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Four Reasons I Love Teaching with Chalk

A box of colored chalks

A few weeks ago, Julie tweeted the following: “timeline tool, schmimeline tool. chalk ftw.” This post led to a conversation among a few of us, ending with Siva Vaidhyanathan requesting a ProfHacker “entry on chalk and boards.” Siva, this one’s for you! (Don’t let it ever be said that we don’t take requests here!)

Here at ProfHacker, we have frequently espoused the wonder of whiteboards. George’s first wish for his ideal classroom is whiteboards, and lots of ‘em. Amy lists a small whiteboard among her favorite academic tools. Jason likes them so much that he likes to turn his iPad into a whiteboard at times. In a post from last year, one of my top pieces of advice for new teachers was to make sure they had their own whiteboard markers with them at all times.

While there are many advantages to the whiteboard — such as no dust, if one is allergic — I had my love of chalk rekindled during the last academic year. While my graduate institution had nothing but whiteboards in its classrooms, the school where I found myself adjuncting (effectively, I hope) only had chalkboards in the rooms that I was assigned. At first, I found this inconvenient. I didn’t have access to the full range of colors that I had grown used to having. Since I’m a bit of klutz, I would occasionally fumble the eraser and end up with a chalk mark down my shirt or pants.

But I quickly discovered that chalk had a number of benefits. In the first place, it was a lot cheaper to carry my own supply than dry erase markers. A year’s supply cost under $3. While whiteboard pen aren’t all that expensive, I would have spent 2-3 times as much, and believe me when I say that I would have missed that $6 last year.

Second, my year’s supply of chalk kept working the whole year long. Just try that with dry erase markers, which always seem to become more and more dry throughout the year. In the past, I inevitably end up with one color that I can count on working and three that limp along and that my students have to keep reminding me that they can’t see from the back of the classroom.

If one problem with dry erase markers is how easily they quit working, another one is how difficult they can be to erase. I’ve had whiteboards in the past where I’ve learned that I can’t use a particular color if I ever want it to come off, and others where I have to work at the board harder than my parents’ silver before Thanksgiving dinner. A chalkboard might generate dust (I’m lucky to not have allergies), but you can get yourself a clean slate (rimshot) before each of your classes without too much difficulty. Being able to leave the board clean for whoever uses the classroom next also helps me

The fourth reason that I like teaching with chalk is that it explodes. Seriously. Every once in a while, I’ve found it effective to underscore a point by throwing a piece of chalk at the board and having it shatter into 10x pieces. Students don’t forget these classes. As I’ve already mentioned, chalk is cheap enough that I can get away with this. I’m not above tossing the odd dry erase marker around, but the results aren’t nearly as effective. Or satisfying.

I’m not the only person here who likes chalkboards. Apart from (the recently retired) Julie, Erin’s reported on her efforts to paint a chalkboard wall to help her plan and keep track of the “Big Picture.” And in our poll about what tech tools our readers were most excited to bring into the classroom, erictho mentioned colored chalk for language teaching.

Do you love teaching with chalk and a chalkboard? Why?

[Lead image by Flickr user Francis Bourgoin / Creative Commons licensed]

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