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Students at the Board: Confidence Booster or Buster?

Teacher and Student at Board.jpg

Presenting solutions to homework or class work in front of the class can be a real confidence booster for students. But it can also be a real confidence buster for them if they come to the board thinking they're experts and their answers turn out to be wrong. And if that's not deflating enough for kids, imagine how they feel standing there as teachers try to rescue them with what amounts to private tutoring in front of their peers.

I've seen this scene play out in many classrooms, including mine until I noticed students slinking to their seats just minutes after skipping to the board. Here's how I eventually prevented this, along with two other keys to ensuring a positive experience for student presenters and their classmates:


  • Accuracy. Of course you should create a classroom culture that promotes risk-taking and learning from mistakes. But the time for helping individual students troubleshoot their mistakes is when they're at their seats, not on stage. That's why you should only call students up to the board when you're sure they have the correct answers. No choosing students at random or asking for volunteers. Instead, you must quickly identify in advance which students are candidates to present solutions to which problems--something I've addressed previously in the context of homework and class openers ("Do Nows").

  • Efficiency. It's common for students to sit idly, socialize, or put their heads down while a classmate is writing on the board. And though teachers often exhort them to pay attention, there's usually nothing for them to pay attention to until their classmate finishes writing. To prevent such aggravation and inefficiency, have students prepare at their seats what they'll be presenting to the class. Ideally students could do this by slapping their papers onto a document camera. But if you don't have a document camera, an old-fashioned overhead projector may be your best option. Once you identify students to present, give them transparencies to transfer their solutions onto while still at their desks--and while the rest of the class has something constructive to do.

  • Necessity. Provide presenters a captive audience by only having them share solutions to questions most of the class struggled with. Here again you'll need a quick way to identify those questions, which you might do by circulating as students are working on an assignment (again, see my prior posts on homework review and "Do Nows"). Interactive whiteboard response systems can also be great for this purpose.

Teachers should rarely if ever do for students what they can do for themselves or each other, so it's great to call kids up to the board to share their answers with classmates--as long as those answers are correct, can be presented efficiently, and will be helpful for the majority of the class.


Image by Mantonino, provided by Dreamstime license

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