My children are fond of Lunchables—those horrible little plastic compartmentalized “lunches” that offer itty-bitty snack-y thingies loosely resembling “lunch.” They beg, right there in grocery Aisle 6, in the pleasepleasepleasepleaseMomplease way. And oh, how I hate Lunchables: They are the nutritional equivalent of a piece of Styrofoam, they cost waaaaaaaaaaay too much money, and they’re notoriously messy and unwieldy. But, you know, my friend Emma gets Lunchables all the time! And school lunches are worse! And Moommmmm, we are so sick of the stuff we always pack in our lunches!
So I give in periodically, and I buy each kid a stupid Lunchable, and when they zip it into their lunchbox, I clench my brain into the place where I refuse further thought, and life goes on, just like that.
After school, my kids inevitably wail that they are starrrrrrrrrrrrrving. I sniff and try not to sound preachy. “Those Lunchables do not give you enough good energy feel good throughout the day.” (Definitely preachy.)
They protest and defend, fierce and tenacious. It’s not the Lunchable, Mom. We’re always this hungry after school.
They’re right. So I let it go. Again.
You know what else I hate?
By “packets,” I’m referring to that only-in-teaching word that describes a set of, oh, I don’t know—10? 20?—pages of back-to-back worksheets, loosely related, stapled neatly in three predictable places on the left hand side.
When I was a little girl and playing school in my bedroom, pretending I was a super-awesome teacher, I loved packets. I made them myself. I stapled chunks of wide-ruled notebook paper together, and then meticulously copied worksheets I took from my teacher’s Indoor Recess Option Box, and then doled them out to my imaginary students. And then I actually did them. And then I gave myself 100% and a smiley face.
Worse yet, when I actually started teaching, I still thought packets were teaching, so I copied thick grammar packets and triumphantly handed them to my students. I may have even harrumph-ed. Each day I would teach a grammar mini-lesson and then direct my middle schoolers to the page in the packet on which they could practice. Rinse and repeat, until the packet was all full, at which time I’d collect it and spend a Sunday afternoon making sure every period, comma, semicolon, and fragment was dealt with appropriately. I’d put a number on the top of each packet’s front page, then enter said number into my grade book. There. Done. Swish-swish-swish of the hands. I was teaching, man.
But packets aren’t decent teaching, just like Lunchables aren’t a decent lunch.
They are both pre-packaged, pre-determined, one-size-fits-all experiences that are easy, quick, and require very little thought—just a bit of time and assembly.
What to do?
Okay, so, yeah: Packets aren’t all bad. I understand why they are beloved by some teachers—and even some students. They reinforce skills through practice, and give students something to complete during down time. They certainly are a golden ticket for our most compliant little school soldiers.
But packets don’t teach. Not on their own. In fact, for some students, especially those who are driven by interest-based, differentiated experiences, who need movement and action and some sort of common-sense connection to themselves, packets can’t answer questions or address confusions.
Just like Lunchables can’t possibly nourish my children for the long-term, worksheets can’t guide students through complicated or real-life learning. Any type of one-serving-per-person, pre-established and pre-determined experience can’t give the type of long-term sustenance and growth we want for our kids.
But it's not like they do damage. I've never told a teacher not to use packets, just like I haven't put a moratorium on the occasional Lunchables purchase. I roll my eyes at them, acknowledging that each has its place if used— infrequently—for a single and simple purpose. There are worse things, certainly. And sometimes it's wise to pick—or, more appropriately—not pick—our battles.