Pencil or Pen?

A friend rang me tonight and asked what we do at our school as regards the use of pen or pencil for general writing. At my school everyone from five year olds up use a pen for writing and a pencil for maths.

I remember when I first started teaching we used pencil pretty much all the time and if you were ‘good’ at writing you got to use a pen and we always used pencil in your maths book. Juniors always had to use a pencil and I spent many happy hours sharpening pencils with my handy Stanley knife. At one stage we accessed a powered pencil sharpener- it only lasted a few days as it was so much fun that everything that could be stuffed in it was and was immediately sharpened to a form a lethal weapon.

In my class now we use pens all the time apart from maths- why do we do maths in pencil? I have no idea really- just because we do! I have a tray of pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers etc for focus learning groups so that children don’t have to waste time trying to find something to write with. We have class sets of art pencils, felt tip, highlighter and whiteboard pens for children to use.

I have a personal hatred of liquid twink and will happily use the dry whiteout roller to correct mistakes if needed. Children can buy their own if they want but most let the school buy it for them.

I take handwriting lessons with my Year Four/Five class on a usually regular basis and recently have started to reward effort and attainment in handwriting by giving them release to practise their typing ability. I have made individual sheets for children to copy the lessons from so they don’t have to peer at a badly written example on the whiteboard and I can model better on a piece of paper than a whiteboard.

John Greatorex and I collaborated a few years back to create a set of NZ fonts for Apple and PC and I have a copy of this on my computer. It is great to put good examples of WALTs etc on the wall in NZ fonts. I had asked Learning Media to come up with a NZ font ages ago but drew a blank response so outsourced the idea!


So that’s what I do! The teacher asked if I could help her find out what other people do at other schools. A tweet was needed! I was surprised to find out that most people tend to use pencil in the younger grades and move onto to pen as the children get older.

So what do you promote in your school and why?

An Encouraging Connection

How simple it is to make connections and support the learning of children both in my own classroom and another in Bangkok. Last week Jeff Utecht at ISB, Bangkok,  sent out a couple of tweets inviting people to encourage a few of his fifth grade bloggers who were just learning how to blog and recording their instructions on constructing a science experiment exploring variables. It helps, maybe, that I had met Jeff while on holiday to Bangkok earlier this year, but that personal encounter isn’t really relevant to the connection.

I made a few comments on the grade five blogs and was particularly impressed with young Haley’s post. To encourage her and show her how the whole blogging thing might work, I decided to replicate her experiment in my own class the next day, using Haley’s procedural writing to help us with our instructions.

P9040004Setting up the experiment took five minutes of my time and my class took a couple of photos and quickly blogged about their results and I added a link to it for Haley through her blog comments so she could find our post the next day at school.

Haley learnt  about the power of blogging in a real context and my class made another connection and further cemented their own learning about variables that we had completed as part of our science fair earlier in the term. Following up on a question that Haley asked in a comment I was able to share a Voicethread we had made earlier on New Zealand currency. You can see how these things can grow.

Jeff later blogged about his own ideas for extending the collaboration…..

  • What if we share our data with the class in New Zealand?
  • I wonder if longitude and latitude is a variable we need to consider (Social Studies)
  • I wonder if we’ll get the same results? (Science)
  • How can we best represent our data for someone else to read? (Math, Science)
  • Why is writing clear instructions important? (Writing)

These connections don’t need to be huge, or time consuming, or hard. They just need a little time, a little energy and a buddy who wants to share and learn. The whole process isn’t in the least bit scary.