Let’s ban tippex now !!

I HATE, LOATHE and ABHOR tippex, or whitener or blanco, whatever you like to call it. This stuff here : tippex liquidtippex mousetippex penWhy do I dislike it so much ? Well, it isn’t the stuff itself. I have no personal problem with having neat work and actually use it myself, BUT when put in the hands of my untrained students at school, this turns into a weapon of mass-destruction !! Why do kids feel they have to erase their mistakes ??? Why ??? How can you learn from something if you just zap it from existence ?

One girl, I shall call her Rachel (not her real name, as they say in the magazine stories !!), was working on an individual listening comrpehension activity in class a while ago for me. She completed the answers and came back to the group for correction. We started sharing answers and correcting the work when it came to Rachel’s turn to give her answer to one of the questions. “Oh Madame, I can’t,” she said to me. When I asked her why not (for heaven’s sakes), it turned out that she had rubbed out all her answers ready to fill in the correct answers that she assumed I was going to give. To say I was furious would be gross understatement of the year. I think “apopleptic” would be nearer to the truth (even if I am not sure how to spell it).

It revealed to me a really serious underlying problem, or even a  series of problems. Rachel obviously thought her work and effort was not worthy of keeping. She also seemed to think that I would consider her work in the same way, which actually upset me quite deeply. She also seemed to believe that only perfection will do and finally, she seems to equate “copying down the right answers” with “getting things right” – two totally different things and in my experience, the ones who simply copy down the right answers are rarely the ones who get it right.

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What is wrong with making mistakes ? Is it so shameful ? My students seem to have a seriously warped relationship with their mistakes. A boy recently mistook the word “candle” for “condom” and so we had a great presentation of condoms on his Christmas table and condoms flickering on the mantlepiece. Apart from being absolutely hilarious, it was a superb example of how the boy speaking, Alex, and the rest of the class, have all learned from this mistake and be assured, no one makes that mistake any more. We have all learned from it. No one got hurt, no one died, a kid made a mistake and now he won’t make it any more – get over it !!!!

By banning tippex in any shape of form in my classroom, I encourage the students to make mistakes and not to hide them. You do not need to feel ashamed of your mistakes. If, as a school pupil, you never make any mistakes then one of two things are true : a) you are not normal or b) you no longer need to be in my class. I want my pupils to take responsibility for their mistakes and in doing so, to understand why they have made them and most importantly, see how they can learn from them to avoid making the same ones in the future. That is why I love mistakes and I hate anything that serves purely to erase those mistakes.

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