Whiteboards vs. Chart Paper

credit: whiteboardsusa.com

I was introduced to concept of “Whiteboarding” when I read Frank Noschese’s fantastic blog post titled, “The $2 Interactive Whiteboard” As a former math teacher and math facilitator I was drawn to whiteboarding and socratic dialogues. The whiteboard is such a simple, low tech tool but promotes collaboration, problem solving, communication, basically all of the 7 mathematical processes that I blogged about a few months ago. If you have a few minutes to spare, read the following 5 pg. article on whiteboarding.

There are so many benefits to whiteboarding in the classrooms. I won’t go into details since you can read them on Frank Nochese’s blog mentioned above. However, one question I brought up to Frank on his post was what the difference was between using a whiteboard and just plain chart paper (which up to this point I used very frequently). Other than the obvious benefit of saving paper and trees, he refered to a researcher Colleen Megowan who studied different types of whiteboarding and the affect on student dynamics. Althought it didn’t actually make it into the research paper, she did look at the differences between chart paper and whiteboards and her observations make perfect sense.

When students collaborate using a chart paper most of the thinking and reasoning usually happens before the marker actually touches the paper. This may be due to the fact that students don’t want to make mistakes. Therefore, when students do start writing on the chart paper, it is a summarization of the conversation and the thinking and reasoning that took place before. In addition, Colleen spoke of the “power of the marker” and the fact that usually it is the same student that ends up with the responsibility with writing on the chart paper. Maybe these students are leaders of the group, have the neatest handwriting, or just get to the marker before everyone else but what these students write is their interpretation of the group’s conversation and may not necessarily represent the group’s collaborative thinking.

When students use whiteboards, the writing usually happens as the students converse, reason, and think collaboratively. The ideas written on the whiteboard evolve as the conversation unfolds and is a better representation of the group’s thinking than if written on chart paper. Because the markings can be easily erased, students are immediately  inclined to write without hesitation. Whiteboards are also less intimidating for students and encourage multiple students to contribute and write. In addition, Megowan spoke about the “power of the eraser” and the fact that writing can be erased changes the group dynamics and allows a new role (the eraser) to emerge within the group.

After reading more literature on whiteboarding and socratic dialogues, I was hooked and immediately saw the benefits not only for math but in all subject areas and needed to have a set of six whiteboards for myself to try out. I wanted whiteboards with similar dimensions to standard chart paper (24″ x 32″). I looked into getting whiteboards from Staples but the cheapest whiteboards with the dimensions I was looking for cost about $28 each (with tax, close to $200 for six). I needed a cheaper alternative and Frank mentioned on his blog that educators were going to homedepot, Lowes, or Rona and purchasing 4′ x 8′ tileboard and cutting them into six smaller sections (24″ x 32″). However, my online searches on these stores’ websites for tileboard came up with nothing. I phoned multiple home depots and Rona’s in my surrounding area and several phone calls later, I finally found a Rona that had one panel of 4′ x 8′ tileboard in stock. With my school board discount, I was able to purchase the panel for $37 and didn’t have to pay for the cutting since Rona gives you the first 3 cuts for free. So all in all, each whiteboard came to approx. $6.17. Not quite $2 whiteboards but I am very happy with my whiteboards and I’m very excited to implement and share the whiteboarding strategy with the teachers in my school board.

I’m not advocating that we abolish chart paper from the classroom. Chart paper still has it’s place for ideas that need to have a permanent fixture in the classroom. (anchor charts, learning goals, success criteria) However, there are situations in the classroom where using whiteboards would be more effective for collaboration, thinking, and reasoning than chart paper. The benefits of whiteboarding shouldn’t be ignored and should have a place in the classroom as well. I would love to hear your comments on how you use the whiteboarding strategy in your classroom.

In my next blog post, I will be looking at various websites that offer online whiteboards that allow students and teachers to collaborate online and see if the whiteboarding concept can be implemented in a digital environment. Perhaps the digital environment would have an effect on group dynamics not seen in typical face to face whiteboarding interactions or perhaps new roles would emerge from collaborating online.

16 thoughts on “Whiteboards vs. Chart Paper

  1. I love using whiteboards in class. I just received 6 new white boards delivered to my classroom. I do agree that chart paper is still important. A lot of the time, I will have the students work out all of their ideas on the white board, and if I feel it necessary, I will have them transfer it to chart paper.

    1. Thanks for sharing how you use whiteboards in your classroom. I like your idea of of transfering great ideas or strategies on to chart paper as exemplars or anchor charts. I’m also thinking that educators could take pictures of whiteboards and post them on a online canvas using linoit.com for other students to comment on. Sometimes wall space in classrooms is prime real estate and student work can’t stay up there forever. Posting them in an online environment would be a great to preserve great student thinking and keep the learning ongoing if it posted on a web 2.0 site like linoit for others to give feedback. I wrote a blog post about using Lino it for online gallery walks.

      Thanks again,

  2. I also find that the students are more likely to erase and try a new strategy when using whiteboards. I take pictures using an ipod and transfer them to the classroom computer if we want to keep a record of the solution to a problem. Students also use the ipod to record strategies they have used so they can share with other students. In the new year I am going to put these on line so they are accessible at home and school.

    1. Great choice to put your students’ recorded strategies and pictures online. It’s so much more effective when they can be accessed from any computer and device.

  3. I agree that white boards are an incredibly effective way of teaching but I’ve never even heard of chart paper. When I was in school we used chalk boards and there was an occasional classroom that had white boards. Now days the kids are getting fancy with the new “interactive white boards”. What do you think about the digital white boards?

  4. Below is info on whiteboards. They are great tools for learning!
    It’s recommended that you wax them before you use them. They’ll last MUCH longer, teachers say.

    At the modeling website are several articles on care of w/b’s, questions, whiteboarding strategies. Visit

    Here is an excerpt:
    AN INEXPENSIVE whiteboard IS MARLITE, or kitchen/bathroom tileboard or economy board. It can be bought at building materials stores, hardware stores, and home improvement stores like Home Depot or Loews. It comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets, for about $15 per sheet. Have them cut it into 6 equal pieces, each 24″ x 32″. They charge about $.50 per cut; and for teachers they sometimes do it for free.

    Be careful to get Marlite, not vinyl tileboard!!

    I visited Home Depot in summer 2007 and jotted down the product name and number of the boards that I bought for Modeling Workshop teachers. It is:
    Thrifty white tileboard
    by Eucatex North America
    C 346-428

    You’ll probably need from 12 to 36 whiteboards and 18 to 36 dry erase markers.

    Marlite boards last a couple of years (using them for 5 classes daily) before they get too scratched up and stained to use. If you wax the boards after you buy them, that preserves them. Use Endust, Meguiars Mirror Glaze #26 or liquid car wax (Turtle Wax). You can clean stains with brake fluid. (Your school custodian may know these tricks.) Wipe them with a rag, paper towel, or whiteboard eraser, and don’t leave writing on them over the weekend.
    Clean them occasionally with whiteboard cleaner (e.g., from Sanford Expo), window cleaner,”Simple Green” (it’s non-toxic & biodegradable; buy a gallon, dilute it 5-fold, and dispense it in small spray bottles from the craft store), or isopropyl alcohol (from grocery store: 70%) on a paper towel. Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is the main ingredient of the commercial cleaners that you can buy.
    A teacher wrote, “I always have to leave my whiteboards overnight with writing on them – I use 409 to clean them and it works great! My whiteboards are 8 years old and still look good.” Another teacher said, “When the dry erase marks get difficult to erase, clean the erasers with a hose vacuum cleaner.” Wax them occasionally to guard against scratching.

    A handle is nice but not essential. Have the shop class use a router to make a hole that’s 6″ long x 1 1/2″ wide, placed 1″ below the top. Or drill a hole and use a saber saw (jig saw) with the highest quality size 18 blade. The high quality fine blade is needed to prevent tearing.

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