In defence of the blackboard

Suman Singh

Nothing has revolutionized education the way the blackboard has. Even after some 200 years, the blackboard continues to dominate classrooms. But with advancements in technology and with classrooms becoming more technology oriented, will the blackboard become obsolete? Will whiteboards and projector screens take over?

student As a teacher, I prefer the blackboard for day-to-day teaching, as I feel it is the most powerful teaching aid, the biggest, and the most visually relevant. Blackboard teaching makes it easier to watch the children and immediately grasp how well or not the lesson is progressing. Writing on the blackboard makes it easier to control content, to go at a speed that allows students to take notes. The blackboard does not hinder writing and teaching at the same time. The teacher can stop when a student wants to clarify something.

When a teacher asks a student to come forward and colour the picture she has drawn on the blackboard, along with learning the colours, the child also learns participation, discipline, and of course social interaction. When students come forward to write answers or do sums on the blackboard, they display their understanding of the subject. As they work their answers, the teacher can easily identify problem areas.

When a student comes to write on the blackboard everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, is actively participating and this interaction makes, the lesson enjoyable. The students gain in confidence, as they have to walk alone to the blackboard.

Blackboards aid in learning spellings, as children are observing and assimilating as the words are being written on the board.

While teaching geographical locations on maps there can be no better aid than the blackboard. Coloured chalk helps to differentiate the port from the river, the gulf from the strait. Though I am not against e-learning I feel that kind of learning forces information on the students. Content written with chalk can be added to or altered according to the progress of the lesson. Moreover, technology-based aids often require the lights in the room to be switched off, therefore the teacher cannot really tell how the students are reacting to the lesson. The points made by students during a discussion cannot be noted down, as easily as they can while using the blackboard. Sometimes, teachers are so engrossed in the actual operation of the computer or the projector that they overlook what the student should actually be learning. Besides, PowerPoint slides and transparencies for projectors have to be made in advance and involve a lot of work. If the size of the transparencies does not adhere to the projector requirements, the display will not be seen or read properly. Teaching can never be spontaneous as with the blackboard.

In my experience, a blackboard helps classroom management as well. Eye contact with the students is easily maintained, and this helps build a relationship with them, which in turn encourages the students to listen to the lesson. The teacher can easily read the expressions on the faces of the children and can change her approach to suit the mood of the class. The teacher has less control on how students behave in the darkened room. Visibility, both for the teacher and the students, is a must in reading body language to maintain discipline. Children need to take their cues from the teacher on forming behaviour patterns.

Replacing the blackboard with projector screens or whiteboards might not be such a good idea in practical terms too. The gritty texture of the blackboard surface has just the right resistance to help children when writing as compared to the slickness of the whiteboard. This is as relevant for teachers too. Chalk is less expensive, especially if one has to write a lot. It doesn’t dry out and can be washed off fingers and clothes more easily than marker ink. Blackboards are easier to clean as well.

Messages like ‘Happy Birthday Teacher’, ‘Happy Teachers’ Day’, ‘Happy Independence Day’, written on the board accompanied by the best of drawings are a delight to see and they help build a relationship between the teacher and her students. The neatly written date, subject, and number of absentees, the thought for the day, are all things teachers expect to see on blackboards. And what of the scores that are kept during spelling bees and quizzes? These are all part of the active learning experience. If these disappeared from the classroom, we’d certainly find something else to replace them with, but we’d definitely miss this best and least expensive teaching aid called the blackboard.

The author is a former senior secondary English teacher and now works as a freelance writer. Her works have been published in print and on the web. She can be reached at suman.susingh@gmail.com.