Are mini-whiteboards the ultimate teaching and learning resource?
There are no shortage of resources out there to give a teacher some feedback on what pupils have learned. Assessment for Learning (AfL) is without doubt a good thing, but there are good and bad ways to go about it.
The array of technological options to conduct AfL is bewildering. Services like www.polleverywhere.com allow you to set up multiple choice questions where pupils text their answer and the graphic of the results updates in real time. Some teachers are using ‘Twitter back-channeling‘ where they set up a Twitter hashtag for their class and get pupils to tweet questions, answers and ideas which then appear in a real-time stream on the interactive whiteboard. I have seen this idea work very well in conferences and university lectures where questions from the audience have been selected from the stream. It encourages audience participation. Online multiple choice tests using Google Docs forms is another popular AfL tool of late where pupils fill in an online questionnaire that revises their learning of a topic.
Other less technologically advanced methods I have seen used include traffic lighting, where pupils put a coloured card out on their desk, or draw a traffic light in their book to indicate how well they are doing on a topic. Thumbs up or down is another technique that is very quick for getting a judgement on whether pupils think they understand something. Raising fingers from 0 to 10 to indicate a confidence level is another approach. Asking pupils ‘what do you think I wanted you to learn today?’ is a nice plenary now and again.
One of the worst approaches is the ‘raise your hand if you don’t understand’ strategy. What self-conscious teenager is going to admit that amongst their peers?!
I may be controversial here, but I think none of the aforementioned AfL techniques work as well as mini-whiteboards. They are the ultimate teaching resource for getting instant feedback, with 100% participation from pupils. You could ask pupils to text in their answer, but what about those who then check their Facebook? You could get them to reply via a Twitter back-channel but how do they enter algebraic answers and isn’t it quite distracting to see that feed constantly updating? Google Docs Form questionnaires work but you can’t enter images or algebra and most people don’t have computing devices to hand in lessons. Traffic lighting, thumbs, fingers and raising hands if you don’t understand are strategies that often result in peer pressure leading to the ones who need help not broadcasting it and trying to fit in with the crowd. Also, how many times when you’ve used traffic lighting have the more needy children who are actually fine with the maths put out a red light, while the kids who are confidently doing something wrong show a green? Traffic lighting doesn’t account for ignorance!
Don’t mini-whiteboards address all these issues?! You get instant feedback from every child. They aren’t broadcasting that they think they don’t understand something, they are giving you an actual mathematical answer that you judge the accuracy of yourself. It is more subtle than directly admitting you can’t do something in front of your peers. What other AfL technique flushes out misconceptions the way mini-whiteboards do? They allow algebraic answers just as easily as numerical or wordy ones. Within a few minutes of a mini-whiteboard starter, asking probing questions you can easily understand what level of previous knowledge pupils have on a topic. You know which kids to differentiate for at both ends. In a mini-whiteboard plenary you can ask key questions and judge for yourself whether the kids understand what it is you wanted them to learn. At under £50 for a class set, you’ll do well to find a better value AfL resource.
I’m open minded to new AfL strategies and technological options, but they have to offer something better for teaching and learning than existing approaches. As yet, I’ve not seen a better way of getting specific, instant feedback in a way that 100% of kids engage with than mini-whiteboards. For now, they’re here to stay in my classroom.
Some tips I’ve gained from wonderful people about managing and getting the most from mini-whiteboards:
- Set pupils a question to answer before you give the boards out. It gets them focused straight away.
- Alternatively… They have the creative urge to draw pictures; embrace it. Give them 1 min to draw the best picture of Marge Simpson or a breakdancing stickman, then judge the winner. Then say “now we get on with the maths…” They know they get the time to expunge their creative desires then will focus on the maths, especially if they know this is the deal.
- Get them to answer their question on the mini-whiteboard but then to all raise them together. This avoids the people who are a bit slower from just copying from what they see most people have done.
- Make one a question then pass it on. Get pupils creating questions and then passing to others to solve. It then gets passed on to someone else to check, mark and if necessary, correct. Interesting discussions about the maths can follow!
- Go around the room and grab a selection of whiteboards with kid’s answers on. Some correct ones and some with misconceptions. Shuffle them, then discuss key issues. That way it is not immediately obvious whose wrong answer you are discussing. The kids often then feel less worried about making mistakes and are more willing to have a go.