The student desks in my classroom are fully sealed plastic units with a smooth surface.
Which means you can write on them with a dry wipe marker – a board pen in other words – and it rubs right off.
In fact, doing so makes less of a mess than a whole class activity with the mini whiteboards.
So when a class is settled on a writing activity and they ask for spellings, or “how do you say this in French?”, where before I’d grasp around for a spare pen, or a mini whiteboard from the cupboard, or a piece of paper, or even return to the whiteboard at the front of the room to make a cluttered confusing resource still worse… now, since I am almost always clutching a boardmarker when I am on walkabout anyway, I just write the answer to their question directly on their desk.
The first few times I did it were met with horror, and a bit of pointing and whispering. OMG, sir is writing on the tables. Then it improved engagement – more students asked questions if they thought the answer would get written on their desks.
We have posters in school that say “Stop! What are the rules about this?” and so a common reaction from students is “Sir, are you allowed to do that?” And the next question is “Sir… are WE allowed to do that…?” So you do have to be fairly clear that yes, I can do it, but no, you can’t do it, unless you have permission and you are using the correct type of pen.
I don’t always write an answer. If the question is something I think they should know (differentiated by who they are of course) or something we have laboured recently, I will signpost. Dictionary. Board. Check your book. Here, let me check your book. There. And sometimes it’s bloomin’ obvious – in a glossary on the sheet they are using, for example.
The idea came to me from this article about an English teacher removing barriers to writing and I discussed it further with colleagues this week at an inspiring school literacy training event chock full of ideas. Talk turned to mounting a mini-whiteboard on the classroom door on which to write a hook to catch students’ imaginations on their way in. I wondered whether maybe chalk pens might be the answer – write directly on the door?
Now wondering about writing up some of the common irregular verbs on my classroom windows. Crayola 5 Window Crayons FTW!