Put That Pencil Down! How to Practice Perserverance

So this is my WORST habit. When a child doesn’t understand something, I pick up their pencil and start explaining. Bah! It’s my immediate go to strategy because the solution path is clear in MY mind.

Why is picking up a child’s pencil a terrible idea?

  • Some parts of the thinking may be clear in their mind, and I’ve just muddled it now with my own strategy.
  • After several times of picking up their pencil they may believe they need to wait for me for the next time they struggle, can you say learned helplessness?
  • I do think that from the moment you pick up their pencil, they check out and stop thinking…some students even feel like they’ve given up.

3 ways to combat this and develop perseverance:

  1. Model the struggle.  Over and over and over and over.  Every day model the struggle yourself. Screw up, get stuck and talk out loud about how you get unstuck.Kids who struggle have no idea how to work through that inner dialogue that comes with digging yourself out of struggle. Have other students share their struggles in front of the rest of the class if they are brave enough. Make struggle and mistakes a normal and wonderful part of your math culture.  I mean really…if you make a mistake when you read a word, you can still read.  When you make a mistake in math, you can still do math!
  2. Promote positive self talk. We need this in all parts of our day, but the recent studies on Mindset really truly are RIGHT ON.  When you hear a student say something really positive, capture it and repeat it.
  3. Give kids as many opportunities as possible to see each others work.  Right after they solve for a minute, ask them to slide their papers together to compare each other and look for similarities and connections.  When they start to see more thinking, they start to make more connections, giving them ideas for how to get “unstuck”. We have the luxury of walking around to see all of their thinking, so let them have that same experience.

In what ways are you putting down the pencil?



  1. OMG – I do that all the time and never really thought about it like this! I have to stop! Thank you for bringing this to my attention!



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