The Beauty of Whiteboards

I love my teaching room. It has five whiteboard spaces around it that are used by me and the students in every lesson for various purposes that support our learning journey. This is by no means revolutionary, but by gum it’s made the teaching and learning in my room flow much more easily.

To contextualise, when I entered the teaching profession ten years ago there was very much a belief that old-fashioned whiteboards were a thing of the past and interactive whiteboards were the future. Everywhere I looked white space was being eradicated in favour of a big interactive screen and a projector. The traditional focus of the room, the front, was still very much the focus, as teachers stood there delivering 3-part lessons that were front-loaded with instruction supported by a series of slides prepared using whichever software the teacher preferred.

But even in my first few months as an ESOL teacher in Spain, I found I naturally used a lot of old-fashioned whiteboard space. I could travel to four different locations in Madrid to deliver lessons over a 14 hour day, and so long as I was armed with a variety of whiteboard markers and there was a whiteboard or flipchart available, everything was ok. Whether it was me demonstrating a point or a student demonstrating their ideas, the whiteboard provided a focal point for discussion and learning. And yet the following year when I entered teacher training college, everywhere these indispensable aids to learing were disappearing in favour of their more technologically advanced counterparts. And although I tried desperately  to plan and deliver lessons on ActivStudio, it just didn’t feel right. But in those days I had less confidence in my abilities and constantly tried to mould myself into the style that seemed to be expected, rather than moulding my teaching to my natural style.

But now I’m older and wiser and more confident in my own convictions. I have LOADS of whiteboard space and the IWB is used only as a projector. I have a small board devoted purely to learning objectives and another devoted to an instant challenge activity to occupy the students as soon as they enter the room (this has become an expectation among the students and has  fostered some really healthy competetiveness as they rush to enter the room and be the first to solve the puzzle). Another board is devoted to the week’s homework task and yet another is used to display the lesson’s key words and any other important vocabulary that crops up. There is still the interactive board at the front, used mainly to show relevant clips or images from the web.
But my favourite whiteboard is the one I had installed before Christmas. It’s a great big old fashioned one. The left hand side is devoted to showing the steps that the lesson will follow so the students know what they’re doing the minute they come in. But the rest of it is free for me or the students to scrawl and scribble ideas that come up as the lesson proceeds. I love it. And with so many boards around the room it has taken away the impression of there being a definite “front of the room”. And when you walk in it really feels like a space where learning happens. At least in my opinion.

(My next idea to try out is recording our whiteboard work by photographing it using my phone and then uploading it to make available for students to access from home via the school website, but that’s for another week.)

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About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

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