The Board – my enemy?

Like any other teacher I have some favourite activities. I’m not talking about what we do in class as part of the learning process but specifically about what I do. I love cleaning the board with a wet sponge, for example. I love the moment of handing out corrected tests. I also enjoy recording marks into my grade book. I love it when I manage everything I have planned and the bell rings just after I say: Ok. That’s all for today.

There are things, though, that I don’t like very much. First of all, I hate taking attendance. The thing is that the class book always arrives at the most inappropriate moment – in the middle of someone’s sentence, midst a listening exercise, when I’m opening a file on my PC, etc. So I usually put off this somewhat mundane chore, and as a result I always forget about it completely in the end. Class teachers then chase me in the corridor asking me, with a more or less accusing look, to do what I should have done long ago.

There’s one thing that I hate even more than taking attendance. I hate board work. Not that I hate the board itself, I actually like it, especially when it’s newly painted, and I like the traditional chalk too, no matter how obsolete it may seem to some nowadays. What I hate is the act of doing something with my back to the class. I think this must be a psychological issue and perhaps it has something to do with control. I suspect I hate being observed without being able to see. This makes me spend as little time writing on the board as possible; I even tend to avoid it completely, which is reprehensible, of course. And when I do write on the board, I’m usually in a hurry, my style of writing is hasty and my handwriting sloppy. The other day I wrote something on the board and found out I had made 6 mistakes in just a couple of sentences. For example, I left out letter ‘t’ in ‘slightly’ – not only once but twice! I even invented a new word; instead of  ‘homework’ and came up with ‘homewsode’. I have no idea how this nonsense came to existence; I suppose I simply started thinking of something else in the middle of the word. Unfortunately, it was the students who’d noticed, not me. We all laughed at my incompetence, but I think it was a shame. I sometimes think I must suffer from some type of board dysgraphia – the specific angle and the distance from which I write on the board, as well as the size of the writing space, somehow prevent me from taking full control over my writing.

Anyway, this incident made me stop and think about my problem. Let me stress that I believe that decent board work is one of the aspects of a good lesson; it’s part of successful classroom management. I truly believe that the board should be well-organized and clear and I know that at the end of the lesson my board should ideally be full of useful vocabulary and grammar and I rejoice when I occasionally manage to produce it. Obviously, one thing that might help is planning. I’m not sure whether it would really solve my psychological problem, i.e. my reluctance to stand in a somewhat vulnerable position and let students watch my flabby biceps flapping while I’m writing – but it may definitely help me calm down and focus.

What I don’t mind at all, on the other hand, is sitting at the computer, typing on the keyboard, facing the class, the class facing me and the larger screen in front of them. From a psychological viewpoint, I feel I have more control over what I’m doing, and with just a slight shift of my eyes I can address the class and then immediately zoom in on my writing again. From a practical point of view, I can change and enlarge the font within a matter of seconds, I can insert pictures, graphs and tables, I can delete, copy and paste quickly without whirling dust that makes people in the room cough and choke. I also believe it helps students concentrate better because the teacher is not flying around, blocking their view. Finally, a digital record is always more legible and looks more organized, and it can be stored and referred to later. So I’m wondering if maybe, for my students’ sake, I should simply abandon traditional board work for good and do what I like doing and don’t struggle with….

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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9 Responses to The Board – my enemy?

  1. Baiba says:

    Hi Hana,
    I know how you feel with your back to your students, it's the same with me. If it's just a word or two, it's fine but I try to avoid writing longer passages by showing them on the screen via OHP.
    I have an interactive whiteboard which can be used as a writing board as well. If you display your text on the IWB, you can make notes and mark whatever you need right on the screen. I often ask students to do it and they really like it.
    You can also sit at your desk and write on a Word page if you can show it on the screen. It will prevent you from any necessity to turn your back to the class.
    I have seen markers which can be used for writing on the walls of the classroom (you can easily clean everything afterwards). I wish I could buy them! That may bring writing at the lesson to a completely new and brilliant level! 🙂

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment, Baiba. The tools you describe are cool but as you imply, not all schools can afford them. Yes, that's what I do; I sit at the desk and write on a Word page and project it on the screen – it's very comfortable and effective. I'd really love to have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom, and I hope I'll get one soon. I think it's great if you can prepare things in advance and then ask Ss to complete gaps, match pictures, etc.

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  3. Hello Hana,
    I can relate to your reluctance to show your back to the class, I am less sympathetic towards your preference for blackboard and chalk 🙂 Anyway, one way to bring tech into less equipped classrooms I've explored is to hand out my iPad to the students and project its screen wirelessly to the computer hooked up to a projector. It could be a school PC running an app like Airserver or my own laptop. This way at least students can take turns in pairs over the iPad while others can watch the screen. Naturally, it still requires the classroom to be equipped with a projector but in my experience, language classrooms nowdays commonly are.

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment, Miroslav.

    I'm glad to see another Czech stopping by. I may appear a bit conservative, yes, but I’d like to reassure you I'm definitely open to new ideas. For quite a long time in the past, I taught with just a classic board, some chalk and traditional textbooks, and I had to manage somehow. I did because nothing else was available anyway. Now when I have a PC and a projector in my classroom (and, by the way, now that I have my own classroom at last), I'm becoming more and more technology-friendly, and my students seem to appreciate it. I use more videos, for example, and more online resources in general. I don’t want it to sound like a cliché but I think my generation needs more time to digest new things and adjust before we can use, say, mobile devices naturally.
    Anyway, your way of dealing with ‘board work’ sounds interesting. I don’t have a tablet at my disposal yet but maybe in the future …. But still, when I get hold of a tablet in the end, I’ll need some time to accept it as a commonplace teaching device. Meanwhile, I’ll have to stick to what I’ve got – the board and the chalk. Sorry 😀

    Hana

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  5. I doubt a truly conservative teacher would be writing a blog about ESL teaching. 🙂 I guess the traditional methods must work, you and I being examples. Then again, come to think of it, I feel like very little of my English was actually taught in school… The thing is, the technology already is in the hands of the learners anyway (often unfortunately literally during the classroom time) and I feel like it's part of my job as a teacher to make them use it for more productive ends than all those angry birds and flappy birds and fun runs and so on…

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    I think you're right when you imply that our job is to inspire, motivate and show direction rather than teach English in the sense of pouring knowledge into Ss' brains. There's not enough time to do so anyway. Most of the work must be done by the students themselves, preferably outside of the regular classes. Oftentimes I hear people say: This is a very good teacher because she teaches them the subject very well, instead of saying: she makes them learn the subject. Well, yes, why not take advantage of technology if it’s so natural for this generation. By the way, kids also love to discuss technology theoretically and I’m always surprised how much even lower lever Ss are able to say about things which I consider really complicated.

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  7. I think the word is “facilitator”. It's like ESL teaching 101 nowadays and you come across it hundred times in every methodology book. 🙂 Anyway, thanks for your blog, it's proven to be an enjoyable read. 👍😊

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  8. I remember those 'green boards' – it was using them that I cut my teaching teeth while I was in Spain in 2007/08. It was using one of those boards that I first discovered I could draw well enough – well, just a few small things yes – to help explain things I was teaching. What was I drawing when I found this out? A crocodile!

    I actually share this dislike at times of boardwork – yes it is a staple thing to get right when you are a teacher, but the quality can vary a lot. At least for me sometimes it clicks and sometimes it is just terrible!

    By the way, google 'wanderous whiteboard' and 'Jason Renshaw' and you should come across a few posts that some of us did a while back where we gave complete control of the whiteboard space to our students. Some interesting things happened! My post on it (or one of them – I wrote a few I think) is here: http://www.mikejharrison.com/2010/11/wanderous-whiteboard-challenge-with-entry-one/

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  9. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for the links and interesting tips. The Wanderous Whiteboard Challenge sounds cool and I'll definitely try it out myself. I've just read your post and can’t help wondering how it would work with more advanced levels – maybe I'll find the answer when I go through all the posts related to Jason Renshaw and ‘wanderous whiteboard’. It doesn’t cease to amaze me how many interesting challenges are going on out there in the blogosphere and how much I’m missing. It’s really hard to keep up but I believe that things one needs to hear and learn always arrive at the right moment 🙂

    Thanks for your comment.

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