Sunday, December 15, 2013

No More Erasing!

I loved Elizabeth Moore's post about using pens in writing workshops. Since I read that post a month ago, I have shared it with as many teachers as I could, trying to spread the idea of using pens in writing workshop. I have also been trying to spread the idea of teaching students to "cross off and keep going" as part of the writing process. I have actually made this a teaching point for some students, demonstrating to them how I draw a quick line through a mistake in my writing so that I can keep writing and remember what I was planning to say. I have been paying a lot of attention to how students use erasers in classrooms and I am developing some reasons why I believe in a moratorium on erasers during writing workshops:

  • I am a special education teacher by training and whenever I am in classrooms, I gravitate to the struggling writers. Almost without exception, they are the students who have erased and erased their work. If the paper is still intact, the writing may be difficult to read because it is on top of so many other versions. There are a few issues that worry me when I see this. First, these struggling students spent more time erasing than writing. If we believe that we get better at writing by writing, then valuable time is wasted because erasing actually takes a fair amount of time and effort. Additionally, they have made already challenging-to-read writing more challenging to read. It's almost like you can hear them subconsciously saying, "if I make it so hard for others to read, then they won't try hard enough to read it, and others won't realize that I'm not so good at writing." I'm not saying that students really mean to say this, but I think that erasing becomes a way to hide for many struggling writers.

  • As a teacher, I want to see the tracks of student thinking. If you had access to the revisions that I have made on this post, you would see my thinking and my understanding of the revision process (as well as my my keyboarding mistakes!). You could see how I have changed my thinking, re-wrote a phrase to incorporate parallel structure, changed a word to make the writing flow better. If I were a student, those changes might be coming after a mini-lesson or teaching moment, and you could see the evidence of instruction. Erasures hide that evidence, whereas a single line cross-out may reveal the development and progression of new skills.

  • We want to send a message to students that writing is a process and we value the process. When students erase and erase and we support them, I worry that the message that they are receiving is that the work has to be perfect. Another recent post at by Elizabeth Moore asks whether published has to be perfect. This is another wonderful post, reminding us that writing is a process, that even published writing is not perfect, and that there are ways to showcase and honor the development of writers.

  • Another issue with writers who continually delete their work with pink erasers is not one that I have seen or hear much writing or talking about. Our young writers are on an increasingly fast pace to the use of digital tools. Many of our fifth-graders are now composing with keyboards. Once they learn to compose on computers, then how will the chronic erasers fare? Will the backspace and delete buttons be the first to wear out on keyboards? I had one student who was always deleting his work, and was obsessed with the red lines that appeared underneath his digital words as he wrote. We had to spend a lot of energy on the concept of "just keep going--come back to it later." Now, more than ever, young writers need to learn how to capture their thoughts on paper and on a screen, but what will happen to the students who struggle with spelling and fluency and also struggle with keyboarding skills? I worry that fluency will be even more difficult for these students to achieve.
I remember loving a brand new pink pearl eraser. I remember loving the smell and the smoothness of a fresh eraser. Now, however, I see little purpose for these tools except for in the land of crossword puzzles. I'd love to hear the thoughts of others about erasers, especially as we think about the technology that students are learning to use? I love google drive and I am sure that there are other apps and programs that allow us to see all of the deletions and revisions that writers make along the way, but how do we teach students to embrace the process, to accept and share imperfections, and to spend their time in writing workshop writing

Enjoy the rest of the weekend,

1 comment:

  1. Melanie,
    You have some great points for teaching students to "cross off and keep going" because the evidence of student thinking is important! I do believe that erasers are less important than they used to be and perhaps will not be needed in the future!