This week some of my fellow students (I'm in a composition pedagogy class) shared some worksheets that they would assign during a writing workshop. First of all, I am completely confused by this assignment because I have attended numerous writing workshops around the country, and I've never had to do a worksheet. My own composition classes have all been of the workshop style, so I really didn't even know there was any other way. I have met people that teach writing at the secondary level that have never attended any workshops and don't know what they are, but I have never met anyone teaching at the college level that doesn't use this methodology along with writing pedagogies and theories.
I am totally confused. I don't know what will happen with my grade in this course because it seems as if the professor is more of a constructivist (the Kenneth Burke variety), and I am more of an expressivist (the James Berlin variety). All I can do is look at what most of my classmates are offering in the way of writing exercises, and think about how I could see myself getting into a whole lot of trouble for handing the worksheet back to the teacher and declaring a big "no thanks." I believe if you don't want to do the worksheet yourself (or any kind of classwork for that matter), then you shouldn't be passing it out to somebody else.
We all know that post-secondary educators are all crying the blues about the low level students they are getting. I keep hearing that none of the kids can write, and that some of the kids can't read, and how close reading exercises have had to be added to classes and textbooks, and how some of the kids have no library skills, or classroom etiquette, and the list of grievances just goes on and on forever. Some institutions are even bucking back against accepting any dual credit or Advanced Placement scores because they think the kids still can't write or think critically.
And all of this makes me wonder if the worksheets are some response to this perceived problem with literacy skills, at least in the undergraduate writing class. So, with this in mind, I would like to recommend a change based on my experiences with math. Schools have transformed the way they teach math, and it is working. Students do small group tutorials on a regular basis regardless of skill level (it is sometimes important to have a mixed ability group). Math tutors are everywhere, and most of the instruction has the look and feel of a workshop. The classes are more cohesive than ever before. I honestly envy what I see math teachers doing, and I can't figure out why secondary English teachers aren't attending workshops and taking advanced coursework so they can do the same thing. And, of course, math has some differences because students have to constantly do worksheets because repetition is important to memorizing an equation or learning how to operate a calculator. But, even so, math departments have their own versions of the writing workshop and writing lab.
Just like a mini math lesson, a mini grammar lesson can be fun. Students can revise pieces in class, and teachers can choose texts that are relevant and engaging. Every now and then a worksheet is okay. But drill and kill grammar lessons with worksheets and computer programs that are out of context with the student's life is oppressive. Students should never be handed a grammar worksheet without some context. Reading and fixing sentences that you didn't write yourself, and that no identifiable person wrote, is boring and tedious. For example, one of the future educators that I'm working with in my course created this elaborate worksheet for citation creation. On one side it has the text information, and then on the other side it has a bunch of lines where you would try to write your citation. If you need to make a bibliography for the sources you have used, you can look up how to do it in a handbook and follow the container pattern. It is really that simple. Teaching how to make citations is okay, but you don't need a worksheet for that, and it's a major waste of time anyway when you can just copy it out of a book.
Students should be writing for a larger audience than just the teacher. Student writings should be published on school walls, school websites, blogs, or local newsletters and papers. When students are no longer isolated by the teacher, when they are no longer working out of context for some unattainable goal, when they have options about who reads and values their work, they become writers.