Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pencils: A Painless Solution

My first year teaching I realized what a mega nightmare pencils can be. Seriously. Broken pencils, missing pencils, pencils became a huge issue. I cannot explain to you how much I absolutely abhor the sound of an electric pencil sharpener. It literally makes me cringe. Two years ago I found the most amazing solution from The Wise Owl Teacher. You can download her explanation of her system HERE.

Introducing... The Pencil Bag! I know, earth shattering, right? It's so simple.

Here's how it works:

Each student is given their own pencil bag similar to the one shown below.

Image: Office Depot

The first year I used this system pencil bags were not on the supply list, so I bought them myself. I used the cheap plastic ones from the Dollar Store. By the end of the year only a few were still intact. Thankfully, at my new school they are on the supply list! Score! The sturdier nylon ones with a real zipper work the best. Trust me.

 On Mondays, each student makes sure that they have at least five pencils in their pouch and I sharpen them. I know, I know, third graders are completely capable of sharpening their own pencils, but I just cannot let go of the pencil sharpener. I have been through too many to give it up! Plus, it gives me the opportunity to check in with each individual student on Monday and ask about their weekend. ;) In my classroom the students keep all of their extra supplies in Sterilite storage containers that I store on a bookshelf. They are easily accessible and the kids can restock their bags as needed on Monday mornings.

After we sharpen pencils on Monday, not ONE pencil gets sharpened the rest of the week. Each kid has five pencils to ensure that even if one breaks, they have a reserve supply. If all five pencils are broken before the end of the week, they must borrow one from a friend. We resharpen pencils and restock the bag as needed each Monday.

In two years, I have not had issues with pencils. Honestly. Last year I adapted the 'pencil bag' into the 'supply bag' to include other basic supplies that students need on a daily basis. I give them this letter on the first day of school that explains the pouch and the expectations:

The beauty of this system is that it teaches the students to be responsible and keep up with their supplies. If a student is constantly needing to restock with five brand new pencils each week, I have a conversation with them to figure out what's going on and help them come up with a plan. This year I'm upping the expectations and fining them a dollar each time they do not have their supplies when we need them during class. Because we do not start our classroom economy until we are a few weeks into the year, the students will have plenty of time to get into the routine.

The first year I gave the students some type of reward for keeping up with their supplies each and every week. I felt like this was contradictory to what I was trying to promote. The kids were keeping up with their supplies, but not because they saw it as a necessity but a way to earn a reward. This past year I phased out the rewards as the year went on. This year I am stopping the every week reward and will be performing random checks instead. If you notice in the letter above, it says they "might" earn Scholar Dollars during these checks, meaning they will not earn a physical reward each time.

This is what the letter looked like two years ago when I first used this system.

We used a communal system  at that time so I kept all of the pencils in my cabinet and refilled the bags myself and sharpened the pencils on Fridays. I like the current system much better!

Well, that's it! Simple, but effective. I never have to think about pencils or even look at the pencil sharpener ALL WEEK!!

Do you have any great ideas for pencil management?? If you do, please share!

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