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The Resurrection of the #2 Pencil and Pen

I overhead two teachers talking about their classrooms at a local Tim Horton’s near my house. I couldn’t help myself, but I had to eavesdrop while sipping my coffee a few tables over.

“I use Google Classroom for everything,” one teacher boasted.

“I don’t,” the other teacher confidently stated without blushing or feeling ill-equipped in the classroom.

They seemed to be close friends. Their banter was funny. But, then I saw a debate unfold right before my eyes.

They talked about how NY State requires students to take their Regents examinations using a pen. Even our Grades 3-8 assessments require students to use pencils or pens. You know, those artifacts that we grew up using?

See, the problem in education, and in NY State, where testing still requires students’ motor skills to clutch those #2 pencil thingamabobs for 3 hours straight, is that with all of the apps out there, with all of the technology and IoT, and with all of the digital pressures of the world--and placing those digital pressures on educators while terrible funding formulas and inequity run rampant across the State, is that students are left with the reality of taking exams (to get course credit and graduate) with a pen or pencil in their hands. (That may be a run-on sentence, by the way). Usually, pencils for the bubble sheets. Pens for the essays. (And, those are sentence fragments).

I think teaching using pens and pencils is the balance that is still needed in the classroom. Not everything can and should be digitized. Handwritten work and notes exude personalization. They evoke style and no other digital font can replicate our own style and script.

The pen: Is this something that will be mined as an artifact that is buried underground someday with archaeologists wondering why we were so primitive?

I don’t know. Maybe. But, hopefully not.

My students don’t care much about using Google Classroom. They don’t care about cell phones being used in class or not. They really don’t. We write and read each other’s writing and think and express ourselves and wonder and reflect about big ideas and life. I use pens every single day, myself. I use them for creating my “to-do” lists, writing notes to my friends, colleagues, and students, or when doodling. My screen time has decreased a lot during the day. My students’ screen time has decreased too.

Google Classroom . . . Flipgrid . . . Buncee . . . Nearpod . . . Padlet . . . Quizlet . . . and don’t forget . . . a pencil or pen.

If you know me, I’m not anti-technology, but I leave you with this question:

Where is the balance in your classroom?

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