Before beginning our second week of a one-to-one pencil to student unit, I explain to them that they will need to create some documents. I assume the skills will transfer over from the students' use of Pen Pal networks and plogs.
"Here's how it works. When you are done with your document, write your name at the top and then save it inside of your folder."
Pretty simple, right? Students of the Pencil Native generation should understand this without my explicit directions.
So, I am surprised the next day when students can't find their documents.
One girls says, "I set it in a folder and wrote the name on the folder."
"Did it already have a name on the folder?"
"Yeah, but I thought it was like a slate, where we change names when we change slates."
Not a problem. I pull papers out and pass them out, but I quickly run into a stack of nine papers that are untitled. I have a hunch that this is simply adolescent immaturity. Some day when students have papers beginning in kindergarten, they will still forget to write their names at the top.
Two students have no papers at all.
"Where did you put yours?" I ask one girl.
"I left it on the desk top."
"Then it was probably put in the trash," I explain.
"Uh oh," a boy interrupts. "So that metal bin is a trash can."
"I put my document in there."
"Didn't you read the word 'trash can' on the side?"
He shakes his head sheepishly. "Can I go get it back?"
"The custodian emptied the trash yesterday."
The boy next to him explains, "I erased it. I forgot that it wasn't like a slate."
Mrs. Jackson enters the room in the midst of the chaos and I say, "I'm done. I'm done with papers and pencils and folders and kids setting papers in the trash. I'm done with pencil sharpeners that leave dust on the ground and . . . "
"I'm not a fan of pencils. You know that. However, where else are they going to learn some of these basics? Yes, students are advanced, but they miss some of these small skills about organizing their papers or writing their names or setting them in folders. I don't recommend wasting class time teaching this, but if they learn some of these pencils skills, then isn't that just a bonus of a great education?"
"I guess that's true."
"Besides, when they used slates, didn't they erase the boards before you had read them? Didn't they bang erasers together sometimes? It's a part of being a kid."
I think back to the PIE (Pencil Integrated Education) Conference I attended last year. The presenters spoke eloquently about each medium and how students would use it for amazing projects. While I do not deny the power of pencils, there was an element missing from the discussion. No one seemed to recognize the developmental level of sixth graders. What I mean is that no one reminded me that kids will do some illogical, confusing things simply because they are kids.
Mrs. Jackson leaves the room with this reminder, "If pencil literacy is like true literacy, you need to give your students permission to make big mistakes. My son is four and barely recognizes letters. A few times he's even torn a page or two out of a book. But my hope is he'll grow into it and eventually love reading."