A head teacher writes...

We have had pencils in our school now for some time, and we were one of the first to adopt them, but it has been an uphill struggle. There aren't enough to go around, and often several of the children have to crowd around to use the pencils at the same time. But we are better off than many schools. We have a well equipped pencil suite where the chained desktop pencils are used in special sessions, and often, as a reward for good behaviour children are allowed to come into the suite (under teacher supervision of course) to use the pencils to draw fun things.

Pencils were resisted by some of the teachers at first, because they complained they would have to change their practice if they adopted them. And they were right, pencils are in fact a game changer. Others were worried that they would not have enough time to learn to use them properly. 

I have a wider vision than a pencil suite for our school. I'm considered a bit of a maverick and many of my staff look at me and shake their heads sadly. You see, I have a vision for pencils that I think will transform our school and enhance learning for all our students. Wait for it - I am advocating one pencil for every child in the school! And even more radical than that, I want to introduce pencils that can be used by students while they are on the move. Yes, I know it sounds absurd, but I think it will work. Needless to say, I have had many objections and lots of opposition from all quarters.

Some teachers, led by our school pencil co-ordinator, have complained that we made a considerable investment on the pencil suite, and it's being used regularly for very important teaching. OK, so there is only one pencil between every four children, but at least the pencils are being used consistently, she argues. Some occasionally break and have to be sent away to be fixed, but we also have a parent who is familiar with pencils, and has one at home. He comes in occasionally to fix them, which saves us some money. 

My idea is for the school to invest more money so that each child can walk around while using their pencils, and that they can even take them home with them! Yes, I know it's an extremely radical idea, and that's the very reason I am receiving so much opposition. Some of my teaching staff are arguing that we could better spend the money on more chalk for the blackboards. Others are warning that children will either damage the pencils or worse, lose them if they take them out of the school. Pencils are meant to be used for education, they say, not for fun.

Even the parents are complaining. Some have written a very strong letter to the governors, suggesting that if we give a pencil to each of the children to bring home, they will need to revise their home contents insurance, in case any disaster occurs, and the child damages the pencil in some way. Some of the richer families don't seem to mind, as they have better pencils at home than we could possibly buy for the school. It's a kind of pencil envy I suppose. There does seem to be a pencil divide across the local community. I am confident though that giving one pencil to each student will address this problem.

Then there are the objections from the Tax Payers Alliance, and other pressure groups who have even gone on to the local TV station to complain that we are being irresponsible, and are wasting valuable tax payers money on purchasing a pencil for every child. 'In my day', said the TPA spokeperson, 'we used slates and styluses, and shared them around, and we were happy. One pencil per child is simply a gimmick'. To be blunt, I think they are missing the point. I strongly believe that pencils are the future of learning, and the more untethered they are, the greater will be the flexibility of learning for all subjects across the curriculum.

One of the strongest arguments from some of my teaching staff though is that they claim to be pencil immigrants, while the children are pencil natives. The kids seem to have such an affinity with the pencils, whilst the staff struggle to use them and get embarrassed when they accidentally use the wrong end, or the point is blunt, and they don't know how to sharpen it. Some teacher have warned that increased use of the pencil can be addictive, and will cause all sorts of problems such as writer's cramp, eye strain, raised incidences of graffiti in the school toilets and rude cartoons of teachers passed around the room. Such dangers though, are far outweighed by the benefits of mobile, personalised pencils.

So we will forge on with my new one child, one pencil scheme, and as a school, we will make it work. We will actually purchase the new second generation (2G) pencils, which have erasers attached, and in so doing, these multi-functional tools will offer a revolutionary approach to learning. They are also much faster and last longer than the old pencils. I will close with this inspirational quote: 'Any teacher who can be replaced by a pencil... should be! - Arthur C. Chalk.

(Inspired by the Twitter #pencilchat hashtag)

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A head teacher writes... by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Malyn said…
Love it.
I too have shared my #pencilchat story with a pencil sketch to boot

Link to teaching is in the Reflections section.
Steve Philp said…
I was strangely irritated by this post. You seem to have stretched the metaphor of the pencil to breaking point. While I found it amusing at the start, some of the comparisons between pencils and technology just didn't make sense to me. You could have made it sharper if you'd shaved off some of the later paragraphs.

Seriously though, pencils as mobile technology? If you've ever tried to extract a pencil from a child's forehead after they have run careering on the playground with it and inevitably tripped and fallen, you might be a bit more reluctant to draw this analogy. I've never had to withdraw a blood-sodden HTC from a student's head.

Seriously though, the metaphor breaks down when you think about what computers can do and pencils can't. Have you ever scaffolded a child through a lesson on data handling - you can't do that with just a pencil - you'd need a ruler too - whereas using a computer you can easily lead children in how to specify an accurate graph height.

Seriously though, pencils communicate ideas. The 'C' in ICT will soon be standing for collaboration, not communication. Unless you're a 5th columnist from the 1960s, how do you collaborate using a pencil?

Seriously though, you must admit that I've got a point with all this - your attitudes to pencils are just a little soft, I think you should harden up somewhat, or at least get to HB.
Mathias Poulsen said…
I am one of those, who would passionately oppose the outrageous ideas, you are presenting here.

Pencils are the no 1 menace to society.

I describe my position & argue that we should "ban pencils:

Great stuff. The only thing missing are those complaining that most of the time children use pencils to draw non-school related doodles and write non-school related texts. Some even use their pencils to etch slang on walls.
Alison said…
One pencil per child? Where's the point?
Stacey said…
Pencils are banned at our University- students were using them during lecture and not listening!
teachernz said…
I'm in total agreement... Let's ban them before it's too late. I read somewhere that overuse may lead to permanent changes in the brain.

Nick Sharratt said…
..then of course is the debate over what colour the eraser should be, those who argue that the idea of an eraser was stolen from someone else and that therefore only green erasers should be used, while others argue that only rubber made from freely grown trees should be used so that students could make their own pencils for free to be compatible with the ones in school.

Then the arguments over how long a pencil should last before its obsolete, contracts to negotiate with suppliers to make sure your pencils are always sharpened correctly.

Let alone the people who declare "the pencil is dead" just because most teachers only have kids write notes in class with them when they could be doing so much more if only the pencil design didn't make them miss all the other opportunities for use.

Of course, if pencils cost £1000 a time and chalk and slate was a few pence, then the analogy with tech makes more sense. Then there really would need to be serious evidence that the significant investment in the tech delivered significant educational benefit compared to say, having one teacher per 15 kids rather than 1 per 50.
Nick Sharratt said…
(the fact that to write my comment above with my "pencil" - iphone, i had to resort to a VPN connection to a laptop, copying my initial text to a note on the iphone, having that sync'd to google docs so i could then copy it to the clip board on the remote pc and paste it back in simply because the iphone browse wasnt compatible with being able to login to my google account to post it natively - which actually turned out to be because starting the post with 4 full stops instead of 3 was what was breaking it, shows that currently, "pencils" really can turn around and bite you. its as if a pencil might be fine, or it might need you to perform incantations at midnight sacrificing a goat on a full moon before it would write anything...

now lets see if i can add this comment!)
Anonymous said…
Sure starting with one pencil per child seems radical but possible. Still, if you give them pencils they'll be clamoring for erasers. Where will it all stop?
Simon Ensor said…
I suggest massive fund raising operation for the PLO. (Pencil Liberation Organisation). This oppression has gone on toi long!
AudreyCarrio said…
I am a student at the University of South Alabama andI am in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I really enjoyed your blog. The idea of every child having their own pencil and even being able to take it home with them.. who do they think they are? Thanks!
Justin Cometti said…
I enjoyed the post a lot. I just recently read "Pencil Me In: A Journey in the Fight for Graphite" by John T. Spencer. I wrote a short post about my impressions of his book on my blog post.
I love that. Being that I read a paper titled Pencils, I understood the metaphor. I think it is great that teachers call technology pencils. Quite funny actually.
Andrew R said…
New pencil technology a serious bullying threat http://twitpic.com/7yfzsk
Louis Pelissier said…
New studies suggest they are the No.2 menace.
Both humorous and insightful I really like the analogy. I am going right now to twitter to search #pencilchat and posted a link to your blog on our Emerging Instructional Technology class diigo page EITF13

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