Scroll Top

Why is there an eraser on the end of a pencil?

Think of the most common, quintessential classroom implement…I’m sure a yellow 2B pencil with a red or white rubber secured on the end, with a crimped aluminium cuff comes to mind.  Why were pencils designed this way?

Because people make mistakes, oh and little people, children, make mistakes too.

We must tell young people in classrooms that mistakes are a part of learning. I’d abolish the eraser altogether to highlight the importance of showing the learning journey. The most productive classrooms allow students to leave their mistakes for all to see, and teachers encourage them to cross out errors and re-write.  Let’s erase ‘perfection expectation’ and embrace the drafting process as a beautiful mess. A beautiful mess that eventually accumulates into a polished piece of work.

Let’s frame ‘Perfection expectation’ around behaviour.

What if we allowed children to fail with behaviour and learn from their mistakes in a supportive, structured, and differentiated manner?

Why are some teachers so calm and patient when a child makes a mistake when they read or make an error when they add up, but when it comes to behaviour, there is nil tolerance for the same learning blueprint? Behaviour is a learnt skill, just like reading and counting. Let’s allow children to make mistakes, reflect on them and make improvements.

Imagine if we had a no-tolerance approach to errors in reading or counting, where a child is chastised, kept in at lunchtime or scolded for doing so? How open would they be to learning? Please think of how fearful they would be to try and read and the terror around making a mistake. What if that antecedent of trying to read made them fight, flight, or freeze every time?

I think back to a classroom where a young child had allegedly pinched another child on the face. The teacher then called him to her and asked if he had committed such an act. He responded, “no”.  Then she raised her voice and threatened, “I’m going to tell your mum that you are being rude and disrespectful to me. Tell me the truth” She asked him again, this time firmer, “did you pinch Jamie on the face” The child replied “no” as his body started to shrink and shrivel and deflate. Then the Teacher, in a more escalated tone, “I cannot believe you are lying to me? How rude that you would lie to me”, and the berating went on and on.

Transfer this to reading. Just imagine the teacher saying, “Did you mispronounce the word ‘might’ as ‘night” in an authoritative tone? The child, I am certain, would respond with “no, I don’t think so”, as they want to avoid getting into trouble. Teacher “how dare you lie to me? Sam said that you mispronounced the word, and I’m going to tell your mum that you mispronounced the word and that you lied to me. You are in big trouble.” OUCH.

Challenge yourself to look at behaviour as imperfect and a work in progress. You may find yourself being more restorative and less authoritarian. Then you can guide and scaffold it – just as you would reading or counting. I can guarantee you will get more cooperation from students.

Check out other articles Sheila has written here.