Romanticizing the blackboard

Lewis Buzbee said:

It’s true that in the pods-and-pinwheel design students can more easily work in smaller groups, but such pods, of course, also offer more opportunity for subterfuge and mutiny.

The blackboard-centered classroom offers more than pedagogical efficiency; it also offers an effective set of teaching possibilities. In such a classroom students are focused on the teacher (on a good day), but most importantly, they are focused. The teacher is not the focus of the class but rather a lens through which the lesson is created and clarified. The teacher draws the class toward her, but she projects the lessons onto the blackboard behind her, a blank surface upon which smaller ideas may be gathered into larger ones. The blackboard is the surface of thought.

The physical dramatics of the classroom – all those bodies and brains ritually focused – can create a new and singular mind, and foster in the individual student an urgent hunger to learn. A good teacher … can, with a nod or a wink, or by simply repeating a key phrase slowly and with certain emphasis, maybe leaning toward her student body, deliver a chapter’s worth of information instantly and unforgettably. Otherwise, we might as well stay home and read to ourselves. The teacher commands her audience, conducts them.


So, basically, the blackboard is desirable because it’s an instrument for teacher control over mutinous students…

6 Responses to “Romanticizing the blackboard”

  1. Have you seen Nearpod? Extend the blackboard right out to the students’ iPads! Sigh…

    • If the blackboard is used as a control mechanism then how much learning is actually taking place? I would find it incredibly disappointing if a teacher used the tools of learning as a metaphorical whip to keep misbehaving students in line.

  2. I’m not sure that is fair, with all due respect. Especially after reading the full article, I appreciate and find value in his observation that when a class is fully engaged and cooperatively interacting with material the result is something greater than the sum of its parts, and that can be effectively focused by the teacher and captured on the communal surface of a chalkboard, white board, or (as mentioned in the article) Smart board. Didactic instruction is not without merit or value.

  3. True, true. But the flavor of the article, at least from my read, was not a focus on enslaving and manipulating, but rather a celebration of the positive aspects of a shared, universally observable joining of idea and successes and failures.

    I teach 7th grade Ancient History in a classroom intentionally laid out as six tables facing the whiteboard. Our school is heavenly focused on Socratics seminars once they reach 9th grade, but in 7th and 8th grades they also “learn to learn”. Our typical class session is large doses of group discussion of the homework, i.e. simply reading a chapter in the history text.

    What starts as a black white space fills up almost entirely with what they see as important ideas, their questions, my additions to the text information, connections between the current and past material…all in a giant mind map.

    What we create together each day is different than what any student could do alone, or I could do alone. It is different than last year’s class and next years’ class. And whether it be a chalkboard, whiteboard or Smart board, the visual connections and structure are an invaluable piece of what goes on.

    I got the same feel from this article, a celebration of the potential of learning together, with and from each other.

    • I love how we bring different lenses to our reading based on our experiences. The feel I got from this article was one of celebration of teacher in control, not student empowerment.

      Thanks for sharing your perspectives. Your school sounds neat!

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