Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Power of the Board

The chalk board is a powerful symbol of a teacher's authority, and as such, I confess that I do not like it when my students write on the board, and I rarely allow it. But kids LOVE a chalk board, perhaps for the same reason.

Today I was doing a lesson on the relationship between words and visual images. The students were supposed to take a passage from their books and parse it over the panels of a cartoon, and then illustrate the words. It can be a powerful activity to discover that rather than the proverbial thousand words per picture, sometimes one single word is worth a picture, and a rather detailed one at that.

In the class before lunch, a second language student asked me what a shingle was. Then she asked about a cape. I deduced that it was a cape-style house, and I drew a picture of one on the board; as a good measure, I added a few cedar shakes to the outside. "Can I finish the shingles?" a student asked, and I nodded, having better things to do than detail a chalk sketch.

My assent opened the floodgates. Along with the exterior of the house, kids wanted to add trees, a garden, tornadoes, earthquakes, and a chimney fire. Not to be outdone, other students started drawing things from their books until soon the board was transformed into a fantastic mural. "Stop!" I protested, but half-heartedly, since they were actually pursuing the objectives of the lesson, if only in a tangential way. "I'm just going to erase it when you leave," I finally threatened.

There arose a collective "Nooooooooo!" and so I told them that the only way they could save their masterpiece was to start their group discussions and do them very, very well. They flew to their seats and did a great job in the minutes that remained. As the bell rang, one of them asked me if I would take a picture of the board, and I promised I would. Off they went, quite proudly, to lunch. A nice story, but it doesn't end there.

During lunch, a few other students entered the room to drop off or pick up their things. They were stunned that any kids had been allowed to write on the board. "You like them better than you like us!" they accused me, and I tried to tell them it wasn't so, but in nothing short of outrage, one picked up an eraser and started to obliterate the chalk art. The others joined in with their bare hands until chalk dust powdered the tables and the board was an empty cloud.

"You didn't really need to do that," I said, a little shocked and perplexed. They wanted to write on the board themselves, but I took all the chalk and put it away. "Go to lunch," I told them.

Of course the first group was mad and disappointed to find their work was gone. "That's what happens when chalk is your medium," I told them lightly, but unconsoled, they had some choice words for their eraser-happy classmates.

Maybe my next lesson should be on symbolism.


  1. I really liked this, especially since after school today I went to go put up a spraypaint/wheat paste mural at HB. The timing is uncanny!

  2. How long do those usually last?