Failure to start and the cutting room floor

One of the many reasons I started looking at and advocating the use of stylus based technology from students was the result of a observation I made in a year 8 class one day. One of my “good” students, sitting in the front row was struggling with the task – it was drawing a food web from a scenario I had on the board as a stimulus. The student started the task in his book and each time he got something “wrong” he screwed up the paper, threw it in the bin and started again. After the student left for the day, I collected all the screwed up balls out of the bin, un-folded them and laid them out on the desks. To me, the eight (!!) sheets of paper told an interesting story, of a student’s thought process development and the desire to get it “right”.

In my experience, failure to start or multiple starts is a big time waster and the hypothesis was moving to a “non-permanent” medium would assist for some students. Fast forward to yesterday and I watched students using OneNote, happily erasing and reshaping their “product” until they got it right. Shift a diagram here; move my writing there, erase the mistake and correct the flow chart. I spoke to some of the student after the lesson, and indeed they like the digital medium for this – one of the students articulated it quite well: “Sir, there is no trace in OneNote when you change your mind or realise you made a mistake – unlike with pencils, pens and friction pens where there always an indication left on the paper of your error”.

But as a result of this I’m conflicted. I know we learn from our mistakes and I’m fairly sure if we could see them during review periods, we would consolidate our learning more. So the white out or erase marks on the page could well be a visual cue that “I had difficult with this” so some attention should be paid; or even the memory of the learning event triggered.

So I think we need to teach our students to celebrate their mistakes and changes in thinking. Travis Smith from Microsoft Education recently shared a presentation he had made in OneNote, and showed the audience what he termed “the cutting room floor” – all the pieces of content than never made it to the presentation. What if we got students to do the same thing – instead of deleting the mistakes, errors and change of mind, they moved it to their “cutting room floor” and annotated their thinking and change of mind? This, in my mind, just might be the best of both worlds.

I tried it with my maths tutorial group this morning and I think it works…. Here is a mock of the way it could look, based on the way I got my students to do it today. I think this has legs.


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