A hands-free approach to teaching
‘No Pens Day’ a success at St Mary’s School for Deaf Girls
Performing artist Amanda Coogan (far left) working with pupils of St Mary’s School for Deaf Girls during their No Pens Day. Photograph: Alan Betson
Maggie Owens is one of those teachers fizzing with ideas, the kind that carries everyone else along with her enthusiasm, the type who shakes things up.
Wearing a bright purple dress and leopard-print heels, she is organising students at St Mary’s School for Deaf Girls in Dublin into different groups for their first No Pens Day, which took place earlier this week.
The school hall atmosphere is giddy, expectant. The students and teachers at St Mary’s are about to embark on an interesting experiment: what happens when an entire school bans the use of pens for a day?
No Pens Day is a UK initiative which Owens, a maths teacher, deaf woman and former pupil at St Mary’s, decided would work well in their school.
“I learned from the Communication Trust, which pioneered No Pens Day two years ago in Britain, that the average verbal contribution by children in class is surprisingly low,” says Owens. “It just made me think.”
She added: “Developing expression and communication is hugely important in all schools but especially here.
“We wanted to see what would happen when we took away the pens and came up with more imaginative ways of teaching and learning. The idea is that there will be more communication and a better quality of listening.”
One million students took part in the third British event this year, while St Mary’s is thought to be the first Irish school to be involved.
The day began with a pen- free roll call during which principal Regina O’Connell asked students for ideas of how she should keep track of her appointments during the day in the absence of a pen. “Use stickers,” was one suggestion from the students.
During a PowerPoint presentation in front of her schoolmates, Denise Doran used a photograph of Alan Sugar from The Apprentice to illustrate her point that good communication was essential. “If you don’t communicate properly, you get fired,” she signed to laughs from her audience.
The 44 students at the school were split up into groups and, in place of conventional classes, attended workshops including drama, maths and English.
In the home economics workshop, they blind-tested own- brand and named-brand crisps and cola to see if they could taste the difference.
In science, there was an “eggsperiment”, an air contracting trick where after lit matches were placed in a narrow glass jar, a boiled egg was squeezed through the narrow opening, to gasps of surprise.