I confess I was called the Worksheet Queen. Back in the day. And, I still have a fondness for these pieces of paper that have an ugly name. I prefer the word printable. For some reason printable is more acceptable than worksheet. Could it be that we don't want to associate 'work' with an assignment?? I did have a principal that forbid the use of the word homework because students were not to associate school with work. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I thought so too.
Anyway, back to the question. Do worksheets (or printables) have merit? Yes. It all depends on how it is used. To pass them out and then have your kids sit in rows and complete page after page is... well, I can't find words to describe how awful I think this is. But would someone please explain to me how giving a kid a tablet and instructing them to play educational games for the rest of class is any different? I mean. Have you seen some of the games? Educational? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
So what does it depend on? The teacher. Teachers teach. Teachers use various resources to teach. Printable, book, tablet, interactive board, manipulative, game. All have merit. All have a place. It all goes back to how they are used.
For example: You pass out copies of a story (I was a reading teacher). Students silently read. Teacher points out various vocabulary words, then writes them on board. Students read aloud or teacher reads to the class. Students are instructed to highlight the vocabulary words written on the board. As a class, practice using context clues to determine what they mean. Teacher passes out a printable. Students highlight vocabulary words on printable., then write an original sentence using the new word. Higher order thinking using a specifically taught skill. The students learn the word, see it in context, associate with experience by connecting story to writing original sentence on printable. Students now have ownership of word.
I could give example after example. So could you. We can cower when the word worksheet is used or we can make it work for us and our kids. Teachers are the professionals that have the skills to turn something mundane and rote into something wonderful and challenging. If they don't ... they need a perspective change.
(For more of Kim Frencken's writing and information about her educational products, check out her blog, Chocolate For the Teacher.)