Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Problem 4: Your Handouts Could Be Snooze-Inducing, Ineffective, Time-Wasting Exercises in Futility

In recent years, handouts and worksheets have undergone much well-deserved criticism for their mind-numbing effects on classrooms filled with students who deserve more than a dull exercise in filling in blanks.
Even though there are some dreadful handouts out there, not every handout is bad. In fact, engaging, well-thought-out handouts are a useful way to practice, review, encourage critical thinking, enhance creativity, and help students assume responsibility for their own learning.
Designing handouts that will help your students learn instead of just scribbling wannabe answers as fast as possible takes a bit of effort and a little bit of time. The payoff in student engagement and learning is well worth the trouble, however.

·    Thoroughly proofread every handout you create for grammatical, factual, and typographical errors. If you want your students to take care with the neatness and accuracy of their work, then you need to model that behavior when you create handouts for them.

·    Keep the appearance of any worksheet uncluttered and readable. Use no more than three different fonts on a page. (Three fonts may even be a bit much for some students.)

·    Check to make sure that the font size is large enough for everyone to follow.

·    Take care that the page breaks don’t make it difficult for students to keep on track when answering a question that begins on one page and ends on another.

·    Pay attention to format and spacing. If students are expected to write on the handout, allow plenty of room and provide lines for them to do so.

·    Number each page so that students will be able to stay focused as they work through the handout.

·    Provide space for students to head their papers with their name, the date, and the class or subject. Many teachers neglect to do this and then complain when students forget to put their names on their papers.

·    Use text features such as clip art, text boxes, or underlining to emphasize important information.

·    Label each handout with a distinctive title or other type of label so that students can find it quickly when searching through their binders.

·    Make all directions easy to find. Use a bold font and place them right before the assignments they refer to.

·    All directions should be very, very easy to follow. Step-by-step directions written in clear, brief sentences are easier for students to read and understand than jumbled, complicated ones.

·    Some teachers have found that estimating the approximate length of time that each section should take to complete tends to make a longer handout less intimidating. Doing this together at the beginning of the assignment teaches students valuable time management skills and is a friendly and encouraging way for you and your students to collaborate.

·    Consider writing directions in the form of a checklist to accompany a handout if the handout is lengthy. You should still include directions for each part of the handout, but a separate checklist will make it even easier for students to know what to do and how to do it well.

·    Don’t neglect to provide examples or brief models with directions.

·    Allow students options when it would be appropriate. Even something as simple as asking students to choose between doing the even or the odd questions in a section of a handout would add interest and relieve potential tedium.

·    If you are going to grade an assignment, help students focus by including point values.

·    Build student confidence by adding encouraging notes, hints, reminders, and bits of advice. You could even ask for their advice as you go over the directions before students begin working.

·    To capture attention and build community, refer to their interests, past or upcoming class events, and use their names in positive ways (always only positive ways!) in examples or questions.

·    If you require students to maintain a notebook, make this task easier by punching holes in handouts before you pass them out.

·    Be careful not to waste paper. Maximize the way you prepare a page by using print preview, creating narrow margins where appropriate, and using both sides of the paper.

·    Vary the types of questions that you ask students to do. If you include open-ended, higher-level thinking skills in the various types of assignments that you ask students to complete while working on a handout, then you will find your students more likely to be engaged and learning.

·    Consider adding a question or two at the end of a handout asking students to reflect upon what they have learned and what they may still be confused about.