Writing on the Board
We are getting really practical now!
Whiteboards and chalkboards are no longer the staple technology of the classroom, but they are still important. Assuming that you are also using other equipment such as an overhead projector or data projector, the board (or flip-chart) has a complementary role to play, but it is still important and it needs to be used skilfully.
- It communicates spontaneity: you may be able to refer to a slide in response to a question or an issue which comes up out of the planned sequence, but often you can't. Either you have not got it with you, or it would take too long to find. Using the board is about being reactive to the class.
- Use it for key-words, which stay
on the board for the duration of the
session. Usually, if you use a data projector, there is only one
projector, and each image is transient.
Material on the board can stay there.
- This involves a little thought about how to organise the board. This may be sophisticated, as in the example below, or it may just be a matter of putting your first key word at the top-left corner, and using the rest of the space systematically rather than jotting words at random.
- Flip-chart sheets can be even more permanent: clumsy though they are, they can provide a reminder of discussions from session to session.
- Use the board or flip-chart to map the course of a lecture or argument by adding to a developing picture.
One of my former students who trains drug-dealers (sorry — pharmaceutical company representatives) has this to a fine art. Alongside her sophisticated PPT and models, she builds up a mind-map of the topic as the session develops. It acts as a sort of concurrent organiser, clarifying where each point fits with the others.
Everyone has their little obsessions (don't they?), like not throwing away pieces of string.
Tip: if you accidentally use a permanent marker on a whiteboard, scribble over it with a proper whiteboard marker and rub: it should come off
One of mine is using the correct pen. It is not that silly: permanent markers on white-boards take a long time to remove, even with the special solvent. Whiteboard markers and OHP pens used on paper dry up at a phenomenal rate, leaving you struggling to get a decent line, not to mention the cost.
For most purposes, a chisel tip (as opposed to a bullet-tip) pen is more flexible. It permits thicker and thinner lines, which not only makes drawing easier, but also can make writing more legible.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
Writing for legibility
Writing on a vertical surface so that the result can be read at a distance of up to ten metres is a craft skill which needs practice. Find an empty classroom and practise. Best of all, find a colleague to practise with. One of you can sit at the back while the other writes, and you can provide each other with feedback.
- The single best piece of advice is: write from the shoulder. Let your shoulder do the moving, with the elbow and wrist, and certainly the fingers, hardly moving at all. Don't hold them rigid — it is too much of a strain — but there should be no need to move them. This single change will precipitate others which will improve legibility.
- If your handwriting is really awful, you may have to PRINT, but it is slow (and speed does matter to some extent), and only easier to read than script if your handwriting is worse than the average doctor.
- Even on a flip-chart, aim to have the body of lower-case letters, (the "x" height) of about 5 cm/2". The risers and descenders help to give shape to a word, so make them clear.
- What does this say? If you tend to this kind of angular script, writing from the shoulder will make it more pronounced, so try not to let letters run into each other: lift the pen occasionally. This is my most common failing in this area. Click on the example for an interpretation.
- If you have occasion to write coherently on a board for whatever reason — as opposed to odd words — keep the line length short. A line which goes all the way across a landscape format board is hard to follow, particularly given the wobbliness of much handwriting. And move yourself as you write: staying in the same place will almost invariably result in the line drooping at the end.
- Finally—don't stretch. If you are short, this will be a problem, particularly since the demise of roller-boards in most classrooms: but if you are stretching you can't form your letters properly.
- When you are writing, you should not be talking. You will be facing the board, and you will not be heard as well as if you were facing the class. Moreover, people with a hearing difficulty, who need to see you speak, will certainly not be able to follow.
- Left-handers rule! At least we do with western left-to-right scripts. A left-hander's writing hand is progressively moving away from the script, revealing it: a right-hander will be progressively covering it. You can't change your handedness for the sake of board-writing, but it's nice to know there are circumstances when left-handedness is a positive advantage! In any event, try to stand to one side of your writing, rather than directly in front of it. Somehow, that just seems rude.
- You do have an obligation to spell correctly if possible, but it is difficult to see just what you have just written from up close. Stand back and view it briefly to pick up errors. If you do spell badly, and the class is mature enough, ask them to proof-read for you.