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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Using Crayons to Teach Responsibility? My First Post at the Punchbowl!

Today I'm blogging over at the The Primary Punchbowl to share how I use materials as a means to teach my first graders responsibility. Make sure to head over there to read LOTS of other fabulous posts by some of the most talented teachers I know!

So, you're a teacher. I'm guessing in the primary grades. Though perhaps you are one of those incredibly brave souls that spends their days working with upper elementary or (gasp!) middle schoolers? (If so, you have my full and complete admiration.) Here’s my question for you today: have you ever spent too many precious minutes seconds of your day picking up pencils from the floor? Colored pencils? Crayons? Sharpening any of the aforementioned items? Well, my job today is to share my secret so that you never find yourself doing this again, while also teaching your kiddos responsibility at the same time.

I should probably start by introducing myself. I’m Nicole from Why Pencils HaveErasers and thrilled to be joining my favorite teacher-author-blogger-creators over here at The Punchbowl! 

Anyway, back to the good stuff. Let’s flash back a moment to August. Here I am at every teacher’s favorite place, Lakeshore Learning, excitedly dreaming of the year to begin. New students, grand ideas, the world was my oyster. I picked up some brand new supply caddies, color coordinated to my new classroom theme, without a second thought. Why give even think about the distribution of materials? I’d do what I’d always done  shared caddies at the center of our tables, common materials for all.

Let’s flash forward to the end of October. Here I am, nearly through my materials for the. whole. year. and at the end of my rope. Pencils and crayons lost to the wind, EATEN, or otherwise dismembered. And don't even get me started on the colored pencils and erasers. It was time for drastic action. Determined not to purchase a single new material for my students, and to teach them how to responsibly care for these tools, a new system was born. Move over sharing, it's time for individual materials. 

Now, I get it. Sharing is caring and certainly an important skill in any first grade classroom. But how could I possibly ask my kiddos to share these items responsibly if they couldn't manage them independently first? In any case, there's at least 2,346,789 times of the day when my 23 students are forced to share SOMETHING. I decided sharing could take the back burner on this one. 

If you walk into my classroom now, you'll see a small container of some kind at every seat. Larger tables of four or more have small sterelite drawers and smaller tables of two or three have individual baskets. All labeled with a velcro name tag so that we can easily move materials as we move table seats. And all looking something like this:

In each child's container you will find: a pencil, an eraser, a handheld sharpener, one box of 24 crayons, and 12 colored pencils. Everything that they could possibly need for the work that we do (I withhold markers for choice time only, and glue sticks and scissors are still shared). I drained my supplies to give everyone fresh, new, beautiful materials. When my students walked into our classroom to find this new set-up, plenty of oohs and aahs ensued. The excitement in the air was palpable, perhaps mine most of all. 

As we all sat down to morning meeting, I unveiled our new social experiment. I explained about the missing materials, running out of items to give them, and, of course, added dramatic flair where necessary. I showed the new containers of materials, meticulously went over what was inside, modeled how to count and organize to make sure nothing went missing, and explained that these were the last materials I would be giving for the year. That's it people. Sensing the excitement (and now shock) in the room, I asked my 23 six-and seven-year-olds if they were up for the challenge. Could they keep track of everything? Everyone agreed they could. Hooray! And so we began.  Can you believe I didn't find, pick up, or otherwise deal with a single dropped material for FOUR WHOLE WEEKS? I never answered one question about someone needing a blue-green crayon, or a black colored pencil, or a pencil sharpener. I didn't sharpen any pencils or colored pencils. It was heaven.

Until that one day when the first person lost their pencil. I quickly realized I am way too soft, and could not stand firm on my promise. I suddenly realized how unrealistic it was to expect my firsties to never lose anything for a casual... six months. Given the rate at which I lose my much beloved Flair pens, it also seemed highly hypocritical. But I was still determined for students to be responsible for managing the replacement of lost or damaged things. I wanted no part in this. They could do it I felt, if I could just give them the way. Enter replacement bins:

I already had the colored drawers, and I quickly grabbed two containers for pencils and erasers/sharpeners. Find a purple crayon on the floor? Put it in the purple drawer. Missing a red colored pencil? Go grab one from the red drawer. Ditto for pencils in the pencil cup and erasers/sharpeners in the other bin. Everyone seemed to breathe a little easier with this new found flexibility in our system, and I still haven't answered any questions, complaints, or tears about materials. 

The week before winter vacation, we had our first family breakfast celebration. I excitedly asked my students which piece of their learning they were most excited to share with their families: Your beautiful shadow artwork? Nope. The kind words in your reflection journals? Try again. Well, then the beautiful letters you wrote to our community members? Not a chance. MATERIALS. All they wanted to share was how they were responsible for having their own things, the care and thought they had put into keeping them safe, whole, and uneaten (sigh), and how they could independently problem solve in the face of a dilemma.  It was working! I was thrilled to see how excited my students were to have total control and responsibility of their things.  

Needless to say, during my summer stop at Lakeshore next year I will not be buying more supply caddies, because I am in love with our new system and am thrilled to see my students becoming more independent and responsible with everything in our classroom. After all, this leaves more room in the budget for cute borders, right?

Thanks for stopping by!