Using Individual White Boards for Classroom Instruction Jennifer Brandt Perpich Center for Arts Education “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Imagine a one-room school house in the 1800’s. Students are hunkered over their slates, busily calculating a math problem, or conjugating Latin verbs. The teacher is able to offer individual feedback and suggestions to students as they pursue answers. Now fast forward to a modern classroom. Even with all kinds of technology available, students in my French classroom sometimes find themselves working on individual white boards in a variety of situations. True, there is perhaps a bit more novelty for my students than those of years past, but the value of this teaching tool remains strong throughout time. Using this tool has had a significant impact on my teaching and my students’ learning. In this article, I will explain exactly what the white boards are and how I use them in my classroom. I will share four examples of situations in which they can be used in foreign language instruction. This concept was introduced to me by a colleague from another colleague who had been to a math teachers’ conference (passed by word of mouth, as is the case with many good teacher ideas). I do not claim credit for developing these boards, but I have found some specific uses for them that have been very beneficial in instructing my language students. The boards that I refer to are homemade. There are commercially made slates/boards, but they can be quite expensive when purchasing a classroom set. For my classroom, I have sixteen 12” x 16” boards which were cut from a large sheet of melamine. This is readily available at stores such as Menards and Home Depot, and the costs may range $6 - $15. I know a friend who has boards in several sizes, including some 6 x 48 for sentences. The other financial investment in using this tool is the dry-erase markers. Over time, these will obviously need to be replaced as they run out. I also suggest cautioning the students to make sure the caps click tightly shut so they don’t dry out, and that they are careful not to smash the end of the tip. There are low odor markers available as well. The only drawback is they don’t write as darkly. The final item required for this set is some sort of eraser. Again, you can purchase erasers, but this isn’t really necessary. I’ve cut up pieces of old sweatshirts and handed those out with the markers. The best thing about using these fabric scraps is they can be tossed in the washing machine. Another idea is to use socks, and you can even store markers in the socks for quick distribution. The possibilities for using these boards are truly endless. Listed below are four of my favorite uses for them. 1. Individual or pair practice. This is perhaps the most obvious use of the boards. I have used them for verb conjugating, translating, and brainstorming vocabulary exercises. As students complete their work, I have them hold it up for me to assess. I can quickly give feedback and a suggestion if something is not quite right. For students who are on track, I can give them a challenge (“now make it negative,” “ now make it a command,” etc). Sometimes I will have students conjugate irregular verbs or regular verb endings and then swap boards with a partner who has a different colored marker. They correct each other’s boards, circling areas where there is a correction to be made. They take their own board back, erase everything that is correct, and then make the correction, rewriting it three or four times for repetition 2. Word order/structure of the target language. One of the areas my students struggle with is that French word order is often different from English. I’ve found that physically manipulating word order works well for them, especially for visual learners. With student volunteers in front of the class, I write one word on each board and have them line up in the order of the sentence/question. Then we change the sentence into a question (by using inversion or adding “est-ce que”). Or we can replace direct and indirect object phrases with a pronoun and show where the pronoun moves in the sentence. This activity also works well for learning how to form commands (by dropping subjects), or for making negative statements and questions (a two part process in French - ne… pas). In addition to instruction and modeling, this technique could be used as a warm up activity. I write words on the boards and place them on the desks. As students come into the room, and once class begins, they have to come up front and unscramble themselves. With larger classes, you could have one set of words in one color, and another set in a different color, so that everyone can participate and you have a few examples with which to work. 3. Playing Pictionary. It goes without saying that this is my students’ favorite use of the boards. Adapting the rules of the game, we play Pictionnaire to practice and review vocabulary words and phrases. I have the students play in groups of three or four and we treat every round as an “all play.” One student from each group comes up to see the French word/phrase I’ve picked. Going back to their groups, at the call of “Dessinez!” (Draw!), students have to depict the word/phrase with images. No numbers or letters are allowed, but they may use symbols. The first team to guess the word correctly in French gets one point. As a follow up, and for an additional point, all other team members except the artist may confer on how to correctly spell the word. This is great practice for reviewing and encouraging them to think in French without translating directly from English all the time. I have to admit, however, that it can get a bit loud and it’s sometimes difficult to hear everyone once the game gets going. I try to stand in the center of the groups and I remind them that as the judge, I do have final say! 4. Translation Races. This is another group activity with some similarities to pictionary. Students work in pairs or groups with one board. I call out a sentence/question in English and all teams must write out the correct translation in French. Once the team has their final answer, the writer must put his/her marker in the air, at which point no further corrections can be made. Unlike the game above, this is not merely a game of speed. All teams should finish their answers and I keep track of the order in which they finish (or ask them to hold the number in their hand). Starting with the first team done, we check for accuracy. The first team to have it done entirely correct earns two points. All other teams with correct answers earn one point. Students quickly see that it pays to be accurate, and not just rush to an answer. I have found that there is something about these dry erase boards that appeals to just about every learner. They are visually stimulating, offering a change of pace from chalkboards and overhead projectors. The hands-on approach offers tactile learners to manipulate the language. And my students who are environmentally conscientious appreciate that it cuts down on paper waste. There are only a couple of potential concerns related to this tool. One is that the initial start up cost does require a small investment. The greatest cost over time are the dry erase markers, especially if they are not closed tightly, or if they are smashed by being closed too tightly. A second issue is that with extended use the smell of dry erase markers does get a bit strong. Opening a door or window and limiting the length of time during which we use them has remedied that for me. Finally, I’ve found that when my next class comes in, if they can smell dry erase marker in the air, they are quick to come up with a reason they need to use the boards, too. So be prepared to battle their requests! * Special thanks to Laura Grommesh, German teacher at Mason City High School, for introducing this tool to me.