should teachers take tools away?

We piloted our first day with one-to-one student to pencil learning.  I offered a quick explanation of the unit and reminded students that these were learning tools.  "I know many of you will want to play Hang Man." Parents hate that game.  They say that kids who are raised on violent pencil games will someday became mass murders. (Oddly enough, the same people who get upset about games are also the ones who have no qualms about Roosevelt leading a bloody crusade of American expansion)

"I also don't want to see you drawing pictures or sending one another short-hand messages.  Some of you might even be tempted to use the paper to create gliders. Personally, I think someday one of the kids of this generation will create an airplane, but this unit is not the time for it.  Remember, we need to think of these as tools and take care of them."

We begin the unit and students are doing a Venn Diagram.  A few students wrote comments on the margins of one another's notebooks, but they were generally on-task. However, I notice one of my top students using her finger to smudge pencil lines.  "Gladys, I need to see you." I warn her about the learning tool concept and moments later she sits alone smudging pencil again.  "Grab a slate.  You'll be using that today."

So, at lunch time, I process this with Mrs. Jackson.  "Was my lesson just not engaging enough?  Did I fail to motivate her?"

Mrs. Jackson surprised me with her response, "Dude, chill.  This stuff happens with slates, does it not? We like to believe in progress.  We like to believe that kids are naturally good.  But the reality is that they are just like us.  They want to play and they want to learn and sometimes they are addicted to fun and we  have to redirect them."

"So should I have created a lesson that was more fun?"

"I don't think so, but when this happens with slates, I don't take the slates away. You just don't take away tools.  It's our job to teach content not discipline," he added.

At this point our Vocational Learning teacher stepped in.  "Tom, tools require responsibility.  Sure, motivation is part of it.  But the goal is for students to learn.  If your lesson was meaningful and most students were engaged, that wasn't the problem.  Some kids are immature . . . Okay, all kids are immature, just at different times. "

"So, is it right to punish a kid for that?"

"It's not punishment, it's a preventative measure to keep things from escalating.  If a kid is messing around with a saw, I take it away from him.  It's a safety issue, but I also don't want tools to be wasted. The important thing is that the student has another chance tomorrow."  

Mrs. Jackson cuts in, "I still don't think we should teach students lessons by taking away supplies."

"What would you have done?"

"I would have given her the option of finishing the Venn Diagram at another time and found away to incorporate her picture into the lesson. But maybe that's a stretch."

So, the question I pose to people is whether I should have taken away a learning tool?

Note: I was influenced in my thinking on this one byRuss Goerend and his blog post about taking a learning tool away. One of the best lines was when he said, "You don't have to hide a learning tool."


  1. Anonymous3:00:00 PM

    did you ask her why she was smudging? what if she was smudging to show the overlap of the venn diagram? what if she is smudging bc she is a creative thinker and needs to express herself artistically...

    I wouldn't have taken the tool away but encourage her to use the technique with a purpose...

  2. I assure you that I often allow her to show her creative side. However, I needed her to think analytically in the moment. I know what you mean, though. It's way tricky!