From chalkboard to whiteboard, and back

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
I'm on a literacy Inset day. It's shared writing. The facilitator has been modelling a piece of writing based on a scene in Grandfather Chatterjee and asks us to "write down what the next two sentences might be".

We are delighted. Not by the activity, but by the mini-whiteboards we've been given. There's a rustle of activity as we pick up our markers and begin. At the end of the session we evaluate and discuss our thoughts. What new wisdom have we received? What new learning will we transfer to our daily literacy lesson? "I like those boards - could we have a set in each year group do you think?"

It's this amazing new resource that has caught our imagination. Just like the number fans in numeracy, it seems an excellent way of involving the children and checking their understanding. But there's something familiar about them. Aren't whiteboards just a little likeI slates, but white?

I feel ashamed of my enthusiasm for an obvious and reinvented classroom resource. It can be so easy when faced with something new to take the gimmick and magnify its potential. How many more analogies could we find? How often do we invest in something for its surface appeal without considering what cheaper version might be around already?

Publishers and manufacturers have always found ways of selling what we already have, or what we don't need. But they have had a bonanza with the introduction of so many didactic approaches to teaching. From big books to multiple copies of non-fiction, it can be so easy to be glitzed and wooed into spending money on nothing new.

Like many schools, we have spent thousands introducing the literacy strategy. In those initial months we were enamoured by the appearance of all kinds of textbooks that delivered everything, including the planning, the assessment, the range and even tea if we'd asked. It was only a little further down the line (or text or sentence) that we came to recognise the regurgitated nature of the material we'd purchased.

There's someone at reception promoting laptops for every child. Apparently it enables them to be engaged in a task - demonstrating their understanding. Do slates come to mind?

Suzanne Brown is head of Queen's C of E junior school in Nuneaton, Warwickshire

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