Saturday, December 10, 2011

Really, a Post About Markers?

Really, a post about markers?  Oh, it's worse than that.  My colleagues and I spent an entire lunch period discussing markers in Writer's Workshop.  Only primary teachers could obsess over something so minor.  (OK, maybe only I can obsess over something so minor.)

I'm not going to lie, for years I did not have markers out for students to use during Writer's Workshop.  I know some of you are cheering to hear me say that.  I also know some of you are shaking your head in disgust.  Markers - like erasing, writing on the backs of paper, using scissors and allowing conversation - are an aspect of Writer's Workshop we don't want to discuss.  People feel strongly one way or another about it.

Today I'm a little embarrassed to admit I didn't have markers out for a long time, and over the years I realized I needed to rethink this.  The more I read and the more I talked about Writer's Workshop, the more I began to think markers needed to be a choice.  So a few years ago I started introducing them.  My introduction went something like this, "Here are the markers....listen for the click when you are done using them."  For some reason (I wish sarcasm came across better in writing), they just never took off.  Students never really chose them.  Imagine that.

The Day It Happened
Well, this year was different.  I introduced markers as I always do, and they sat.  Imagine that.  Then one day someone grabbed the markers.  I was busy conferring with a student, but had noticed the sudden murmur moving across the classroom.

Finally someone spoke up, "Mrs. Mere, _____ is using the markers."  A hush fell across the classroom.  Everything was silent.  No one moved.  No one breathed.  Everyone looked at each other.  Everyone looked at me.

I glanced at this young writer, marker in hand.  She looked at her friends and then she looked at me.  I could tell she was worried about her standing with her friends and her teacher.  This was an important moment for her.  "_____, why did you choose markers for your illustrating," I asked rather nonchalantly (outwardly).

"I thought it would make the pictures look better," ____ replied in a hesitant whisper.  (Well, it was something like that.  That's really not important.)

"Seems like a smart choice of tools for your writing," I replied matter-of-factly and went back to conferring with writers.  Yes, I acted like this choice seemed perfectly logical, but I also knew what was coming.

Here's What Was Coming
Yes, young writers gleefully jumped up from their seats to grab the markers.  FREEDOM!  Weeks went by and markers were a part of workshop.  It was actually going pretty well.  Illustrations had maintained a reasonable amount of detail and popped with color on the pages of stories.  We had made it through the coloring over our words part of the process, and I was noticing some students were actually better able to draw with markers.  They just seemed to sit in their hands more comfortably; it seemed easier to form lines and make circles.  I was rather proud of myself for getting over another control hurdle and trusting my students.  They never fail me.


One day, I noticed it here.

I noticed it there.

I noticed it here and there.

Students were writing words with markers instead of pencil.  GASP!  (This post really needs sound effects.)  Now I was the one who wanted to shout, "Teacher, ______ is using a marker to write his words."  Actually, you know that feeling you get when what you are thinking, what you believe, and what you practice aren't matching?  I knew this was one of those moments.

The Dilemna
FASTFORWARD to our lunch conversation.  Should I let students use markers to write words?  Thankfully I teach with great friends who will tolerate my worry over little matters and conversations over tedious details.  (You all rock!)

The pros:
  • Some students seemed to be able to write more with markers.  It seemed easier to form letters and words with the thick tips of a marker.  The size of the marker made it easier to grip.  Yes, OTs everywhere are shouting OF COURSE.
  • The words really stand out when written in marker. 
  • I can easily see the corrections students have made as they were unable to erase.
The cons:
  • Some students seemed to write much bigger when using markers.
  • Some students raced through their writing and it wasn't as neat as their pencil work.  

Yes, the answer is obvious when you read it like that.  As a colleague reminded me, "Some of the kids using pencil need to make their writing look better too."  It's true.  It isn't really an issue of the tool, but an issue with the process.  Students want to write a story that others can read so they have be responsible about some of their choices.  I have students in my room who wouldn't ever want to write words with marker.  They want their writing to look neat, they want to be able to erase (yes, I let them erase --- another day's post for Writer's Workshop purists), but for others it's easier to create with the flow of the marker.  It's easier to get words onto paper.

My Decision
It was decided, at least for now, that students will continue to use markers to write if that is the tool that works best for them and their story.  I will continue to teach through it.  Yes, it will take a few days, but in the end I'm hoping it will be worth it.

What are your thoughts?


  1. There's a lot being written about drawing along with writing to help with the composing. Maybe there's more to the markers that your students have thought of? I've even suggested flair pens for middle school students. It is easier for some who have trouble with pressure! I liked your details of all the ins & outs of markers!

  2. Loved both the sarcasm and the article!! How often have I caught myself thinking I gave choice about writing, but really there were some parameters? Amusing to reflect on one's own actions! :)

  3. I chuckled when I started reading your post. Why is is that we have such strong feelings about markers?!?!

    You raise some good questions and great thinking, even if it is about markers. And because of your reflection, I, too, think I need to sit back and let it be a choice. Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. My first grade team has had this same conversation! I'm glad to know others wrestle with this tool.

  5. Enjoyed reading your post. The question in my class is always, "Can we use markers?!" Currently, I don't let my students add color to their drawings in writing workshop until publishing time. But I do think drawing is the way my students plan their writing now in early second grade. I worry that when they are coloring, coloring, drawing - they aren't building their writing stamina. Clearly, I have control issues! But, I think if I was teaching K or first I would let them write with markers!

  6. Can you imagine this still comes up in fifth grade! Oh this similarities! :)

  7. I HATE markers. They create a mess, blue hands and fights over who left the cap off. That being said I let my students use them. They are even included in the caddy on their table. I thought a lot about it and I really thought if I was going to talk to them like authors and illustrators, and treat them like authors and illustrators then I should let them have some of the choices authors and illustrators have.

    I also let them write words with marker because a lot of times they have more control over the marker than a pencil. It was really hard for me to let go but I did it and I think my kids are better for it.

  8. HA! I had the same reaction! Markers? Pens? Not now, not in my classroom! That of course all changed after I read 'No More I'm Done' this summer. So now, instead of only pencils for writing (and 2nd graders insist on erasing until holes are torn in the paper), I actually ENCOURAGE (gasp! I know, I know!) pens to write. I share with my students that when we write, we are focused on the story and that we'll worry about the deletions, carets, etc. later. The focus is all on the story. They can write in any color they wish and if they want, they can still use pencils. I have not yet gone to markers since most tend to bleed through the paper and on to desks and other sheets of paper.

    Oh, and I ALWAYS write in purple or green ink now. LOVE IT!!!

  9. First of all, I loved the craft of this post. Your "chapters" are brilliant. Your voice comes through clearly.

    Second of all, I loved this post as a micro-example of why I'm glad I don't teach first grade. You all are miracle workers! I'd be so out of my element...WOW!

  10. Very well written and very funny! I, too, have had to face the marker dilemma and I am now firmly in the "let them use markers" camp. Thanks for a great post.