Making waves?

This post is a very late contribution to  Jason Renshaw‘s  wandrous whiteboard challenge.

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:

I’ve been teaching this particular group for just over six weeks now.  We see each other once a week.  I’m learning to use the IWB and they’re helping me out!

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!

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9 Responses to Making waves?

  1. David Warr says:

    Hi Ceri,
    These pens take getting used to, don’t they. I do like your boardwork though, and the discussion sounds nice. Do you think interactive whiteboards are better then normal boards? I’ve seen primary teachers in the UK finding their feet with them as there are lots of different functions to get the hang of. How long do you think it will be before you feel comfortable using it?

    • Ceri says:

      Hi David,
      Thanks for calling by! Interesting question, are they “better” than normal boards? it’s the nub of it isn’t it? “Better”? … no. Different? yes and no – basically it’s a tech version of a traditional tool.

      I love the ease of saving and sending copies of our boardwork after every lesson (although, of course, you can do that just as easily with a digital camera, or your phone). I like the way we can use the data projector and IWB together, to link new language to the input it grew out of (I’m hoping to write a post about this soon) – but again, this can be done on a conventional board.

      I’m not convinced yet by all the other bells and whistles, dropping and dragging and hiding and showing – seems a bit too top-down, too teacher-controlled for my teaching style. The materials need preparing beforehand, the language choices are being made by the teacher, and not the student.

      Then again, I’ve only just started dabbling and I’m going to reserve judgement until I’ve had more time to “play” with it, get to know it, make it mine. I’m working with an ebeam, not a smartboard, so the interactivity is constrained by the pen, and I must admit that as yet I haven’t seen it do anything that you can’t do with post-its. bits of card and a traditional white/blackboard and pen/chalk.

      I think the real change comes in having a data projector with a wifi connection. Suddenly it’s much easier for students to share links and images and experiences from outside the classroom. That’s the side that excites me at the moment. And one my students are really enjoying too.

  2. Hi Ceri,

    Yes, I think your attempt at two birds with your stone added some strain to the IWB activity for your students. But I don’t think having it done in a regular board would’ve changed what they wrote. Maybe they would’ve felt like writing more (like the one student who asked you to write something). And at the same time, setting it up as an activity to get “acquainted” with the interactive board took some of the pressure of the first time we do this activity with the students, the students freezing when being given the marker, not knowing what to do. It gives it a purpose the students can understand and not feel threatened by.

    My attention was also drawn by their choice of what to write. The fact they all wrote someone else’s word, all widely known, got me thinking. Do you think they did this because they don’t trust their own ability of expressing their thoughts in the target language, a desire to say something “cool” or was it a matter of the first student decided to do it and the others just followed?

    Personally I don’t use the IWBs we have at my school very often, mostly because I don’t know how to use its resources so it ends up being just a bright board with a funky pen on my hands. But I have seen some fantastic use of it by other teachers at my school. Something I have to work at I guess 😉

  3. Ceri Jones says:

    Hi Cecilia,
    Yes, the way their sentences built one on the other was interesting. I wish I’d asked them about it, whether they’d decided on something else and then changed their minds, whether they hadn’t decided on anything at all and just waited to be inspired by the others. The echoes in terms of structure (four imperatives), the verb to be, the basic underlying philosophy, are interesting too. Maybe a reflection of the class dynamic? And the upbeat “That’s all folks!” as the last contribution brought a smile to everyone’s face – as if the whole thing had been a performance, and one we were all pretty pleased with – 🙂 So, the more I think about it, the more valuable I reckon it was.

    As for IWBs, I’d love to hear about the way they’re being used in your school. I need some motivation to go beyond my, so far, limited experiments! All I’ve seen online so far seems so teacher-centred. I need to see them “in the flesh” I think. And I need to start thinking laterally, maybe using the whistles and bells for revision and follow-up activities … mmm, one to think about . But as always it’s a time issue, time to get to know the tools, time to get the material ready … ah, time … and at my back I always hear that IWB class hurrying near 😉

  4. Hi Ceri,

    What a great experience you had with your students. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to use this apparatus yet. It’s interesting how the conversation was conducted, especially because of the pen’s usage. Do you know why your students wrote extracts from a song? Were they complementing each other? I think the most important thing that took place during this activity was the interaction each student had with each other as well as being able to talk about a topic that was not meant to be. 🙂
    Luciana Podschun

  5. Ceri says:

    Thanks Lu!
    Yes, this class are really great at conversations that “aren’t meant to be” ;). I hardly ever have to initiate or prompt with this group, they’re very independent and are constantly providing me with heaps of material for our lessons – images, interesting links, texts and topics and requests. The most difficult thing is keeping up with them!

    Looking forward to visiting you at your new blog soon!

  6. crazykites says:

    Hi Ceri!

    Once again, you gave me food for thought.

    You’ve inspired a lesson plan in me for today’s PET group… I have ebeam software in this particular classroom. I have used it before, similiar to how you’d use a standard white board. I still don’t know all the benefits of this technology, but my students love it. It somehow brings a class to life, because it’s a new toy, I suppose. At least you have a greater choice of colours to use than with white board markers! And I don’t think it makes my class any more teacher-centred than usual, because they have figured out how to use the tools and so they don’t need my guidance too much. Can you expand on what you mean when you say it makes classes too teacher-centred?

  7. Ceri Jones says:

    Hi Kirsten, thanks for dropping by!
    And thanks for an interesting question 🙂
    I guess what I meant was that a lot of the “whistle and bells” stuff online that looks so colourful and stimulating (the drop and drag, hide and show, animation stuff) is, by its nature, top-down. It’s prepared beforehand, the language has been chosen by the teacher, the activity has been created by the teacher, and, so, even if its use in the class is student centred (ie the students come up to board and manipulate the language), the structure and the input isn’t.

    But I guess that’s also the nature of “showcase” examples and I think I need to explore the possibilities and potential a lot more in my own classes and work harder at letting the students be more hands on. I’m planning a couple of mid course review activities where I’m going to play around with some new tools (new to me that is!), using the students’ input. That might help to sway my opinion!

    I guess another factor is that with an ebeam you can only use one interactive pen at a time, so you can’t have a crowd of people up at the board at the same time. But I guess it’s a question of judicious use (as with everything), and yes, I think it can be a great complement to the rest of the tools I have in class (the data projector in particular) . And there’s nothing wrong with the “new toy” factor either. We all love new toys!

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