Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Solution to the Pencil Problem!

Pencils. UGH. They are just always a problem! I know there are lots of different ways teachers handle the pencil situation, and I definitely don't think there is only one solution. Here's the system I use, and while it's not 100% perfect, it works well in my classroom.

I have my class set up in table groups. I feel like every Elementary Ed class in college emphasized the importance of grouping student desks, and it just kind of stuck with me. I like group seating because I have ready made teams or discussion groups, I can call them by tables to line up or get supplies or whatever, and I feel strongly that they need to practice cooperating with others. I don't spend much time teaching while they are at their desks, so the fact that some desks face away from the board isn't a problem in my class. For whole group instruction, I usually have them sit on our group carpet, either facing my SmartBoard, or facing my teacher chair.

Since they are in groups, I decided to capitalize on the "team" aspect when dealing with pencils. Each table is a color. They all have a plastic basket containing pencils for them to use. Each table gets 10-12 pencils, depending on how many students are at the table. All the pencils have little duct tape flags that match their table's color (My mom did them before school started, and my sister did the 2nd round of pencils. So great to have supportive family!). I like the flags because they prevent pencils from rolling off desks and onto the floor, they eliminate the "lost and found" pencil problem, and if they ever end up outside my classroom, they are easily identifiable and can be returned to our class.

All pencils stay in the table's basket unless they are in use. They are not supposed to be in inside their desks. They should be out and available for anyone to use. I do allow students to have their own pencils from home, as long as they are not a distraction during class. In that case, these pencils act as a back-up when that student inevitably runs out of lead, their special pencil breaks, or they can't find it.

I only sharpen the pencils over the weekends (with the Quietest Pencil Sharpener, of course!). They are not allowed to sharpen the pencils themselves (especially with those tiny personal sharpeners that eat pencils!). They need to make all their pencils last all week long. It was difficult at first, but they've gotten better at rationing the "sharpness" of the pencils. During my first round of pencils, we had a problem with keeping ALL the pencils, aka not losing them or taking them home. To combat that issue, I offered an incentive. I randomly check their pencil baskets in the evenings, and the tables that have all their pencils have tickets waiting for them the next morning. Missing pencil? No tickets.

I had a case where a student broke a table pencil in many pieces (because he was hitting his desk with it). I let him buy a new one with tickets to replace the broken one so that his table could still be eligible to receive tickets. I also include erasers for each table because we all know they will quickly use up the pencil erasers.

I made all new pencils for each table when I rearranged my desks. I'm not sure if I will do this every time I switch desks- we'll see how long these pencils last.

Here are some pros to this pencil system:

  • Students work as a group to keep track of pencils.
  • There are always pencils available within their reach- no more getting up to sharpen or needing a new pencil.
  • Pencils don't often roll onto the ground, and if they do, I can quickly point it out and have it returned to its home.
  • I only have to sharpen once a week.
  • No need to get up in the middle of lessons. Did I already say that? It's that important to me!
A few cons:
  • Takes a while to prep the duct tape flags
  • Keeping track of all the pencils (which improved when I offered incentive)
  • Lots of sharpening to do (even if it's just at one time)

WOW who would have thought that I could write so much about PENCILS?! Well they are a big deal! What do you think? How do you combat the pencil problem in your class? 

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