Oct 29

Cloverleaf Staff Spotlight: Susan Anderson

Anderson kid We continue the Cloverleaf Staff Spotlight series with our fearless leader, Dr. Susan Campbell Anderson! You can find her bio here, see how we celebrated her 50th birthday here, and read more about her experience as a Cloverleaf parent here. Now, let’s see how she answered the same five questions we’re asking Cloverleaf staff this year.

1. Growing up, did you enjoy school?

In elementary, not at first, but school got better every year until I loved it!

2. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A physician, until I actually worked at a hospital.

3. What is the most significant lesson your work life has taught you?


Ms. Susan flying down the emergency slide on our Delta Training Center field trip!

Passion and hard work are the most important parts of success.

4. What are you proudest of?

My amazing family.

5. Your six word memoir- go!

“For book are not absolutely dead…”


Permanent link to this article: http://cloverleafschool.org/cloverleaf-staff-spotlight-susan-anderson/

Oct 07

Do Worksheets Work?

Do Worksheets Work?

Way back in 1985, a study estimated that elementary school children completed about 1,000 worksheets per year. And guess what? Although mainstream educational research has repeatedly demonstrated that worksheets are an extremely limited and often ineffectual tool, things haven’t really changed much. In a recent study, one observer counted 500 worksheets in a single week – five per day for a twenty-student classroom. That’s 900 worksheets per student for a 180-day school year!




Here’s why so many people continue to use worksheets in the classroom:


• Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, worksheets are attractive to school systems that need to demonstrate adherence to and progress in specific educational standards.


• Many parents love to see worksheets come home in their kids’ backpacks. In their minds, they provide evidence that the child is working and learning. A convenient check mark also reassures them that their kids are OK.


• With ever larger class sizes, worksheets serve as a means to control student behavior. This tends to be even more true in classes with students with special needs. Some teachers also look at the ability to do “seat work” – sitting still and completing tasks quietly — as an objective in and of itself.


• K-12 academic publishers have a vested interest in promoting packaged curricula and workbooks to systems in crisis: in the past thirty years, textbook prices have risen about 800% — more than costs in the medical industry! The profits of textbook companies have risen proportionally.


Now a new study by researchers at Penn State has concluded that for kids who struggle in mathematics, those who are taught with traditional methods like lectures and worksheets post significantly more gains on standardized tests than those taught non-traditionally. This study has people in education circles buzzing, especially because the use of worksheets in school is such a hotly contested issue.


But before you run out and buy your own new set of workbooks, you may wish to reconsider.


In the case of the Penn State study, looks can be deceiving. In their reactions to this study, many overlook the complicating factors, some of which are mentioned by Paul Morgan, the study’s leading author. The study only looked at math achievement. Further, non-traditional methods of instruction are more challenging to employ properly, and valuable instructional time can be lost by less confident teachers who have a difficult time with classroom management or organizing multisensory activities. In the hands of more skilled teachers, students may experience different outcomes. Plus, worksheets are just plain boring. Says Morgan, “I don’t want kids going to school and doing worksheets all day. We all want kids to view mathematics as something that’s interesting and engaging and useful.”


And besides, we should not allow one study to change our minds about decades of other research without thinking carefully. We know some things for sure. We know that developmentally, children in the early grades need: a) to move, and b) to develop social skills. Movement and socialization have been demonstrated to improve learning outcomes by developing focus and problem-solving skills. Worksheets discourage both movement and collaborative activity, which in turn discourage appropriate development.


Further, worksheets often to do not teach what teachers and parents think they teach. They are generally abstract, but in the elementary grades, kids need concrete contexts for learning. What worksheets do teach: daily ritual, skills in isolation, and, according to Mellinee Lesley, the “rules, expectations, and outcomes” required to complete the worksheet.


The research regarding early childhood use of worksheets is clear: they are developmentally inappropriate, and, rather than fostering learning, can hinder the learning process. One can argue that this research should be extended to special needs kids, who often exhibit developmental delays. The research is also pretty clear that worksheets are not helpful in developing literacy skills. There appears to be no correlation between literacy acquisition and worksheet completion. And as for math, another recent study demonstrated that students who were taught using manipulatives scored a whole two grades higher on the California Achievement Test than those who were taught using worksheets! Remember, many of our kids have memory processing problems – they can try all day to memorize math facts, but they may not be able to do so.


As they usually require a “right” answer, worksheets do not foster creative or critical thinking skills, nor do they foster strategic problem-solving. Because they are mass-produced and are meant to be completed alone, they do not enable differentiation of tasks or instructions. Yet many students do not understand instructions (which are written for the teachers rather than the students) on mass-produced worksheets. They are forced to rely on teacher intervention to complete them, so instead of fostering independence, worksheets encourage what Lesley calls a “learned helplessness” in students who cannot successfully complete them without assistance. Also, students usually need to have mastered a skill to demonstrate it on the worksheet, so new learning is unlikely to come from a worksheet.


So do we ever use worksheets at Cloverleaf? Well, we try to avoid it, but sometimes find them useful. The key is to use worksheets sparingly, and to be careful that they focus on clear, achievable goals. Teachers should not use worksheets to keep kids busy; instructors need to be actively engaged with their students at all times. Worksheets should be as open-ended and interactive as they can possibly be. Graphic organizers or questionnaires might be used as a means of documenting a multisensory activity rather than serving as the activity itself. In an upcoming entry, we will give some ideas about alternatives to worksheets.

IMG_0156 (1)

For further reading, check out my sources:


Amendum, S., Li, Y., Hall, L., Fitzgerald, J., Creamer, K., Head-Reeves, D., et al. (2009). Which reading lesson instruction characteristics matter for early reading achievement?. Reading Psychology, 30(2), 119-147.


Cain-Caston, M. (1996). Manipulative queen. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 23(4), 270-74.


Church, E. (2006, May). A word about worksheets. Scholastic Early Childhood Today, 20, 6.


Grossman, S. (2013, April). The worksheet dilemma: benefits of play-based curricula. KB Education Solutions, n.v., n.p.. Retrieved August 15, 2014, from www.kbsolutions.com


Lesley, M. (2003). A pedagogy of control: worksheets and the special needs child. Language Arts, 80(6), 444-452.


Pincus, A. R. (2005). What’s a teacher to do? Navigating the worksheet curriculum. The Reading Teacher, 59(1), 75-79.


Ransom, M., & Manning, M. (2013). Teaching strategies: worksheets, worksheets, worksheets. Childhood Education, 89(3), 188-190.

Permanent link to this article: http://cloverleafschool.org/worksheets-work/

Sep 30

Why We Love To Play

Why We Love To Play A child on outdoor playground

It’s no secret that in recent years, Americans have become increasingly sedentary. And though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids engage in no less than 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a full-out campaign to combat childhood obesity through education about diet and exercise, on the whole, American kids have seen physical activity in school noticeably decreased, especially since the launch of No Child Left Behind in 2001. Since then, school districts have cut time in both P.E. and recess to make room for more instructional time to prepare for standardized tests. Add to this policy pressure the decreasing financial support for many public school programs and the cultural trend of increasing (and arguably unwarranted) concern for children’s safety, and the prospects for kids’ opportunities for play look bleak.

Now, the physical benefits of play are mostly obvious and undeniable: active kids are generally more robust: their muscles, bones, and vascular systems are stronger. Their motor skills are better. They are less prone to debilitating diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and those benefits can last through to adulthood. Children who are physically active are more likely to be physically active as adults.

But I’d like to talk a little more about some of the more intangible benefits of play. These benefits are especially compelling to those who care about kids with neurological or learning differences. An active child is less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that active children have higher self-esteem and a stronger sense of well-being than their sedentary counterparts.

And physical activity appears to be necessary for the brain to function optimally. Physical activity and play have been shown to improve cognition, attention, and executive function. These children have been shown to have better problem-solving abilities, and (remember NCLB?) they show improved standardized test scores! In fact, according to Sergio Pellis at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, “countries where they have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less.”

By the way, physical activity and play are close cousins and often come together. But an interesting story on NPR recently pointed out an important distinction. Scientist Pellis says: “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain…And without play experience, those neurons aren’t charged.” Changing the brain, he says, requires completely unstructured play. The function of play, says Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University, “is to build … social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.” Therefore, while P.E. class is important for learning a number of things, free play, whether it involves vigorous exercise or not, can’t be overlooked – it builds social skills and problem-solving skills especially.

Here’s what we do at our school to promote physical activity and play every day. Experts, like those from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine, think all schools should be using these strategies!

1. We incorporate structured physical activity. Cloverleaf kids go on a hiking expedition every week. These outings often involve opportunities to play sports and always require kids to navigate the conventions of group dynamics.

2. We provide ample time for unstructured play. Our kids start out on the playground every day before settling in to do their academic tasks. At other times throughout the day, students return to the playground or spend time in our sensory room.

3. We allow students to have frequent breaks during academic instruction. An increasing body of research suggests that frequent short breaks during instructional time increase concentration and reduce stress – stress by and large impedes learning and retention. Our goal is to help students self-regulate, getting to know themselves well enough to know when they need to step away.

4. We plan lessons that incorporate movement and play directly into academic instruction. Sarah O’Neill and her colleagues at Queens College, CUNY have discovered that play-based interventions are especially beneficial to kids with ADHD. Though worksheets may sometimes have their benefits, we know that early elementary kids in particular are likely not developmentally able to connect tasks set on worksheets to the abstract principles they are meant to demonstrate. We aim for multisensory, hands-on work that keeps kids focused and interested.

For further reading, start with my sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy Statement: The Crucial Role of Recess in School. Pediatrics,131(1), 183-188.

Braniff, C. (2011). Perceptions of an Active Classroom: Exploration of Movement and Collaboration With Fourth Grade Students. Networks: An On-Line Journal for Teacher Research, 13(1), 1-6.

Editorial: Exercise and Academic Performance. (2013, May 24). The New York Times, pp. 2-3. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/25/opinion/exercise-and-academic-performance.html

Hamilton, J. (2014, August 6). Morning Edition [Radio broadcast]. Washington, DC: NPR.

Spiegel, A. (2008, February 21). Morning Edition [Radio broadcast]. Washington, DC: NPR.

Sue, G. (2013, April 1). The Worksheet Dilemma: Benefits of Play-Based Curricula. KB Education Solutions. Retrieved August 15, 2014, from http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=134

APA formatting by BibMe.org.

Permanent link to this article: http://cloverleafschool.org/love-play/

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