In their own write

In school I remember being reprimanded by a teacher for writing on a classroom desk. I always thought it was a rule that was meant to be broken because most of the desks throughout the school were already covered in graffiti, and on some the wood had even been carved into with knives (or more likely, metal compass points).

In fact you could find graffiti just about anywhere in my school. We would write on the toilet cubicle walls, and we would sketch and doodle in our text books. This was terribly bad behaviour I know, but that's what kids did. We drew on things. We made cartoons. We experimented with rude words. I doubt that little has changed, and that the same still happens in many schools today.

Why is it that children love to draw on surfaces? Is it to try out new ideas or simply to make a personal statement? It would be great if these were the only reasons, but it's equally likely that the kids are really bored, or want to show off. It's also possible that some children just want to leave their mark on surfaces because they share the mindset of urban graffiti artists who attempt to place their 'tags' in as many places across a city as they can - a kind of game. Some school graffiti might be the result of disaffected children who want to 'get their own back' somehow. Each of these is a possible explanation, but what if children simply need somewhere to express their thinking? What if they have so much creativity inside them screaming to get out, it just has to be unleashed somewhere, and the desk is the closest available space?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if children could draw anywhere and express their creativity on any surface? And what might they learn if those drawings were non-permanent but could still be stored somewhere?

Several years ago I visited a college where I saw a room made entirely of dry-wipe boards. Students could write on the walls and the doors, and then they could be wiped off (the walls and doors, not the students). On my travels I have seen many other versions of this idea, and now I'm also beginning to see dry-wipe desks (such as those in this picture) appearing in classrooms. It's a simple idea that can be so effective.

When children sit at their desks in these schools, they are positively encouraged to write on their desks. The constraints on their creativity are being removed. It will one day be common to see children working out mathematics problems on their desktops, or drawing diagrams to explain a science experiment. They will be able to capture and share their work using their mobile phones, and connect their ideas together digitally. Perhaps their desks will one day be fully connected and interactive, like the tabletop surface technologies that have been available in large format for several years. Offering children a space upon which they can experiment, create, collaborate or solve problems and where the writing is non-permanent but storable would be a great way of unleashing new potential.

Photos by Steve Wheeler

Creative Commons License
In their own write by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Comments

Anonymous said…
That's a really cool idea. I agree that a lot of times kids write on the desks (and elsewhere) because they're bored or because they're showing off, but I think having wipeable desks could be really valuable. Some people think better when they're doing something with their hands and it would give them somewhere to doodle while they're brains work away on something else. Also, I think larger surfaces are really just heaps of fun to draw on. They're less constraining. We have a huge box of colourful sidewalk chalk at home and the kids love getting out on the deck and drawing and writing or even just scribbling on such a large surface - they can move their whole bodies while they do it and they really get into it.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Jo, great stuff! I will have to take some pics of Connor and Ava drawing on the sidewalk next time I'm over in Auckland. I bet their creativity is limitless!
Simon said…
I'm in two minds here…part of me thinks that writing/carving on desks is one of those rebellious activities that can indicate the sort of 'creativity out of the box' and non-conformity that some feel should be developed. It is surely stimulated in part by being against the rules, the rule-breaking is integral to the creativity.

Another part of me despairs at the damage to property that is involved, not a good climate to encourage in a school.

But wipe-down surfaces seem to legitimise the activity…to make it alright, even part of that which is expected. It removes the frisson of being caught and might sanitise what is written. And why not just use paper?

Has anyone done research on what kids write/carve on desks and what becomes of kids who do? (We did buy a couple of old school desks once, 'reading' them was interesting and instructive. The carved names located them in a very specific pop culture and time and place!)
Simon Ensor said…
Do kids with dry-wipe desks still brand them with compasses?
Pam Lowe said…
Love this idea of being able to write everywhere! Seeing your ideas and thoughts can connect ideas in a very visual way. Thanks for sharing this post!
Steve Wheeler said…
Now there's an incisive research project for you Simon!
Roz Hall said…
Doodling helps me to concentrate on what is being said in the room. I remember being reprimanded at school by a particular teacher, who said that I'd never learn anything from Doodling...

Roz Hall (Masters in Fine Art, and globally exhibited digital artist)
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for stopping by Pam. Visual aspects of learning can be very powerful. I know I learn better when I can sketch out my ideas and draw connections between concepts.
Steve Wheeler said…
Interesting thoughts Simon. I don't know of any research in this area, but it seems ripe for investigation. Does anyone else have any knowledge of work done in this area of desk graffiti?
Steve Wheeler said…
Classic. When I was at school the teacher told my parents I would never be academic. It's a good thing our teachers can't dictate what we will become in later life! ;)

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