The basic idea is to start the activity (and preferably the lesson) with a blank board and to ask the students to fill the board with whatever they want, using this as a springboard for student-generated conversation and language input.
Last week I tried the challenge on an IWB (a portable ebeam). And here’s the result:
We do a lot of sharing in class, we share the note-taking, we share the post lesson summary-writing, we share the images and texts we use as springboards and input to our lessons, but I realised that I wasn’t really sharing the board very much. Mainly because I’m still getting used to it I suppose (you know the old “one step forward two steps back” of introducing technology to the classroom).
So I decided to use Jason’s whiteboard idea as a way to share the board and help the students feel more at home with the pen. They’ve seen me struggle to write with it, they come up to the board from time to time and try as well, but I hadn’t fully introduced them to all its wonders yet. I gave a quick demo of the various features, colours, line thickness, eraser … I drew the waves as part of the demo, and then I asked them to think about something to write on the board, anything they wanted, and after a little thinking time, one by one, up they came.
The first student wrote “Be water, my friend”. The second student wrote “Don’t worry,” and the third added the obvious “be happy”. The fourth echoed the verb in “To be or not ..” (It was lack of space and confidence with the pen that left the quote unfinished.) And the fifth and last student added his trademark “That’s all folks!” email signature.
We were left with one wave undecorated, so the last line was dictated to me by one of the students who’d had enough of experimenting with the pen: ” be yourself no matter what they say.” She said she’d thought of it earlier, but hadn’t wanted to write it because it was too long to write with the interactive pen.
I looked back at the contributions. All the students had chosen to write someone else’s words, no-one had written in their own words. All had chosen short catchphrases, no-one had written anything personal. I was worried that maybe I’d compromised the activity with my two-birds-with-one-stone approach.
But the conversation that emerged was interesting. First the students wanted to talk about the pen, and the difficulties of writing with the pen. Its thickness, the way it feels heavy and clumsy in your hands, the way your hand casts a shadow over the words as you write. We talked about how to position yourself at the board ( maybe … you can see … was written in response to the prompt to stand to the right while writing from the left). And only once we’d exhausted this topic did we turn to the sentences on the board.
And when we did, it wasn’t really the words that interested the students, or the thoughts behind them, or why they’d chosen them, but where they came from. And how well known they were. How you can’t say “Don’t worry” without adding “be happy”, though not everyone knew – or knows – the song. How the first quote is associated with selling cars, and that “to be or not to be” has maybe lost its original meaning and force.
We negotiated forms and meanings, we looked at some new vocabulary, we worked with some problematic pronunciation, but we soon exhausted the topic and moved on.
Successful? Well, I think we killed one bird at least. Hopefully I won’t be so shy to share the board in future!