The Magic Pencil

By Bri Tambellini, Secondary English Education Major/ ACH Clear Pathways After-School Arts Program Intern

During the first hour of my internship I assist students with their homework. While I am there to help any of the students with their assignments, I particularly work with one student every day I am there. This has been wonderful because I have been given the opportunity to really get to know her better. I noticed that she is understanding the material, but sometimes struggles to stay focused. I think it is difficult for her because there are other students in the room who finish their work faster, then go to the art room to work on projects, and painting and drawing is so much more appealing than practicing spelling words or solving math problems. I was really grappling with this and wondered what I could do to help her stay on task. Knowing that young children have such amazing imaginations, and can turn any ordinary object into something extraordinary, I then had the idea of “The Magic Pencil”.

One day during homework time, I told the student, “Would you like to hold this pencil? This pencil is the Magic Pencil and when you hold it, you have all the focus in the world.” I was discouraged to see that this had only worked for a few minutes, but hopeful because even though it had only lasted a short period of time, we were moving in the right direction. Each day, we would use this pencil and I noticed that while there were still some distractions, it seemed to help her stay focused and we were finishing homework a little faster every time. We were making progress.

Last week, one of the teachers was absent, so instead of working on homework in the room students normally do, we were in the art room. I knew that this might pose some challenges because there would be many more distractions than before and I was worried that the pencil strategy was not going to suffice. To my surprise, when I made my way over to the student, she eagerly unzipped her backpack and pulled out a pencil and said to me, “Look Miss Bri, I have my Magic Pencil! This one has music notes on it!” That day was the fastest we completed homework so far.

Throughout my program at Duquesne, we learn so much about how important it is to know your students and develop relationships with them. I think this story is an example of why this principle is so important. Sometimes we do not always have an immediate solution to a problem, but by working with students and taking the time to understand who they are and how they learn best, we can develop ways that create a better learning environment for them. Without communicating with this student and being proactive about her learning needs, I think I would still be struggling to figure out how I can help her stay on task. “The Magic Pencil” is not perfect, and I am still trying to find ways that work even better, but it is a good start and it seems to bring some fun and motivation into her learning.


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