Letting go of the worksheet–letting the students shine

What does 21st Century learning mean to you? That is the question for our  #peel21st community “blog hop.” Check out my response below then hop on over to someone else’s site listed at the bottom of this post.

A few weeks ago, I overheard one of my vocational students say, “This class drains me.” I knew how she felt. Frankly, I never want to create or mark another worksheet.

Cartoon artist sketch
Photo Credit: Evan via Compfight

Worksheets = control + carrot + stick

I jumped in with both feet when I returned to the classroom this fall in my academic classes—passion projects, inquiries, social media and lots of tech tools. It’s been fun and very challenging. However, I was scared to try student-centred learning with my needier students that are less predictable or motivated.

“Just do it!” I told myself. So we recently started an inquiry on stars followed by learning by creating models of galaxies and other deep-space features. We definitely need to work on community norms and teamwork, but I already see more light in their eyes and smiles on their faces. I’ll never go back to worksheets.

Check out these other #peel21st bloggers:

Jim Cash @cashjim
Greg Pearson @vptechnodork
Phil Young @_PhilYoung
James Nunes @jameseliasnunes
Donald Campbell @libramlad
Ken Dewar @Bestbefore2030
Graham Whisen @grahamwhisen
Sean Coroza @SRCoroza
Lynn Filliter @assessmentgeek
Debbie Axiak @DebbieAxiak
Josh Crozier @Mr_Crozier
Alicia Quennell @AliciaQuennell
Jonathan So @MrSoClassroom
Jim Blackwood @jimmyblackwood
Jason Richea @jrichea
Tina Zita @tina_zita
Sean Broda @MrSeanBroda
Heather Lye @MsHLye
Engy Boutros @mrsboutros
George Couros @gcouros


  1. Susan,

    I love inquiry projects and like you when I first started I too felt hesitant about letting go but it is so worth it in the end. Kids are more engaged, they want to learn and they are learning. As you suggested it is important to make sure that you have those norms of collaboration instilled in them or it could potentially get out of hand but this is what 21st century learning is about. Learning what you want and how you want it. To be honest if we don’t do it, the information is all there for them to get it. Great blog post.

  2. Thanks Jonathan. I am learning so much from the students and my colleagues. The vocational students are quite challenging sometimes. One student likes to talk to me–interrupting even–in front of the whole class, but put him in a small group and he refuses to talk. Some need so much more time than others. These were the factors that were holding me back but I truly couldn’t take it anymore. Now I see that I can better differentiate for these needs with more student-centred strategies.

    • Loved reading your post Susan. Especially the line “I already see more light in their eyes and smiles on their faces”. It is a continuous learning journey for sure.

  3. I love your willingness to try new things. Developing our instructional expertise is such a work in progress for everyone, and often a process of trial and error, but it does ultimately lead to better learning. I really like that you’ve noticed the need to work on community norms and teamwork with that group. Often I think that teachers presume that “those kids” would never go for inquiry learning, when it’s most likely that the students don’t yet have the skills they need to be successful. The important point that you’ve hit on clearly, is not that you should go back to worksheets because it’s not working flawlessly, but that you will need to teach them new skills next time to make it even more successful!

    Looking forward to hearing more about this whole process soon!

    • Thanks Graham. I will be working on norms. We created classroom “rules” and they have been working well. However, collaboration generates the need for different ways to interact with each other than their typical social routines.

      It is a learning process, for sure!

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