Fools for education policy

Education Gladfly celebrates April Fool’s Day with rollicking ed reform jokes. My favorite was P. Edantic’s analysis of “Writing Implements Matter: A Meta-analysis of Research into the Cognitive Effects of Graphite Density.”

The Suburban Institute is the source of this careful study by metallurgists Randy Dixon and Shirlee Ticonderoga, which re-analyzes decades of research into the impact of #2 versus #3 pencils on the quality of pupil penmanship. Despite the spread of newer technologies in U.S. English classes, it seems that many children still learn hand-writing, and it appears that there is a slight but statistically significant relationship between their pencil lead and the clarity of their written expression. That correlation does not, however, work in the direction one might suppose. Common sense would suggest that softer graphite compounds, being easier to write with, would boost fluency and accuracy of expression. To the contrary. Insofar as any effects can be discerned (and these seem to be strongest in third grade), the harder pencil leads, perhaps because of the sheer difficulty of getting them to make any mark at all on the paper, are associated with precision and economy of student expression.

I guess you had to be there.

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  1. In the tradition of the old computer magazine April issue reviews of the pencil as a text entry device, which one inverts in the hand to access the delete mode.

  2. Rita C. says:

    The Ticonderoga Soft #2 pencil is the absolute best pencil (the Black Warrior #2 is a close second).

    I have a mild obsession with pens and pencils; it pre-exists being a teacher, but has gotten worse since — probably because I go through so many. An OfficeMax employee once made the error of asking if he could help me when I was picking out some pens. I gave him a 5-minute lecture on the relative merits and faults of every pen on the wall.

    FWIW, the best gel roller is Zebra Jimnie.

    I have Monte Blanc and Waterford fountain pens too, but that’s a whole different category.

  3. Tim from Texas says:

    I don’t know if it’s still true at this date, but Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other European countries don’t allow students to use anything other than a fountain pen. They noticed how awful penmanship became when the a ballpoint was allowed.

    I’m not sure about France, since it was a French company that invented the ballpoint. But I suspect it’s also disallowed for the most part.

  4. D. Cooper says:

    You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.

  5. I’m going to have to pick a grafight with D.Cooper over perpetuating that misnomer.

  6. Rita C. says:

    Where did you hear this, Tim from Texas?

  7. Mad Scientist says:

    Best pencil : Pentel 0.5 mm mechanical. Bar none.

    Best eraser : Pentel “Click” or Mars plastic. COmplete erasure without tearing the paper to shreds.

    BIC is a French company that invented the ballpoint.

  8. D. Cooper says:

    You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be graphite??

    Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  9. Interesting that “researchers” Dixon and Ticonderoga investigated #2 and #3 pencils. I always appreciated the fact that while the rest of the consumer (not art) pencil world was #1, 2, and 3, the Dixon Ticonderogas blazed their own trail with a five-point system.

    Thus their “medium” pencil was a “#2 1/2,” which I always thought was classy.

  10. Tim from Texas says:

    Rita, I taught in the German school system off and on for 4 years in the 70s and 80s. I taught for the Nordrhein-Westfalen Schulkolegium in one of the gymnasiums-which are the university prepatory schools for 11-19year olds.

    At those times all student work written for a grade or any kind of evaluation had to be written with a fountain pen,including math.

  11. How did I miss an April Fool’s joke about the merits of the # 2 Pencil? 🙂

  12. Wasn’t the ballpoint invented by a Hungarian called Biro?

    How come everyone steals ballpoints when no one ever stole pencils?