Tag Archives: Worksheet

Multiple Entry Points into Learning


Differentiation, multiple entry points, small group instruction, individualized instruction, IEP’d students—how do we incorporate all of this with a seemingly packed curriculum and many students to teach?  Some days, we long for the average student.  In fact, the notion of the average student would suggest that it would be ok to teach to the middle and then the students on either side would just cope.  They would be able to find something.  The problem is, they don’t.

We have a professional responsibility to teach to each student and we know that each student brings different skills to the task.  With the case of students on an IEP, we have specifically told parents that we would be teaching something other than the grade level curriculum.  While we have certain end goals in mind (for both IEP and non-IEP students), what we need to be thinking about is how we get there.  That is where the curriculum document does NOT constrain us.  We do have the professional freedom to design our classrooms and lessons so that multiple ways of attaining the end goal are possible:  we can change the pace, the quantity of work, the number of opportunities to practice, the delivery of the material and, many times, the choice of topic.

The more constrained we are in the design of our lesson/activity, the less likely we are able to meet the learning needs of all students.

  • A photocopied worksheet is very hard to differentiate—either you get it or you don’t.  If you really get it, it is too easy.  If you really don’t get it, it is too hard.  There is only one entry point for most worksheets.
  • Worksheets offer very little choice.  Worksheets that offer lots of choice might as well be blank pieces of paper and we save on the photocopying.
  • Assigning the same number of questions for all students to do is only good for some.  If the student is struggling, s/he is already discouraged.  If the student gets it, s/he is bored (and there is no research to say that over-practicing a concept makes you learn it better).
  • A workshop environment with the teaching in minilessons is engaging for students and lets students determine their own entry level.  Don’t forget, you are still the teacher, and can guide students up or down as required.
  • Inquiry learning allows students to ask the questions about which they are interested.  This provides a variety of entry points as students determine their own interests and questions.  Students of all levels are more likely to be engaged if they are interested in the topic.  Don’t forget you are still the teacher, and can veto questions or guide students in the direction that meets the curriculum expectations.
  • You can create learning situations/problems/provocations that have different levels of difficulty.  Rarely will students choose the inappropriate level.  Don’t forget, you are still the teacher, and can help guide students in their choices.
  • If most of our lessons are to the whole group, we are teaching to the middle.  Try rethinking how you deliver information so that you minimalize whole group times and increase small group time.  We say we don’t have time for small group instruction, and we don’t if we use it all on the whole group.  There are some students who need more of your time and some who need less.  Fair is not equal.
  • The more you, the teacher, is involved in setting all the work tasks, the more you are constraining the learning of your students.  The more open your tasks are, the more students will be able to enter into meaningful learning.

As you plan for term two, challenge yourself to try something new that you think might engage more students in learning.  You might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but no one will die.  And, don’t forget, you are still the teacher and if it isn’t working you can always change your mind.

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Filed under Authentic Tasks, Differentiation, learning golas, small group instruction

Open-ended Tasks: Worksheets???

We have begun to have some discussions about multiple entry points.  Given that our classes are not homogeneous, if we really want all students to be engaged and challenged, then it would make sense that students can enter the work at the point where they are comfortable.  Creating multiple entry points requires the teacher to see the big idea which is permeating the lesson and to understand that all work students do, builds on something else they know.  It requires the teacher to know how students evolve in their understanding towards that big idea.

For example, students may come to math with little or no knowledge about solving for the area of a circle.  They may not know pi, radius and diameter.  However, they do know what area is and they do know what circles are.  Students may not come to geography knowing the factors that influence migration, but they have probably all moved, they know about making decisions, they have worked with maps and graphs.

When we are thinking about multiple entry points, it is worth thinking about how we present work to students.  As a teacher, I have spent countless hours scouring teacher workbooks looking for the perfect worksheet or textbook page.  I almost never found one.  Does that mean we should never give out worksheets????

Worksheets are nice because…

…you can prepare them in advance

…they are easy to mark

…kids are generally quiet while working on them

…they can provide good practice of topics learned if I am at the   practice stage

However, there are numerous drawbacks to worksheets as well…

    1. They are  very hard to differentiate.  As a kid either you know it or you don’t.  Most worksheets are not open-ended and do not provide for a  variety of responses.  That is fine for some things but not for others.  If you know all the answers then you are done very quickly without having been challenged.  If you  don’t know the answers then you are simply stuck and probably can’t       resort to what you do know to help you.   Open-ended tasks are much more likely to engage a variety of  levels of learners.
    1. A bundle of pre-photocopied worksheets assumes that you as the teacher already know what the kids will need to practice before they have even begun to learn the topic.  If we are heading       towards formative assessment driving instruction, it is hard to determine in advance how much and what kinds of practice students need.  And the bundle of worksheets suggests  that all of your students will need the same kind of practice.
    1. Often  worksheets provide practice on skills in isolation but not in context.  For example, a worksheet that requires students to put end punctuation rarely transfers to students using end punctuation correctly in their written work.  Students can practice using a formula but will they understand when to use the formula or what to do if they forget the formula?
    1. Many  worksheets can be completed without the student actually having to think  very hard.  Lots of worksheets  require one word answers and, sometimes,  a lot of colouring.  When choosing a worksheet you want to  ensure that deep thinking is required.

When you are determining whether or not to give the worksheet, you may wish to ask:

–          Will I know more about what my students know and don’t know after they complete this worksheet?

–          Is there a more authentic way to get at the same information?

–          Will it be challenging for those students who already “get it”?

–          Will it support the learning of those students who are struggling or will it be “task completed” for them?

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Filed under Differentiation