Why do we allow students to work in pencil? Sometimes we do it because we want them to erase their mistakes. If done to excess, this is wrong. Mistakes are there to learn from – not to be erased or scribbled out. They should be artfully identified so that teacher and parent has a record of the past and the student can learn from the past.
For the same reason, I am skeptical of the use of mini white boards for most student activities. Some researchers have found that students begin tasks faster if they are reassured that their pen marks are not indelible. However, surely this is a problem – not of the medium – not of the permanent pen mark – but of a classroom ethic not sufficiently ridding itself of the stigma of failure. If the teacher sets up a protective environment where students are not embarrassed to fail, then the type of pen becomes immaterial.
Erasers used sparingly to create a work of beauty are to be encouraged. Erasers used in excess to produce a palimpsest of errors are fooling nobody.
What do you think of the paper turned in to me above? I loved it because the student had done it voluntarily as homework and she had explored the problem much more deeply than of any of her peers. This grade 3 student had pseudo-organized her work and really was not judging it as ugly. I think we need to be careful in not having a fixed standard for all students. Some students must produce beautiful work because they are capable of it and need it to move forward. Other students may not need such beauty. Their learning is intact even through a little bit of mess. Look at the work of a more typical high-achiever working on the same problem below.
I love this structure! I do think that the first student can learn from this neat presentation, but for sheer will power and tenacity to solve the problem the first student has a lot to celebrate.