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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chalk and Talk

I learned the phrase chalk and talk from Thomas's blog. The idea is that you don't need much more than some human beings in the same place talking, and some kind of chalkboard or dry erase board to convey the spelling of a proper name once in a while. I found it interesting that the dictionary definition, and some other links I found, used it in derogatory way. The beauty of this approach is that it is simple. No bullshit theory about learning styles, how some people need to be tapping their foot when learning. Just the primary text, some human beings, and a place where they can meet together.

Even the way I use blogging is chalk and talk. It is must me, talking through my keyboard, and some people reading what I wrote. I'll put up an image only when I need to or feel like it. Powerpoint is nothing more than chalk and talk with some images and special effects added, and the text done ahead of time. I'm sure it's useful it you want a legible form of a mathematical equation, or are teaching art history. The same way a music professor needs a piano in the room and / or a way to play recorded music. There is no reason, however, for denigrating traditional chalk and talk methods of teaching. Socrates probably didn't even need chalk.


j. said...

generations of mathematics teaching proves that legible equations can be produced with chalk supplemented by talk!

Jonathan said...

I'm sure that's true. I was just trying to think of examples that supported use of the dreaded powerpoint.

GMP said...

I am in a "hard science" STEM field and I am an unapologetic chalk-and-talker. On a rare occasion, I will show a video clip or some pictures that are hard or ineffective to draw, but otherwise it's me talking to and with the class, aided by equations, drawings, and an occasional bullet point worth of text.

Jonathan said...

Yes, what is the assumption that you need more than this?

*Students need it because they use technology everywhere else in their life.

*They need extra stuff for its entertainment value.

*They have different "styles" and can't learn without reinforcement from bells and whistles.

Thomas said...

Thanks for link about learning styles.

"Given the lack of scientific evidence, the authors argue that the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources."

One of my big worries is about how expensive education is becoming. And how inefficient it is becoming. Teachers are being overloaded with theories, techniques and technologies, instead of just going into the classroom and talking about things they understand really well.

Anonymous said...

@Thomas, yes.

However, I am a technology fiend.

Instead of blackboard I like to type and project the screen in big letters. Then at the end of class you can save the document and send the students the blackboard. I like this especially for discussion classes, you can take notes on issues and points made as you go, it is great.

I put up texts and show clips all the time. In my last class today, for instance and we were looking at poems by 2 poets. We looked at their pictures, one of their brother's paintings, manuscript facsimiles by them, etc., photographs of first editions, and had they been living poets we might have been able to hear them read. Yes, one can assign people do do this outside class, but materials are fun !!!

I refuse to do PowerPoint, though, and I am one of those who believe in lecture classes.

Shedding Khawatir said...

I prefer Powerpoint to chalk because it is much, much faster (and often more legible) to click a button and pull up a sentence or whatever on the screen than writing it on the board. Same thing goes for projecting the word processor on the screen and just typing, which I can do much faster than writing. If I have something I know will come up, I use Powerpoint, if it is more freeform, I use the word processor.

Thomas said...

I don't agree with Jonathan that "Powerpoint is nothing more than chalk and talk with some images and special effects added, and the text done ahead of time."

Or rather: it's precisely the fact that the visual component of the teaching is prepared ahead of time that I think distinguishes powerpoint from chalk and talk.

I grant that it has its uses. If you want to show a picture or film clip, technology helps. But that doesn't really have anything to do with "PowerPoint" proper. It's just a hi-tech slide or film projector at that point.

A slide with a big quote for a analysis is also, perhaps, okay. But couldn't the students just look in their books (where the quote should also be if you're going to spend a lot of time on it in class.)

So @Profacero: I can grant most of what you're saying. But the idea of essentially taking notes for students and then uploading it to blackboard is very, very, very much part of the evil I'm trying to fight.

Pound said he had "gathered a live tradition" "from the air". That's what's being lost when we prepare slides, upload them to blackboard (or equivalent) and otherwise spare the students the trouble of learning in a "live" situation.

I do editing masterclasses with Word and a beam-projector. Again, this has nothing to do with powerpoint. It's a way of using technologies to be more effective. Powerpoint (as currently practiced) has been *imposed* on the classroom. It's more often in the way than an aid to learning.

Jonathan said...

Then there is this:


Anonymous said...

@Khawatir I can see PP for a really formal lecture but so many people use it so badly (same people as did not know how to make a handout when there were paper handouts). I tend to agree with Thomas on it. I also do not like to let students use it because then they spend more time working with it than with the actual material and ideas.

I forgot to say I like document cameras, too -- you can take any object and sit them on it, and an image, including a 3-D image, goes up on the wall to be seen well, it is excellent.

@Thomas, on "essentially taking notes for students" ... well:

1. in meetings for business, government, *faculty*, etc., someone takes notes and distributes them. I do not think this is bad and I think a decent thing to do is show how this is done (correctly).

2. in planning meetings for faculty and administration, a whiteboard or word processor with screen is often used to post key ideas from discussion; I do not understand why students are undeserving of this if we aren't.

3. Before the advent of "technology" I used to use chalk to put discussion notes on the board as class went along. It is one of the best ways to organize discussion there is, if you have a lot of students saying a lot of things. You can write down a concept or word and put check marks by it every time it comes up; you can post a question someone has asked to come back to in 15 minutes or to highlight as a key question, you can do all sorts of things with a chalkboard to help animate discussion. What you write down to organize the discussion is not the same as what you would write down to take minutes, or to take class notes, and I have always found that blackboards look very interesting by the time class is over ... and they got erased. I do not really see a problem with preserving them.

(Yes, I recently had a complaint lodged with the President of the University because some random student mistook what had been on the blackboard for the totality of what they were supposed to know and have read and heard ... but had I not preserved the blackboard then they would have found some other fragment of the course to decide was its totality.)

Anonymous said...


"But couldn't the students just look in their books (where the quote should also be if you're going to spend a lot of time on it in class.)"

Not if it is not in the book or if you are not using a textbook or a single book.

Also, projecting on wall allows for better communication and discussion. You don't have people leafing through books, and you have them looking up now down.

Anonymous said...

P. P. S. I am used to old style European type professors who only talked, without chalk, and I am totally fine with this and I can also do it myself, lucidly ... audiences love, love, love my conference presentations, for instance.

BUT for the average person I appear not to write enough. That was what the professor said the first time I was observed as a T.A., even: "Your class was fine except that you missed about 8 obvious opportunities to use the board, that the students really could have used." Then, when I became a professor, the first semester there was a confused but serious student who made a deal with me about using the board: since I forget or do not realize what I ought to write, but am all talk and seem to assume others have the kind of memory I do, he would raise his hand silently every time I mentioned some concept or word that needed to be written and that I had not written.

All of this is why, for me, having a nice screen to project things onto, arranging the class comments like a painting or something as we go, helps a lot.

Shedding Khawatir said...

You can use any tool badly, be it Powerpoint, a handout, or chalk. It's pointless to blame the tool, when it's the user at fault. Powerpoint is not a method, it is a computer program. I especially like Powerpoint for teaching grammar, as it is so easy to display and animate and emphasize parts of the examples. If your copies are limited, it is also easier to put discussion questions etc. on a powerpoint or word processing document than a handout.

Anonymous said...

"Blame"? What about just not enjoying?

I have seen PPT used to advantage at some professional meetings but have never been to a class or a meeting that had it when I did not wish they would turn it off and just talk normally.

That is my main issue - I don't like having to sit though power points when I am in the audience - I created a .ppt textbook for a class once when we didn't have a book and it was fine, good even for that particular class, but normally, no me gusta.

Do you all mean you have projectors in all classrooms? We only have one or two so most classes are just with blackboards. We have some televisions, some boom boxes and some overhead projectors for transparencies, but I dislike that cumbersome stuff & despite having Fun With Internet, Word Processing and Document Cameras I usually have nothing -- is this normal?

Thomas said...

@Profacero: I think a class is importantly different from a faculty meeting. There should be one set of minutes to refer to from a meeting. But a class could and should be "noted" in as many ways as there are students. There should not be an "official" record of what you said. I think the complaint you refer to (which was hopefully summarily dismissed by the President) is a good reason not to do it. The students get the impression that the class is a delivery vehicle for knowledge, not an occasion for thinking about what they are learning.

@Shedding: "PPT doesn't bore people? People bore people?"

I think most people think of PowerPoint as as method, not just a tool. They allow to structure how the class is taught. There are also some teachers who seem to think of it as as a kind of given, like furniture. Like the lectern and the seats for the students.

In any case, calling it a "tool" does not shift the blame from PPT to the user. I'm blaming the user too: for choosing to use PP. A machine gun is a tool too. That doesn't mean it has a proper use in the classroom.

There are certainly intelligent uses of PPT, but I rarely see it. And, like Profacero says, I just find I enjoy myself more (and am therefore more useful to the students) if I'm not talking beside a powerpoint presentation.

@Profacero. The places I've been teaching recently there is almost always a projector in the rooms.

Anonymous said...

- well, if I take fragmentary notes on what students say in class, on the blackboard (erased at the end of class), I do not claim that is an official record of the class, or a complete one, or my p.o.v. ... and I say the same about sending them what was on the "board" ... perhaps I am misleading them. I am trying to teach them how to group comments into topics, etc., and they have never done this before, so I don't really see what is wrong with letting them see how one person, off the cuff, did it ...

- complaints, I have also had people record me (this is legal) without my knowledge and then cherry pick phrases as what they allege test answers were said to be. There is no way around this kind of thing, you just have to face it when it comes up. They are taught rote memorization everywhere else (when not free and chaotic expression of "personal opinion") and if you are trying to teach them to think independently, but think, it is just going to be hard.

- "I think most people think of PowerPoint as as method, not just a tool. They allow to structure how the class is taught. There are also some teachers who seem to think of it as as a kind of given, like furniture. Like the lectern and the seats for the students.

"In any case, calling it a "tool" does not shift the blame from PPT to the user. I'm blaming the user too: for choosing to use PP."

- I agree with this heartily although I am going to give a talk Wednesday that I think might use PP for. I don't know.

- Why I don't use PP: I think I missed the craze, I have never worked in a place that had a lot of projectors, and I seem to have gone directly to web pages. There is nothing most people do with PP that I cannot do with a web page and then it is on the web and I do not have to carry some presentation around and see if it really opens on a particular machine.

- I think the people who use PP go too fast, for one thing ... they are trying to control a crowd, get through an agenda, and stop discussion, so they lecture with a series of written announcements, on PP, and irritatingly they go slide by slide so you cannot see ahead of time what the agenda is, but have to wait for the next slide. It is just too freakin' authoritarian and I see it over and over; I think people choose PP so as to do that and that the features of PP encourage it.

- I have seen great presentations at conferences that use PP but then the person is not using it to drive a point home but to show images and quotations, much more like a handout. When people use it to organize their presentation (use it as a method, as Thomas says), it is ridiculous.

Jonathan said...

I never get 16, now 17 comments on a post. Even if 4 are mine. This must be a topic of real interest. My last talk had pp, but I was talking about visual art and music and used it only for that. I used pp exactly once in class this semester, though I've used the library catalogue projected on the screen to show how to look for materials, and the doc. camera several times. I usually have my own notes to talk from, but I never simply read them.

Anonymous said...

"The students get the impression that the class is a delivery vehicle for knowledge, not an occasion for thinking about what they are learning."

Well, the students and many faculty and administrators already assume the class is a delivery vehicle for knowledge. I claim to be disturbing that idea...

Topic of real interest, well it is a serious issue in everyday life and not a banal one since so much rides on it (how you should teach, what you are teaching, etc.) and since what one is able to do with technology so varies with the equipment.

For chalk and talk you have to have good presentation skills and be good at engaging an audience. Does having all this a/v prevent people from acquiring these skills, I wonder?