work closely with our librarian and the students learn how to do research. At the end of the research project our cafeteria is transformed into the Travel Expo and students dress in clothing from their country and bring authentic food.

As I walk from student to student I am always amazed by how much they know about their country. Students stand by their display boards and answer questions about the country’s landscape, people, food, clothing and famous destinations. The students take pride in their work and their parents beam when they see their child explaining their country. The whole event ends with the third graders singing some really creative songs that were written by our teachers and taught by our music teacher.

Whole Child
There needs to be a balance between worksheets, technology, inquiry-based, project-based, teacher-centered and student-centered work being done in school and sent home. No matter if a child is gifted or struggling, they are bored after completing a number of worksheets.

During these tough economic times, increased mandates, declining budgets and increased pressure due to testing, we still need to find ways to educate our students and get them career or college ready. There will always be times when we feel as though we manage a classroom rather than inspire it. However, we need to work to make sure that we engage the classroom just as much as we manage behavior.

If we, as educators want parents to support us during these troubling times, we must give them quality instructional practices and engaging educational opportunities to support. We must find a balance between worksheets that make sense, and other types of hands-on inquiry based learning practices.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.