Picking your battles (aka – stick to the things that matter)

Out of all of the issues that come up in classrooms as I’m coaching, it is amazing how many of them are procedural and completely not linked in any way to the actual intended learning and teaching going on. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by things that, in the long run, don’t matter.

An example of this is pencils and their management, a familiar set of issues which raised my own stress levels as a classroom teacher on a number of occasions. Students lose them. They need sharpening. “She’s using a Grade 2 pencil and she’s only a Grade 1”. Students spend entire lessons rubbing out their work and then have nothing to show for their efforts at the end of the session (other than the lines still clearly visible on the paper). “He’s using a pen and doesn’t have a pen licence”. Reading through some of my favourite blogs recently, it was clear that this is not an issue just in the classrooms I hang out in but seems to be universal.

My take on this is quite simple – does it matter? Does a student’s choice of writing implement affect whether or not they’re able to achieve the intended outcome for the lesson? If they can’t find a grey lead pencil, would you prefer they spend the lesson trying to find one, stop you from conferring with other students while you find them one or write with something (anything!) else? Is writing in a green pencil, a pink marker or a purple biro going to affect the quality of their ideas? No – so let it go. Let them write with whatever they want to, as long as it is legible. There will be times when particular writing implements match the task better – teach them when that’s the case and how to make that decision.

While we’re on the topic, the same applies to using technology in the writing process. When I suggest to some teachers that allowing students to draft on a laptop or tablet is perfectly ok, I get responses ranging from ‘I’d never thought of that’ to ‘Oh no, that’s only for publishing’. As an adult, I rarely draft on paper and value the tools at my disposal when drafting straight onto the screen. I can have some of my spelling and grammatical errors corrected as I go and can move things around or add and remove text easily and quickly. If my text is going to be long, I find it quicker to draft that way and it saves me having to re-write things to get a ‘clean copy’ to edit later. Reluctant student writers may write more using technology, making the most of the supports it provides. And again, does it matter? If your learning objective is around handwriting practise, then yes, it does matter and no, it’s not the right tool. But if your aim for the piece of writing is more around content, structure and catering to the needs of an audience, let the writer decide what implements, tools and supports they want to use. Ultimately, it’s another way of providing students with some choice and responsibility for decision making in their learning, however small and insignificant that may seem.

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One thought on “Picking your battles (aka – stick to the things that matter)

  1. You make a good point. This is why I bring pens and pencils to class for students. Yes, they should have their own, but if the choice is learning or no learning, then they can use mine. Likewise, it doesn’t matter which technology they use as long as learning is happening.

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