Where Have All the Pencils Gone? A Very REAL Classroom Struggle!
Rewind about 4 weeks ago, I am in my classroom and about to pull my hair out as I open yet another box of pencils to sharpen. Didn’t I just do this? Yes, yes I did. I don’t know where the pencils go. My students don’t know where the pencils go. Who knows where the pencils go???? I have about decided that there is a pencil eating monster that lives in my classroom undetected. He can eat pencils in one quick bite and go undetected by the human ear or eye. Enough is enough with the pencils! I decided to try something new – my little attempt at teaching my students responsibility using their supplies and tools. Teaching responsibility does not have to be a daunting task. In fact this idea is quite simple and my students responded really well!
First I grabbed the new box of pencils and a roll of masking tape. I created a little flag on each pencil by wrapping the tape around it and then I put a number on each pencil. When my students arrived the next morning we had a little pow-wow. I told them that from now on they would have their own pencil and their job was to keep up with that pencil. (I have always been a “we share the tools in our classroom” kind of teacher). I explained what responsibility was and how they could show that they were being responsible with their pencil. I told them that they would each get a number and that the pencil would have the same number on it. I also gave them a challenge – be responsible with your pencil until Friday at lunch time and you can have lunch in the classroom.
The Responsibility Challenge
What did I mean by “be responsible” with your pencil? Well as a kindergarten teacher, I know that I can’t just leave it with that. I had to lay out my exact expectations for them. This was their responsibility challenge:
1. Keep track of your pencil and know where it is at all times (i.e. don’t lose it!)
2. Take care of it (i.e. no tearing off or chewing off the eraser)
3. Turn it in each afternoon to be sharpened for use the next day
I also explained that any pencils I found on the floor would have the number tag removed and added to the general pencil bucket. I handed out the pencils and off they went. I was impressed with how serious they became about their pencils. I often heard students reminding each other to take care of their pencils. I also saw a lot of kiddos that found a pencil (before I did) and returned it to the rightful owner using the number. But still, I wasn’t sure what the results would be.
Friday rolled around and I had 13 of my 22 kiddos eating lunch with me in the classroom! They were so excited and loved it. Yes, it was hard leaving the others in the cafeteria that day, but I knew that this was an important step in the process. After lunch on Friday we started over. Everyone got a pencil with their number on it (I only had to replace or relabel 9) and we repeated the same drill for the following week. The next Friday, 19 out of 22! Then off to spring break. I wasn’t so sure what would happen upon our return, but week 3, all 22 kiddos kept their pencil!!! Ah-May-Zing! In just 3 short weeks we went from losing a class set of pencils to using and reusing a class set of pencils! We continue to have a 95-100% success rate each week!
What if a Pencil Breaks?
If a pencil breaks, I don’t stop everything just to sharpen it. They put their pencil in the “please sharpen” bucket and grab another pencil from the “already sharp” bucket. I always keep extra pencils there for times just like this. When I have a chance, I sharpen pencils and return them to the rightful owner.
Yes, I said I sharpen pencils. After 3 years of allowing my students to sharpen their own pencils in my electric pencil sharpener, and having the pencil sharpener break before the year was over, I changed my rule. I am the only one to sharpen pencils. I do not sharpen pencils with plastic coating on them or colored pencils. Voila! No more replacing pencil sharpeners annually! During clean-up time at the end of the day, all of the pencils are put in the “please sharpen” bucket so they will be ready to go the next day. I know that this adds another task to my list, but it is a quick task and the time outweighs the expense of choosing a new pencil sharpener every year! After changing my rule – I have not replaced my pencil sharpener in over 3 years! Here’s the pencil sharpener I use and love:
I’ve also used some other tools to help my students keep track of their pencils when they are not using them. My absolute favorite was this adhesive desktop pencil holder. This picture takes you to where you can find them on Amazon, but I found mine at my local Office Max in the bins by the check-out area.
It was so easy for the kids to use it kept their pencils from rolling off their desk and onto the floor. You could also use these same adhesive holders and attach them to the wall to have a designated Pencil Station too!
I was really amazed at how well my students did with this challenge. I love that pencils aren’t disappearing any more and even more I LOVE that my kiddos are learning about responsibility. Sometimes its the little things that can make a big difference! Do you have way to teach your students responsibility? If so, please share in the comments so we can learn from each other!