Transparent Teaching

All educators have great ideas, lessons, and success stories that occur in their classrooms everyday and I believe that these  ideas, lessons, and success stories need to be shared. As teachers, we constantly try to find ways to make student thinking visible but I think this applies to us as well. We need to find ways to de-privatize classroom teaching and make teacher thinking visible. By increasing the transparency of teaching practice between classrooms, schools, boards, even countries we could learn so much from each other. If you taught a great math lesson that really engaged your students, why not pass that lesson on to others to use? If you had a teachable moment or a break through with a particular student why not share that inspiring story so that other teachers can learn from it as well?

Conditions are being created in schools that promote transparent teaching such as PLCs, co-teaching, teacher moderation, release for team planning, demonstration classrooms, networking between schools. However, I find that none of these things can really allow teachers to truly share their ideas and narratives of their teaching experiences without being interrupted in someway. I also find that with many of the strategies mentioned above, reflective practice often gets overlooked. Reflective practice is essential for my own professional growth which is where blogging comes into the picture. Blogging provides an outlet for my thoughts on education and it allows me to tell my narrative without interruptions. However, the reason why I love blogging so much is that it makes my thinking visible to others. It makes my teaching practice transparent so that other educators can hopefully benefit or gain some insight from it. I learn so much from reading the reflections and narratives of other educators through their blogs and I know that the teachers and students that I work with can only benefit from this transparency of teaching practice.

Whiteboards vs. Chart Paper


I was introduced to concept of “Whiteboarding” when I read Frank Noschese’s fantastic blog post titled, “The $2 Interactive Whiteboard” As a former math teacher and math facilitator I was drawn to whiteboarding and socratic dialogues. The whiteboard is such a simple, low tech tool but promotes collaboration, problem solving, communication, basically all of the 7 mathematical processes that I blogged about a few months ago. If you have a few minutes to spare, read the following 5 pg. article on whiteboarding.

There are so many benefits to whiteboarding in the classrooms. I won’t go into details since you can read them on Frank Nochese’s blog mentioned above. However, one question I brought up to Frank on his post was what the difference was between using a whiteboard and just plain chart paper (which up to this point I used very frequently). Other than the obvious benefit of saving paper and trees, he refered to a researcher Colleen Megowan who studied different types of whiteboarding and the affect on student dynamics. Althought it didn’t actually make it into the research paper, she did look at the differences between chart paper and whiteboards and her observations make perfect sense.

When students collaborate using a chart paper most of the thinking and reasoning usually happens before the marker actually touches the paper. This may be due to the fact that students don’t want to make mistakes. Therefore, when students do start writing on the chart paper, it is a summarization of the conversation and the thinking and reasoning that took place before. In addition, Colleen spoke of the “power of the marker” and the fact that usually it is the same student that ends up with the responsibility with writing on the chart paper. Maybe these students are leaders of the group, have the neatest handwriting, or just get to the marker before everyone else but what these students write is their interpretation of the group’s conversation and may not necessarily represent the group’s collaborative thinking.

When students use whiteboards, the writing usually happens as the students converse, reason, and think collaboratively. The ideas written on the whiteboard evolve as the conversation unfolds and is a better representation of the group’s thinking than if written on chart paper. Because the markings can be easily erased, students are immediately  inclined to write without hesitation. Whiteboards are also less intimidating for students and encourage multiple students to contribute and write. In addition, Megowan spoke about the “power of the eraser” and the fact that writing can be erased changes the group dynamics and allows a new role (the eraser) to emerge within the group.

After reading more literature on whiteboarding and socratic dialogues, I was hooked and immediately saw the benefits not only for math but in all subject areas and needed to have a set of six whiteboards for myself to try out. I wanted whiteboards with similar dimensions to standard chart paper (24″ x 32″). I looked into getting whiteboards from Staples but the cheapest whiteboards with the dimensions I was looking for cost about $28 each (with tax, close to $200 for six). I needed a cheaper alternative and Frank mentioned on his blog that educators were going to homedepot, Lowes, or Rona and purchasing 4′ x 8′ tileboard and cutting them into six smaller sections (24″ x 32″). However, my online searches on these stores’ websites for tileboard came up with nothing. I phoned multiple home depots and Rona’s in my surrounding area and several phone calls later, I finally found a Rona that had one panel of 4′ x 8′ tileboard in stock. With my school board discount, I was able to purchase the panel for $37 and didn’t have to pay for the cutting since Rona gives you the first 3 cuts for free. So all in all, each whiteboard came to approx. $6.17. Not quite $2 whiteboards but I am very happy with my whiteboards and I’m very excited to implement and share the whiteboarding strategy with the teachers in my school board.

I’m not advocating that we abolish chart paper from the classroom. Chart paper still has it’s place for ideas that need to have a permanent fixture in the classroom. (anchor charts, learning goals, success criteria) However, there are situations in the classroom where using whiteboards would be more effective for collaboration, thinking, and reasoning than chart paper. The benefits of whiteboarding shouldn’t be ignored and should have a place in the classroom as well. I would love to hear your comments on how you use the whiteboarding strategy in your classroom.

In my next blog post, I will be looking at various websites that offer online whiteboards that allow students and teachers to collaborate online and see if the whiteboarding concept can be implemented in a digital environment. Perhaps the digital environment would have an effect on group dynamics not seen in typical face to face whiteboarding interactions or perhaps new roles would emerge from collaborating online.

Screencasts of Students’ Math Thinking

Last year, I came across a very interesting blog that helped changed my perception of the web in education. Stretch Your Digital Dollar by Katy Scott offers useful ideas for integrating technology into all classrooms. After reading her blog about screencasts, I became fascinated by the possible positive implications this could have in the math classroom. This year, I am looking to delve deeper into screencasting and investigate its positive impact on student learning. I’m interested to hear/see how other educators incorporate this great use of technology in their own classrooms.

I have posted a Glog containing student screencasts of the multiplication strategies that they used to solve a word problem.