I broke the news to the Junior School girls that we would be banning the use of erasers. For a long time we have been talking about developing excellent habits of learning and a culture of intellectual risk-taking. We talk about perseverance and resilience, encouraging the girls to recognise when they are displaying these qualities. They see it easily in sport and music; sometimes less so in the daily life of the classroom. The eraser ban is a very tangible and understandable way of promoting those qualities in academic work. Judging by the collective gasp of horror from the girls in assembly, there has certainly been an impact!
I hope this initiative sends a clear message that in our school we should not obliterate mistakes rather we should learn from them. The girls should be continuously reflecting and improving on what they’ve done, not being enthralled to getting the right answer quickly and looking clever. Professor Guy Claxton, a respected educationalist and cognitive scientist, recently deemed erasers “the instruments of the devil” which some may think over-states the case! The reality on a purely practical level is that their use in the classroom is often a distraction and results in time wasted on rubbing out when we should be learning. The subliminal message is if I get it wrong, I can’t be that clever so I will rub out the evidence!
An absence of erasers doesn’t mean that we are ready to accept any old rubbish in term of work; the reverse is true. We want excellent work from the girls but we know it almost certainly won’t be excellent on the first attempt. They do not need to rub out the stages that led them to the correct conclusion, rather be proud of the process. As an example of how that process works outside of school, we talked about the numerous versions of The Sunflowers that Van Gogh drew and painted before his final version, and how they all contributed to the end result.
Research shows that one of the major contributory factors to success in education is good quality feedback. When mistakes happen, it is essential to build on good advice and direction given. I shared a video called “Austin’s butterfly” with the girls today on the powerful effect that constructive comments can make. Do look at https://youtu.be/hqh1MRWZjms
There is a message there for everyone in the video; not least for us as teachers. It would have been easy to accept that Austin’s first attempt really wasn’t so bad for a six year old and not allow the process to go on for the further drafts which resulted in an outstanding drawing. Simply saying “well done” would have taken him no further. Being able to look back at his previous efforts, allowed him to see his own progress – thank goodness there was no rubber! We need to encourage an ethic of excellence in school where effort is praised and mistakes are part of a journey, not something to be erased. Smiggle and Paperchase shareholders may not thank us, but in the long run I hope the girls will.
Mrs Sarah Skevington
Head of Juniors, Blackheath High