Last year, as a result of some Writing Workshop training, my students began using Flair® pens to write. When students used pens to write, all of their thinking was evident, including mistakes and approximations, allowing me to actually see the progression of thinking. Revision and editing are part of the first grade curriculum and it is often difficult to know if students are revising/editing when they completely erase mistakes and approximations so that everything looks like 'first and final'. Another advantage I noticed after students began using pens was that students spent a lot less time repairing (erasing) mistakes. They simply drew a line through the mistake and moved on. I appreciated the end result and was left wondering...why didn't I think of that?!
A few weeks ago, I participated in some followup training with the same presenter. There was discussion about the pens - taboo in first grade, right? Our presenter elaborated on the thinking behind the use of pens at any grade level. She reiterated the thinking that writing with pens allows teachers to actually see the writing process and then went on to make two additional points. She said that there was research that supported the idea that it is easier for emergent and early writers to 'push' a pen across paper than to to 'push' graphite across a paper. For me, writing workshop is all about getting ideas down on paper and learning the conventions that make writing easy for the reader to read and I'm a fan of making the task easier. Our presenter went on to make another point. She talked a bit about fluency in writing. She talked about how often, emergent writers just stop writing, leaving the pencil on the paper. There are a variety of reasons why writers 'just stop'. They may be distracted, they may not know how to spell a word or form a letter or they may just be tired of writing. I knew this to be true because I witnessed this behavior many times when I worked 1:1 with struggling readers as a Reading Recovery teacher. In contrast to pencil writing, when students write with pens, if they stop, it leaves a darkened spot. This spot acts as a prompt to keep going...to do your best, use what you know and keep going. This made so much sense!
As I pondered this information, I began to wonder...why use pens only in writing workshop? Wouldn't all of the above mentioned advantages hold true if students used pens in all subject areas throughout the day? So I asked the question. Our presenter shared that that is exactly what she has done in her kindergarten class for the past 3 years.
Armed with this information, I decided to make a change in my classroom this year. We're going to use pens...in first grade! At least we're going to start that way:) I'm not averse to admitting when I've made a mistake so if it turns out that using pens creates problems that cannot be resolved, I will regroup and reconsider. I must say though, I'm LOVING the idea of not hearing the hum of the pencil sharpener during work time and I will not miss cleaning up spilled pencil 'sharpenings'. I recognize that Flair® pens will involve some cost but I'm willing to bite that bullet if it makes the process of writing for emergent and early writers easier. We will see how it goes and I'll post soon to share our experiences:)