Why we use Chalkboards Instead of Whiteboards
Anxieties around the possibility of failure can lead many of our pupils to struggle with the act of mark making; writing or drawing can lead the pupil to feel very exposed. It might seem a practical solution to use interactive whiteboards to simplify and render more immediate the nature of the pupil’s interactions, as well as to provide the teacher with a range of visual and audio resources. However, at Sheiling School, we use chalkboards rather than whiteboards. The reasons for this are as follows:
Insofar as head, heart and hands – thinking, feeling and doing – are equally balanced in the Steiner approach to education, so the importance of art is balanced against the practical element of making and doing, and the more abstract element of thinking. A reverence for the true and beautiful supports a healthy feeling life in the growing child; the emphasis on beauty has more than a purely aesthetic impact. The creation of chalkboard drawings by the teacher, using chalks of highest quality pigment, sets the example of attention to detail, use of colour, and care and devotion in the process of picture making. It also allows the pupil to see the teacher trying their best – irrespective of artistic skill – to make something that is more than merely functional.
Many pupils are hugely anxious about the possibility of error, of making a mistake, which in many cases can lead to anxiety and demand avoidance. One of the most important educational/therapeutic goals for such pupils is the ability to accept the inevitability of error, and the learning opportunities inherent in ‘getting it wrong’. A potential problem with the use of IT is its ‘errorless’ nature – everything is perfectly rendered, answers are immediate, effortless and (apparently) true. The chalkboard has a far more human element, where imperfection is part of the process, and where human error or fallibility is not an indication of dysfunction.
Pivotal to the Steiner approach is the idea that learning involves the whole human being, not simply the brain in isolation. Exploration of physical space – the sense of movement – is understood as central in the healthy evolution of thinking and feeling, therefore movement and rhythm exercises are a crucial aspect of our educational approach. Writing and drawing are seen as another expression of movement and rhythm – the upwards, downwards, forwards, and backwards movement appearing in slow curves or quick diagonals, are as much rhythm and movement exercises as they are renderings of letters of pictorial forms. Even for the pupil who watches the forms taking shape, the nature of the experience is very different than when letters and pictures simply ‘appear’ as they do on a computer screen.
All of our pupils have issues with sensory processing. As such, every opportunity is taken to involve the fullest range of sensory activity with particular emphasis on the earthy and tactile. Chalk on a chalkboard relates to the actual substance of the earth, with a tactile quality that is absent from a screen.
A word that appears on a chalkboard appears instantly and effortlessly. The process of writing or picture making – the unfolding of the word or drawing at a human pace – is part of the ‘breathing’ rhythm of the Steiner approach. That is, processes in IT are inevitably speeded up, giving pupils an impression of effortlessness which, compared to their own halting efforts, makes the act of writing seem laborious, slow and frustrating. We consider the engagement with mark making to be a therapeutic activity (see Movement, above) that not only involves the individual at the deepest levels of volition, it also creates a much more ‘living’ connection with what is actually produced. That the products of mark making are not ‘instant’ is essential in encouraging the deep engagement that leads to true learning, as well as assuaging the anxiety that can arise in the accelerated world of IT.
A great many of our pupils arrive at Sheiling School with issues relating to the use of IT. Often they have not been able to manage the addictive nature of screen technology in a healthy way. Our aim is to enable the pupils to access technology without falling into a common pattern of behaviour where IT seems to be the only thing that matters. To ensure this, we introduce screen-time carefully and meaningfully, with clear ends and the individual pupil’s needs in mind (see IT Policy). We feel it would cause many avoidable issues to have a whiteboard in the classroom at all times.
Our Educational Principles
We foster an experience and appreciation of beauty and higher meaning
We take the time to help young people experience and appreciate beauty in all environments. The moral education of young people is strengthened by maintaining not just a functional environment but a beautiful one.
How we do things is as important as what we do
When educating and supporting young people, the process, the how, is at least as important as the end result. We value warmth, enthusiasm, taking as much time as necessary to ensure quality and always modelling positivity.
Creativity at the heart of education and care
We use creativity to overcome obstacles to learning by always searching for new ways to inspire and engender interest, for example through using art, humour, music and movement.