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When are mini whiteboards fit-for-purpose?

 
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debbie



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Location: UK

PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:02 pm    Post subject: When are mini whiteboards fit-for-purpose? Reply with quote

I've long since been critical of over-use, or mis-use of mini whiteboards for phonics provision - and so I thought it would be interesting and helpful to copy and paste a discussion taking place via one of my professional networks:

The use of mini whiteboards is so common in many schools - including in secondary schools - that I think it is long overdue for teachers to think deeply about when they are the best resource possible in a range of circumstances.

Are there circumstances where there could be better decisions made and more fit-for-purpose resources used than mini whiteboards?

Here is some of the content that generated a discussion. This conversation started with this quote:

Quote:
Turning Student Mistakes Into Teachable Moments -

"...in the classroom, it can be challenging to overcome the built-in stigma associated with mistakes or with being “wrong.” To do so requires deliberately cultivating a safe and caring atmosphere in which mistakes are welcomed as a normal, natural — and ultimately very important — part of the learning process." (Patricia De Saracho)


I agree that learners must be made to feel safe to make mistakes, and it's OK not to know something in a 'safe and caring atmosphere in which mistakes are welcomed as normal, natural - and ultimately very important - part of the learning process'. So much so, I build such an ethos into the teacher-training and design of my phonics resources and programmes. Thus, I responded by contributing this to the DDOLL conversation:

Quote:
This is a huge issue for me – making it clear to children from the very youngest age that it is OK not to know something (or be able to do something) because they’re learning and we, the teachers, are responsible for teaching them well enough and giving them enough practice.

This is very much the built-in ethos in my approach to phonics provision (I often refer to this as ‘foundational literacy’) because I think it is SO important.

There are a number of ways I choose to address this. Subject specific (but relevant for all reading and writing work) is that the English alphabetic code is the most complex alphabetic code in the world – and it’s code. The tangible notion of the alphabetic code is use of the overview Alphabetic Code Charts to indicate the big picture, along with the reassurance that teachers will teach and support the children for a long time, that’s is OK – and understandable – to struggle with reading and spelling and that we, the adults, are there to help them with that.

Further, I’m no fan of mini whiteboards, and frequently come across many adults’ rationale that children like them because they can rub off their mistakes.

But why should children even worry about making any ‘mistakes’? They’re only learning. Of course they are going to make many mistakes.

[Actually, the reality I have observed on many occasions in lessons is teachers not even noting children’s mistakes or doing anything about them. The content is wiped off, the mistakes are not addressed, they’re ignored and therefore embedded for some children. In addition, lack of follow-through includes ignorant bliss of senior managers and parents/carers. And so it begins….]

Equally, we want children to be fearless to attempt reading unknown words and to spell unknown words, but teachers surely must feel fearless to correct them or ‘help them with that word’ – attributing the difficulty to the code itself and not to the child.

I could go on and on about this… no doubt I will in the future and no doubt I already have in the past.


Someone soon responded and wrote this:

Quote:
I think it's possible for mini-whiteboards to be used to good effect. This happened in the Clackmannanshire study, and I've also seen it happening elsewhere. No doubt there can be a down-side, but there may be a baby-and-bathwater issue.

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Debbie Hepplewhite


Last edited by debbie on Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:23 pm; edited 2 times in total
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debbie



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another person soon responded with her personal observations of classroom practice:

Quote:
Here in England, I often see children sitting on the floor in awkward positions holding fat pens in strange ways with mini-white boards on the floor or balanced on laps. I see what Debbie described - the children make mistakes, no-one notices and the board gets rubbed clean. Recently a teacher told me she likes this routine, because she thinks it is disruptive to have children move from the carpet to a table and chair to write.

In a different school, I saw a young teacher with a class of 4 and 5 year olds. The children sat on the carpet in front of her for the introduction of their phonics lesson. Then the teacher gave a signal and, without any fuss, the children got up and went to their places at tables where each child had a pencil and a lined exercise book ready for writing. They wrote letters and words that the teacher dictated. Some wrote the letters within the lines and some didn't manage that. Sometimes a child noticed a mistake and just wrote the letter or word again correctly. Sometimes the teacher helped correct a mistake. The atmosphere was calm and the children appeared happy and enthusiastic about their work.

I agree with Debbie. Paper and pencil are much better than mini-whiteboard and pen for learning to write. Children take pride in a record of their work. Children, parents and teachers can look back and see progress. The children learn to hold and control a pencil, sitting comfortably.


And then I added this further explanation to support my current view based on observations:

Quote:
_ _ _ _ wrote:

“I think it’s possible for mini-whiteboards to be used to good effect.”

I would not disagree with this – and there are probably many schools getting good phonics results where mini whiteboard use is the main resource.

I think it doesn’t hurt, however, to share some thinking behind the most ‘fit for purpose’ use of mini whiteboards and whether, or when, their use is not so fit for purpose or paper and pencil activities would be better still.

Mini whiteboards have been used in the early stages for beginners for sound-to-print spelling purposes. This was often accompanied by using magnetic letters or magnetic grapheme tiles. The teacher says a word, the sounds are identified, and then the children select from a group of grapheme tiles or magnetic letters to spell the word. This is the kind of practice used in the Clackmannanshire studies I believe.

This type of activity is a spelling activity not a reading activity although sounding out the selected letters and letter groups to check the spelling is part and parcel of the activity. I have no criticism of this kind of activity in the very early stages of teaching the phonics sub-skills and core skill of spelling.

When many letter/s-sound correspondences have been taught already, this type of activity gets more and more unwieldy and, in any event, children should be able to handwrite the letter shapes as time goes on in place of using the manipulatives. This becomes a more ‘full’ spelling activity.

Another fit-for-purpose role for mini whiteboard use is with big groups or whole classes of children for a ‘quick fire, show me’ type of activity. Again, though, this is based on sound to print spelling and not print to sound reading. This could be done some of the time, but increasingly I would promote the spelling activity taking place with paper and pencils to be better still than mini whiteboard writing – for a number of reasons.

Spelling with mini whiteboards goes like this:

The adult calls out a sound, the children write the letter or letter group for the sound, then show their mini whiteboards by raising them in the air. This is a sub-skill of spelling. Or the adult says a word, the children identify the sounds from beginning to end of the word, then they write the word, then they show the teacher. This is also appropriate for spelling practice.

The adult may use mini whiteboard use for spelling high frequency words – some of which are more challenging in their spelling and need special attention.

But, where practice is dominated by mini whiteboard practice as a continuum, without any paper-based work, the downsides of no tangible writing or evidence to show progress – indeed to celebrate progress – is not so fit for purpose – and missing out on the many advantages of work taking place on paper.

Further, when we want children to work from print to sound for decoding/reading practice, this is not something that mini whiteboard activities provide. In some schools, then, this is a missing element of their practice. It could be that children get their blending practice in other ways – for example, work on an interactive whiteboard shared with the whole class, or printed words provided for sorting – such as the ‘Treasure Chest’ game – although to be honest I’m critical of asking children to sort real words from nonsense words when I suggest the time could be better spent practising with real words instead.

Arguably what we need is for teachers (and others) to appreciate the most suitable type of resource, and the most suitable type of activities, to provide foundational literacy.

Then we could do with the researchers looking at existing practices and programmes to see if their differences make any real difference to the children themselves.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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debbie



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We then had this confirmation and description of how mini whiteboards were put to GOOD use in the Clackmannanshire study which was very helpful information and confirmed my understanding of use of the whiteboards:

Quote:
I’ve done a quick check on the way mini-whiteboards were used in the Clackmannanshire study. That study was done over a 16-week period with whole classes of beginners. With the synthetic phonics classes, mini-whiteboards were used with magnetic letters for early spelling activities. Children identified the sounds in a spoken word (e.g. ‘tap’) and arranged the magnetic letters on their whiteboards to spell the word. They left spaces between the letters at first, but then pushed them together, which would have reinforced the idea of blending for reading, where a similar pushing-together of letters was done. They then progressed to writing the word under the plastic letters on their whiteboards, but there was also practice at writing on paper with pencils, which is important when handwriting is the focus. I can see the point, however, of early practice in spelling skills where handwriting is not the focus.

I agree that having a permanent record becomes important early on, but I would want to avoid blanket criticism of mini-whiteboards in view of the way they were used in the Clackmannanshire study, which has been such a force for good in England.

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debbie



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was really great to then receive a response where someone had gone on to reflect on mini whiteboard use in a specific tutoring context - this was the comment:

Quote:
This is not about using whiteboards for the whole class, not sure about that …

But --- I am starting to agree with the point about losing a record of the pupil’s writing and thinking when you use a whiteboard. I’ve always been a fan of using the whiteboard for tutoring phonics and spelling because it is easy to rub out letters and show the pupil how you can change the word. It is probably OK to do this as a tutor, to write on the board, but I am filling in for a friend at the moment and tutoring an 11-year-old at his school and for the first couple of sessions I got him to write things down and the last session I used a whiteboard.

I was looking at the whiteboard yesterday as I was packing up and thought, yikes, there are some interesting spelling things he has written but I am going to lose them as soon as I rub it all off. In the past, in our reading centre, when we had lots of pupils going through each week, we used whiteboards but I think the price was that we lost a lot of the pupils’ work, nothing to look back at and diagnose for planning future lessons. I think we should have had a workbook for each pupil – could have used that data for something, maybe an article … but too late now … I was probably captured by the glamour of using a whiteboard … So from now on I am going to write in a notebook and have him do that too so I can look back and see the drift of the lesson after each session. But I might take the whiteboard along for a while just in case … while I try to transition.

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debbie



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought this was a good time to elaborate on some of my thoughts:

Quote:
I’m so pleased that you’ve been given some food for thought about your own practice with individual children.

And thanks to _ _ _ _ for confirming that in the Clackmannanshire provision, beginners were given whiteboards to manipulate magnetic letters for their early code-based activities prior to them bringing in handwriting. This is a really good and fit-for-purpose use of mini whiteboards and I am not critical of this type of use.

I would like to return, however, to my constant repetition of the difference between sound-to-print activities which practise the sub-skills and core skill of spelling which starts with a sound, or a spoken word, or a spoken sentence – and the print-to-sound activities which in an ideal world should (surely) provide children (whether for individual tuition, or in whole class work but for each child) with printed code, and printed words, and printed decodable sentences to work with.

Now, how is this ‘print’ provided? Is this provided well enough, or in good enough balance, with sound-to-print activities?
This is a HUGE question.

My observations in real classrooms, and via much video footage, is that there is little evidence of each child being given their own printed code/words/sentences/texts to work with.

If phonics provision is dominated by what I call ‘mini whiteboard’ work (not of the kind described by _ _ _ _ for the youngest of beginners) but of the kind where after a bit of whole class ‘revisit and review’ of the alphabetic code (for example, through flash cards with graphemes on where children see the letters or letter groups and call out the sounds collectively) – then go on to have mini whiteboards each to write down some graphemes, words, or sentences provided by the adult, then what about their practice with print?

It could be that the school then provides practice with print via their stock of cumulative, decodable reading books.

In which case, if the books were content-rich enough and each child could be heard reading, routinely, this combination of mini whiteboard (spelling activities) with reading reading books may well be sufficient – and the reading may not be considered to be part of the discrete phonics lessons per se, but may still contribute to the phonics reading practice.

Where schools may fall short is if they are mini whiteboard schools which provides phonics spelling practice – but then their stock of reading books are the whole language or repetitive or predictable type which are not matched to the alphabetic code being taught in the phonics lessons.

What you should now be getting a picture of in your heads is how phonics provision, coupled with individual children’s reading provision can already look very different even if the phonics provision is similar, the outcomes for the slowest-to-learn, language-impoverished children will probably be lesser in the more eclectic diet of phonics plus books which by teaching or by default lead to more multi-cueing word-guessing for the children’s reading profiles. Children with dyslexic tendencies are less likely to fare well in the eclectic schools even with systematic synthetic phonics provision.

Ah – but if the books are not decodable, and the phonics provision is actually spelling, not reading, then this is NOT a diet of SYNTHETIC phonics – because the ‘synthetic’ word is from ‘to synthesise’ meaning sounding out and blending.

The ‘systematic synthetic phonics’ TEACHING PRINCIPLES, however, include both print to sound decoding and sound to print encoding – and Sir Jim Rose included this wonderful, simple description in his world-renowned final report (2006).

I included this description in extracts that I took out of Jim’s report at the time, along with some other very important points, see the attached extracts (see paragraph 51).

Tom’s reflection, therefore, seemed to be based on whether during the teaching or tutoring session, anything recorded on the whiteboard might be better recorded in an exercise book, to enable a permanent record (of current work and progress).

Then it was noted that photos could be taken of the whiteboard work – but would this ‘belong’ to the child and inform the parent – not really unless the photo was supplied.

I know that in many schools, there is plenty of photocopying of mini whiteboard work for some children when it is considered worthy of noting.

But I’m not just referring to the issue of writing on paper with pencils or pens being better than writing on mini whiteboards with whiteboard markers, I’m also raising the question of what is supplied to the children IN PRINT for them to practise their decoding – and then, further, to work on vocabulary enrichment, engage children with a sense of their own learning, and to inform parents routinely and to aspire to work in partnership with parents.

Further still, when work in print is provided to the children for their phonics provision, it is amazingly fit-for-purpose for ‘revisit and review’ work which is commonly the beginning part of the phonics lesson (of the phonics ‘teaching and learning cycle’) – for mainstream, but the child’s printed work accumulating in a phonics folder or workbook is also suitable for little and often intervention – which can be conducted by any supporting adult – e.g. teaching assistants, tutors, parents, carers.

Thus, I maintain we probably don’t need any more research at all to inform us in the Five Pillars of Literacy and to provide systematic synthetic phonics provision, but surely the research emphasis now would be a couple of points of interest:

The quality of the delivery of phonics provision including its integration into the wider curriculum and whether teachers are following the guidance of any specific phonics programmes adopted (at all or well enough)

The differences between phonics programmes’ resource design and guidance to see whether we can understand these differences and whether they actually make a difference.

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Debbie Hepplewhite


Last edited by debbie on Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:21 pm; edited 1 time in total
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debbie



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PostPosted: Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here is the extract from Sir Jim Rose's Final Report, paragraph 51, that I refer to in the message immediately above:

Quote:
51. the case for systematic phonic work is overwhelming and
much strengthened by a synthetic approach, the key features of
which are to teach beginner readers:

*grapheme/phoneme (letter/sound) correspondences (the
alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental
sequence
*to apply the highly important skill of blending
(synthesizing) phonemes in order, all through a word to
read it
*to apply the skills of segmenting words into their
constituent phonemes to spell
*that blending and segmenting are reversible processes
.

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