Chalkboard Skills: How Effective Are You?

How often do you stop to look at your chalkboard work from your students' point of view?

Probably, almost anything you put on the board will be clear to you; the test that you must pass is to make your chalkboard presentation clear to a student seeing it for the first time. The guiding principle should be: Look at your writing as though you were a student in your own class.
Keep these three points in mind while planning your board presentation:

1. Let your students see and read what you have written. Illegible or obscured work is valueless.

2. Give students time to copy what you have written. Most students don't think analytically while they are writing.

3. Organize your board work. It will help students interpret their notes and an organized board models good notetaking.

These points are taken up one at a time in the following discussion.

Even in an average sized room, students in the back rows may have trouble reading words in a small handwriting, Unless the floor of the classroom is sloped, students of average height sitting behind the first two rows will not be able to see the bottom of the board. To find the effective bottom of the board, sit in the last row while your class is occupied with some task and note the line below which a student of average height would find it difficult to copy notes. You might want to mark this line with a piece of chalk. If there is a desk at the front of the class, keep it clear of objects (e.g., lectern or briefcase) that might obstruct vision.

Try to keep your work visible for as long as possible. If you are right-handed, fill the right-hand panel first, then move to the panel on the left and continue your writing. This way you won't block students' view. If you're using a sliding, three-layered chalkboard, fill the middle board first, then push it up and pull the front board down. When the front board is full, push it up and use the back board. And remember, students may not be able to read even very large words if they are scrawled or written too lightly.

If you ask them to analyze an idea, they won't begin to think analytically until they've finished copying. When you want to make a point, stop writing. Let your students catch up to you (they may be lagging behind by two or three lines). Then begin your discussion. Similarly, if you've engaged in a long discussion without writing very much on the board, allow them time to summarize the discussion in their own minds and to write their summary down in their notes before you again begin to use the board or to speak.

Students are sure to be frustrated if the instructor modifies part of his/her board work before they have a chance to copy it. A physics instructor may reach a crucial point in the derivation of an equation and then quickly erase and replace terms. A biology instructor may draw a diagram and then rapidly change first one part of the diagram and then another to show a process. A good rule of thumb is: Erase only when you have run out of space to write (if you find that you've made a mistake, don't go back over the last three panels madly erasing minus signs!). Then erase only the oldest or least important work, and erase the entire panel to avoid implying a connection between the new work and any unerased work.

If you find that you've made a mistake, explain it, then go back and make corrections. If you are modifying a drawing, use dotted lines or some other technique to show changes. Remember, that a student can't make the same erasures that you do without loosing his/her written record of intermediate steps: you can alter parts of a drawing much faster than he/she can reproduce the whole thing.

Fill in one panel at a time, always starting at the top and moving down. Underline, or in some other way mark, the most important parts of your presentation -- the major assumptions, or conclusions, or the intermediate steps that you plan to refer to later on. Colored chalk may help to clarify drawings.

At best, the chalkboard is only a teaching aid. It can't substitute for a logical presentation of the material. Break your presentation into manageable parts and give students a chance to deal with facts and concepts as you present each part, or just afterward. Then verbally outline the next part of your presentation. If you don't do this, your students may be copying blindly, without any idea of where you are going.

Maintain eye contact with your students. Do not talk to the chalkboard and do not obstruct their view of what you have writtenówrite, then talk.

Print large and neatly. Script is very difficult to read. Use upper and lower case letters. The letters should be one inch tall for each 10 feet of viewing distance.

Check for glare on the board. Close the blinds if necessary. If there are chalkboard lights, turn them on.

Put material on the board before class.

Use colored chalk only for emphasis. Be certain that the colors used are visible from the back of the classroom. Do not use more than four different colors at a time.

If you plan to draw a design on the board, outline it lightly before class. One way to do this is with the "pounce" technique. To draw a map on the board, find a map of appropriate size and use an instrument with a serrated edge (like a pizza cutter) to trace around the borders. Tape the map to the board and hit the hole with an eraser full of chalk dust. Remove the map and the outline remains. You can easily "connect the dots" during class.

How Effective Are You?

You can determine your effectiveness at the board in several ways:

(a) Ask two of your students (an "A" student and a "C" student) to lend you their notes. If the notes seem incomplete, ask yourself: "What could I have done to help them catch the points that they missed?"

(b) Stop yourself twenty minutes into your presentation and ask yourself, "Are all the major points written on the chalkboard clear and coherent?" If you are not sure of the answer, ask your students.

(c) Have a TLC Consultant videotape your presentation, then view it by putting yourself in the place of a student taking notes. Did you violate any guidelines outlined above? If so, why?

You will become more effective in using a chalkboard as you learn to look at your work from your student's point of view.

Some Chalkboard Tips:


Comments: Webmaster - EOE - Privacy Policy - March 24, 2009