technology · writing

Do we really need SMART Boards to teach writing well?

Last Friday, there was an article in The Washington Post entitled “Some educators question if whiteboards, other high tech tools raise achievement.”  This article reflects an on-going conversation Ruth and I have been having about how much technology is really needed to teach writing well.  (Annie, a third grade teacher who is the author of the “Write Now in Room 204” Blog, has written about this too.)  In fact, I’ve noticed that many schools are cutting the amount of professional development teachers are receiving so they can install interactive whiteboards in classrooms.

One particular quote stood out for me from the Post article:

“There is hardly any research that will show clearly that any of these machines will improve academic achievement,” said Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University. “But the value of novelty, that’s highly prized in American society, period. And one way schools can say they are ‘innovative’ is to pick up the latest device.”

So why are schools spending thousands upon thousands of dollars purchasing the latest and greatest technology for the classroom?  Rather than reiterate the reasons, do read The Post article, which explains the rationale, in depth, as well as the realities of spending money on multimedia items for classrooms.

I do think some technology is quite useful for enhancing writing instruction.  For instance, a document camera (and LCD projector) helps show students’ in-process writing in its original form.  Additionally, minilessons can be more meaningful when students can watch their teacher writing in her own writer’s notebook or on her own draft. Additionally, having a laptop, which plugs into an LCD projector is another tool that can help our young writers when it comes to utilizing Word, blogs, and other programs adult writers use with greater ease.  However, “good teaching is good teaching,” regardless of the amount of high-tech toys one has in the classroom.  Hands-down, I’d rather work with a teacher who valued conferring with all of his students on a weekly basis rather and only had an overhead projector and chart paper than one who valued didn’t teach well, but had lots of high-tech gadgets in the classroom.

Please share your thoughts on this subject!

17 thoughts on “Do we really need SMART Boards to teach writing well?

  1. I don’t have a SMART board (but might be getting one). I’m actually very interested in seeing how it changes my writing workshop. I think that by having it, I’ll be able to show the students more writing on the internet so all can see it rather than crowding up around my monitor. I want to have a class blog where students can publish their writing and thoughts. I want to have them use my Flip camera and record different things. I will still use my chart paper and create anchor charts with the kids and display those. I will still conference, because that is the heart of my workshop.


  2. You and your readers bring up great points. It greatly upsets me that schools are fooled into believing they need to spend thousands of dollars for a gadget in front of the room when you can do the same thing for thousands less with just a Tablet and a project.

    Your readers who say they love the smartboard could do the same thing with just the Tablet and projector too and put thousands of dollars worth or resources into kids hands instead.

    You can read my post about the 10 Myths of Interactive Whiteboards here:

    While I’m a fierce opponent of educational waste, I do believe the RIGHT technology is an absolute necessity in the literacy classroom. Few teachers are teaching students how to be authentic authors and that is a shame. Publishing for an audience of one (the teacher) or some (the class and maybe their family) is not enough. We need to show students how to find real audiences for their work. I share a variety of ways to do so in my post
    21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It! which you can read here

    Thanks for sharing this post, I will spread the word.


  3. Andy: When I used an overhead projector for my writing instruction I found it was hard to go back and clean it up later. In other words, if I was writing quickly and things got a bit messy, then the next day they were messy and hard to read. That required re-writing things. On the Smartboard, I can convert it to text easily, and I can use a “cleaned-up” version the next day. As was mentioned earlier, you can cut & paste and therefore rearrange sections. When I started teaching 11 years ago, we literally used scissors and glue to teach this sort of revision. Now it is more practical to teach “cut & paste” in a word document.

    And reading…I could go on and on! 🙂


  4. I have found that interactive whiteboards are virtually useless. However, there are subtle technologies (not at all sexy) that help: the instant feedback of spell check, the interactive nature of a Google Doc in editing, concept maps for brainstorming, blogs to see examples of student work. I use a class set of netbooks and students publish to our class blog ( Yet, in the end, it is good teaching that makes the difference.


  5. The Post article has given voice to reservations I’ve been feeling for a few years now. The question for me isn’t, “How would a Smartboard improve my Reading and Writing Workshops?”, it’s, “How would a Smartboard improve my Reading and Writing Workshops in ways my chart paper and overhead projector can’t?” I’ve thought and thought about the answer and looked to other teachers who have Smartboards and still can’t find any significant improvement a Smartboard offers over chart paper and an my overhead.

    Does anyone have any ideas for significant improves offered by a Smartboard, over chartpaper and overhead?


  6. I have had a SMART Board in my 6th & 7th grade language arts class for about 6 years. The biggest benefit I see is when we pieces of writing as a group and that I can save each core group’s revisions and compare the variety of ways students chose to improve the piece. The ability to write on it in a variety of colors, to highlights,and to move text is much neater than my overheads ever were. In reading we can do the same – I can scan in a piece of text and each class can share their thinking about it, and then we can share the variety of thoughts. I like how it makes the abstract thinking processes of revision and thinking about text very concrete. Do I NEED the technology to do this? No, but it sure makes it easier, and getting to interact with the SMART Board is a huge hook for kids!


  7. I laughed when I saw your survey–because you don’t have “0” for an option–which is what I have in my room! That is, it’s zero, unless you’re counting my dry erase marker.

    If I want something gee-whiz, I have to order the “smart cart,” to be brought in, which works most of the time.

    Welcome to higher education, community college-style.


  8. I too, struggle with this question. I do use a document camera and projector in my classroom (Thank you Donors Choose). I have a white board available, but I just don’t think it is worth the set up take down time in 1st grade. I would much rather have my students doing something hands on than looking at a white board. I could see using it for shared pen activities, but then we wouldn’t have a chart to hang for later reference. I guess I’m just not convinced of the benefits of white boards in 1st grade classrooms.


  9. I agree with you that if the choice was between having a highly qualified teacher OR technology, I would always choose the teacher. However, the combo of highly qualified teachers and technology leads to a lot of possibilities. Technology is one of the primary focuses at my school. In my classroom I have a SmartBoard, a class set of laptops, a projector, and 10 iTouches (next year we are planning on building to a class set of iTouches). The one piece of technology that I wish I had is a document camera for the reasons already mentioned of modeling writing.

    Because of the access technology it has been easier to facilitate components such as the Education Edition of Google Apps and modeling new ventures for the students, such as blogging. My top reasons for enjoying technology is my efficiency (having electronic student work that I can access from school or home and provide more prompt feedback, saving on copies…) and increased student motivation. I am also preparing students with life-long skills that are becoming more and more important for their future success. For example, having on-line book club discussions will help prepare them for on-line discussions in college.

    I feel fortunate that my school has technology as a goal. However, my school also focuses on frequent reflection and professional development to improve as teachers as well. Both need to go hand in hand.


  10. @Lisa: If I were still a f/t classroom teacher, I could imagine using it a lot for math and social studies. I think it’s awesome that you’re finding ways to utilize it across all subject areas!
    @Lynnelle: Sounds like it’s been a wonderful addition to your classroom.


  11. I have a SMARTBOARD in my classroom, and I have to say I love it. I use it more for math and science than any other subject. In writing, I have used it for shared writing (my typing on the computer, or “shared pen” writing.) I have used it to teach editing, for word work, to show exemplars (and highlight the good and bad parts) and for teaching revising lessons. You’re right: I could have used an overhead projector for all of these. I would not get one just to aid in writing instruction. But since it is my room, I use it every chance I get. I love it, the kids love it, and the parents love it.


  12. @Patti: I wrote a mini-grant proposal on for both a document camera and an LCD projector in 2007 & 2008, respectively. Luckily, I got both and I will say that they transformed my teaching! Good luck on obtaining the funds to buy them. (NOTE: Unless you have a big screen TV in your classroom, I highly suggest getting an LCD projector. My kids and I used a 26″-ish TV for the first few months with the document camera, but it was hard for the kids on the back of the rug to see it.)


  13. A document camera is something I’d love to have! I’m going to write a grant for one for the upcoming school year. My professor in grad school used one and got me hooked. I’d rather use that than making transparencies for the overhead projector with the mentor texts I use.

    We have a SMART Board in school which is great for interactive lessons. I do think that without appropriate training, it is underutilized at our K-3 building. I think only a handful of teachers are using it to its potential.


  14. I read the article too. It caused quite a stir in the PD I was in yesterday. I teach LA/SS and aside from the document camera with the LCD projector I don’t use my smart board for interactive lessons for writing. However, for SS my technology goal this year was to make the lessons interactive. I think the key to GREAT instruction with a smartboard is to use lessons that are interactive with the STUDENT. These lessons take more time, but my students began scoring better on their post assessments when I moved our reviews from paper/pencil reviews to interactive games and Senteo check ups. I do think they are valuable in some places in the classroom. But as with any tool in the classroom a teacher should ask what the point of using it is.

    I also had a visually impaired student this year who was able to participate in more activities in the classroom because I could use the colors he could see enhance the font and allow him to be a part of our writing and reading community.


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