Pencil Island

indeed, island is a perfect metaphor to describe the isolation and loneliness of worksheet learning

My principal walks into my classroom and says, "Tom, we have a consultant here who works for Pencil Island."

"Is he really a consultant or a salesman?" I ask.

"Just meet with him.  He tried sending you a telegram and you never answered."

"Sorry, I meant to go see him. My horse was broken down.  I'll . . . I'll meet with him I guess."

Minutes later, I'm ushered into a room where a smiling man in a three-piece suit is sitting down.  "I brought you some bagels and Coke. I hope you don't mind."

"I'm not sure I should be consuming cocaine on day that I have to work, but I'll have a bagel." It's strikes me that the Coca-Cola and the product he's selling aren't entirely different.  Sweet, efficient, addicting, but in the end deadly to a child.

"We have a whole system that you can use in a pencil-integrated classroom.  Imagine this: each child learns discreet skills independently.  Step-by-step they move through a sequential order designed for the mastery of each math, reading and writing skill."

"Wouldn't it make sense to have students use paper and pencil to write papers and solve equations?  What if they did some of it independently and worked cooperatively together instead?" I argue.

The consultant-snake-oil-salesman answers, "That sounds great.  But aren't you tired of kids not working?  This allows each child to work at his or her level independently.  Each time they do a worksheet correctly, you put a sticker on the paper.  If they pass all the pencil-based worksheet tests, they can earn the chance to play a pencil game. You can even allow free drawing time if you'd like."

"Do teachers need training on this?" the principal asks.

"We provide our own professional development.  However, trust me, it's a very user-friendly system. Teachers love it, because it replaces the teacher with the program.  Think of it this way.  You move from a sage on stage to a guide on the side."

Note to self: never trust people who rhyme their responses.

Don't get me wrong.  There is a time to practice discreet skills.  But it seems to me that worksheets fail to inspire.  If you aim for "basic skills" you won't hit it.  If students work on authentic pencil-integrated projects, though, and have to use critical thinking, the skills will increase along the way.

photo credit

1 comment:

  1. "You move from a sage on stage to a guide on the side." Why do you make me feel a day in the classroom with you, or a shared conference passing notes as the session drones on would be a treat?

    We are using just such a pencil-integrated program in our classrooms. I was introduced to it this year and there is quite a bit of enthusiasm for it. Some of my more pencil-savvy students need to be reminded to get back to their pencil-integrated program. I always find them expanding their wikipapers, scanning the indexes for informative pages, or in at least one case joining all the pen-pal groups I have and trying to start his own pen-pal group. "Sure Max, that's an exciting pen-pal project you started to research history, but did you get your lesson done and have you recorded your percentage on the chart? You know this is your learning time at the paper and pencil station."