In School in Germany: Teaching Method- The Chalkboard

Here’s a question I have for all those learning a foreign language, in particular those teaching English in Germany:
Apart from the teaching book (German: Lehrbuch), what type of medium do you use for teaching foreign language classes, and for each medium, how do you use it?
As part of the series on my practical experience in a German Gymnasium, I will present some media that I and others have used, plus all the advantages and disadvantages that go along with each one.
I’ll start with our traditional use for the classroom: the good old fashion blackboard
Dating back to the stone age, the chalk and board was the earliest form of communication, as cave people drew pictures and used hieroglyphics on small tablets and rocks with certain forms of chalk or stick to explain stories and provide information that was important to them in their time. Many of these hieroglyphics still exists today- withstanding the test of time- and have been protected as historical sites.
Over 200 years ago the chalkboard was the only medium used in the one-room school houses and institutions of education, with many pupils having their own tablets to use for their assignments, whether it was for arithmetic, spelling or the like. When looking at the scene from the TV-series Little House, you can imagine what school life was like back then in comparison with right now.
Despite the advances in technology, with the white board (with text marker), the Smart Board (with electronic pens), TV and internet and other forms of 2.0 technology, schools nowadays still stick to the chalkboard as the main medium for teaching, especially when it comes to teaching foreign languages.  From the teacher’s point of view, there are many benefits and drawbacks to using this form of medium, many of which I’ve seen so far despite being in Gymnasium for a few days now:
ADVANTAGES:
Drawing diagrams, mind maps and pictures:  Many Americans know John Madden, the former sportscaster and commentator whose signature for all American football games for four decades was the usage of the electronic TV board, where his scribbling and descriptions could be seen on TV.  For those who don’t know him, here are a couple examples:

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His source of inspiration: the chalkboard. For teachers who love to draw, the chalkboard for them is a lover’s paradise. You can make use of drawing diagrams, images and the like and still manage to capture the attention of the students and have them learn something.
Vocabulary:  This is useful, especially if you are teaching a foreign language class, like I am doing with English. There are two benefits of doing this: 1. To provide the students with information about the word’s meaning and 2. To help them with their pronunciation. In this case, I usually write the word down, have the students pronounce it and, if necessary, place accents on the syllables that are stressed in these words. This way, it helps students know how to speak it correctly, esp. as in some languages, like French and German, the way of pronouncing it is different than that of English.
Facts and points about theme:  For subjects like history, social studies and natural sciences, having these facts on the board provides a students with an opportunity to learn about the theme, let alone write them down in their notes to use for their exams. A classic example of how this works is with the Potsdamer Conference, where the key points would include the participants and their views on the future of Germany after the Fall of Hitler, a plan for the country (which was partitioning it into four sectors), and the Start of the Cold War, where Truman and Stalin had their first of many altercations to come in the 40-year conflict, using Germany as the chessboard.
Organization: Through mind-maps and outlines, organizing can help guide students through the agenda without getting lost.  Sometimes it serves as a complement to a presentation.
Games and interaction: I find this one to be the liveliest as far as the use of the chalkboard is concerned.  Whether it’s Pictionary, Hangman and Wheel of Fortune for foreign languages, Jeopardy for other subjects and other activities, one can make a session  an enjoyable experience with this method as it encourages students to test their skills and learn new things that are considered useful in the future.
DISADVANTAGES:
In spite of the advantages of the chalkboard, there are some drawbacks to using this traditional method, some of which I’ve observed so far in my observation of the classes so far, others from my own experience.  For example:
Handwriting: While doctors lead the pack when it comes to sloppy handwriting that is illegible, teachers and sometimes students are in a distant second place. While the advantage of practicing their writing is clear, sometimes the handwriting can be difficult to read. Whenever the student asks you what it is on the board or says that he/she cannot read it, then it is not a good sign.
Time consumption:  The biggest critique to using the board is the time consumption, both on the part of the teacher as well as the students having to copy the info on the board. Unless you integrate it into your Frontalunterricht, writing down the info to allow students to copy can take vast amounts of time away, unless you leave some space aside to write down some more topics.
Space: While the chalkboard may be big enough to write down everything you want, making sure you have enough space to write is something the teacher to take in mind. There may be lots to write down for the students, but if the teacher runs out of space and has to erase some information from the board, it might put some students at a disadvantage if they had not taken down the notes from the board prior to it being taken off.

Balancing out the positives and negatives, there are many ways that the chalkboard is being used in the classroom in my observations. One is for writing down facts and allowing students to copy the information. Another is for the purpose of providing questions in connection with the reading materials. Then you have the vocabulary words and grammar, which is useful, even when you give the students the chance to write down the answers.  And some diagrams and outlines have also been used in connection with the lessons in the class.  However, despite the chalkboard being the “sole medium” for teaching, there are other forms of media that can be used to make teaching more effective, and even enjoyable too.  There’s the overhead projector- useful for outlines, diagrams and questions and vocabulary lists. There’s the computer with various programs that are useful for learning.  And sometimes when your students don’t like writing and copying down info, there is the old-fashioned worksheet that has everything the student needs for the next subject.  How a teacher plans his courses depends on the subject, what forms of media he/she is comfortable with, and how interesting can a topic be with any sort of media.  The chalkboard will never die off and will be used many times, but with the advancement of technology in the classroom, we’ll most likely see this traditional form of media become a complement instead of the norm.
How so?  In my case, I use the chalkboard for gaming purposes, such as what I’ve mentioned earlier in the article. However, even more useful are the vocabulary words not only for defining words but also for pronunciation, all written in a small box reserved exclusively for that purpose. And yes, one should add some grammar examples to help students with their exercises they are doing to better their knowledge of foreign languages.  There are other ways of using the chalkboard for complementary purposes, but these are some that can be tried. Yet if one needs to write extensively on the board, put some time aside before class, so that more time is needed to interact with the students. Only then will it will be effective and useful.

 

 

 

FRAGE FÜR DAS FORUM:
What is understood by Frontalunterricht?
a. The teacher stands in front of the group and talks to them about a topic.
b. The students listen and write down the info presented by the teacher.
c. There is a presentation involved
d. There is little room for discussion, only question and answer sessions.
e. All of the above.

Place your answers down in the comment section here or on the Files‘ facebook page. In addition to that, how do you use the chalkboard in class, and do you agree with the author‘s suggestions? Add your comments as well and we hope to have a discussion going. :-)

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One Comment

  • Sarah says:

    Our new school (built in 2008) has only chalkboards in the classrooms. We have one, maybe two overhead projectors for 8 classes – I don’t use it/them as they are already in use or I can’t find where it is and if it is on another floor, I have to beg for the key for the elevator from the secretary, who is not always in the office, sick or we are only allowed in to her during breakfast or lunch break. We also don’t have projector screens in the classroom, and it’s usually too high on the wall or has the doorframe cutting through the picture (therefore I also stray away from a computer with projector). Our school is also very sparse with projector “Folie”.

    Also, for the chalkboards, there aren’t typical erasers like we know from the US – Germans tend to always use a wet sponge to erase everything, which is irritating when you want to continue writing something as it takes a long time to dry and if you write on the wet chalkboard, it is not usually legiable even after it has dried.

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