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What is whiteboarding?

Whiteboarding is a teaching practice under which students working individually or in groups use whiteboards to describe and explain the results of the observations they have made and/or thinking processes they have utilized. It is an instrument well suited to improving the quality and quantity of scientific discourse in a classroom. Teachers guide students in the use of their whiteboarding work. Typically a cooperative inquiry-oriented project is assigned to student groups. One of the tasks will be the reporting of the groups’ findings. Group findings are typically presented by the entire group at the front of class where they might stand the whiteboard on a chalk rest or hang from hooks near the top of the classroom blackboard. Students explain their findings, and ideally will provide multiple representations of the understanding they have developed. The floor is then opened to questions. Teachers and students are allowed to seek clarifications and justifications for student conclusions. Using the whiteboarding approach, teachers hope to change students from “collectors of information to expectant creators of ... coherent understanding” (Wells, Hestenes & Swackhamer, 1995). Whiteboarding is strongly associated with the pedagogical approach known as Socratic dialoging.

What educational purpose do whiteboards serve?

The National Science Education Standards (NAS, 1996) notes that “inquiry requires identification of assumptions, use of critical and logical thinking, and consideration of alternative explanations. Students will engage in selected aspects of inquiry as they learn the scientific way of knowing the natural world, but they also should develop the capacity to conduct complete inquiries” (p. 23). The Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM, 2000) calls for teachers to “encourage students to think, question, solve problems, and discuss their ideas, strategies, and solutions” (p. 18). Whiteboarding can provide an ideal avenue for achieving these goals. For a detailed explanation about how whiteboards can be used to great educational advantage, see Whiteboarding and Socratic Dialogues.

Is the concept of whiteboarding new?

Not really. In many ways whiteboarding is a tried and true method that fell by the wayside with the advent of more sophisticated classroom technology. In many ways whiteboarding harkens back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse when every student had his or her own slate board and chalk for writing, drawing, and computation, and was responsible for sharing with the teacher and fellow students the work that he or she had done. The teaching approaches used with whiteboards today are much more effective.

Is whiteboarding consistent with authentic best practice?

Whiteboarding enhances and supports the most desirable teaching approaches. Whiteboarding is an effective assist for teachers implementing three research-based principles identified by the National Research Council (2000, 2005) as critical to student learning:

  1. Engaging students’ prior understandings. This is critical to the development of scientific thought, and is central to the teaching approaches known as constructivism and concept change. Preconceptions can strongly influence what students learn or don’t learn. Whiteboarding allows students to articulate their naive beliefs and flawed reasoning which is a natural outcome of the whiteboarding process. Once identified, teachers can confront and resolve these preconceptions.
  2. Relating factual knowledge and conceptual frameworks in understanding. Whiteboarding is a framework through which teachers can implement instructional strategies that engage students in inquiry-oriented lessons and labs, and allows for regular classroom discourse and evaluation and interpretation of evidence. Students come to know not only what they know, but how they know it.
  3. Emphasizing the importance of student self-assessment and auto-regulation. Whiteboarding provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn from and correct their own mistakes, and to learn from the successes and mistakes of others. It also provides strong personal motivation to help students self-assess and auto-regulate before they make oral presentations. A public presentation of what students know and do not know can prove to be highly motivational. 

What is the educational role of whiteboarding as it relates to learning environments and the design of instruction?

Whiteboarding helps teachers make for classrooms and instruction that are learner centered, subject centered, assessment centered, and community centered.

  • The learner-centered classroom attends to what students think and know, and uses cooperative inquiry practices to help students construct understanding from experiences and logic. Whiteboarding plays a central role in the process by providing a venue for reporting the results of observation and experimentation, and is a forum for formative assessments wherein teachers can identify, confront, and resolve student preconceptions.
  • The knowledge-centered classroom focuses on what is being taught, how it is being taught. The whiteboarding process allows for students to understand why something is known rather than merely believed. It provides a framework through which students have an opportunity to test and confirm or correct their own ideas and reasoning. The approach is one in which emphasis is placed not only on what students think but how they think. Students learn more as a result of teacher questioning and remarks.
  • The assessment-centered classroom allows students the opportunity to make oral presentations in which they identify and explain step-by-step problem solving practices. They publicly state and justify their conclusions. Whiteboarding allows for fellow students to check and critique other’s work during the process. It also affords teachers the opportunity to expose deficiencies in student reasoning, evaluate whiteboarding displays, and student presentations.
  • The community-centered classroom calls for student dialoging in which students learn to cooperate and communicate. Whiteboarding engenders an atmosphere of questioning. It sets higher expectations for student performance and accountability. Whiteboarding allows teachers to use class time to discuss student-generated ideas rather than merely presenting information. Whiteboarding engages students with other students in a collaborative learning community. In a way, whiteboarding allows for more than one teacher in a classroom by allowing students with whiteboards to become fellow teachers as well.

Who uses whiteboarding?

Whiteboarding is used by school teachers at all levels and in all subject matter areas who are interested in not only what students know, but are interested in how students know what they claim to know, and to what extent they understand what they claim to understand. It is not uncommon to see whiteboards used in elementary school, high school, college, and even in professional development activities for teachers. Whiteboarding is perhaps best known today for its use in the Modeling Method of Instruction described more than a decade ago by Wells, Hestenes, & Swackhamer (1995). Whiteboarding is central to the Modeling Method of Instruction (http://modeling.asu.edu/). The Modeling Instruction Program was recognized in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the seven best K-12 educational technology programs out of the 134 programs evaluated. It was similarly recognized in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Education as one of two exemplary programs in K-12 Science Education.

Why should I use whiteboarding?

There are many reasons to use whiteboarding. Among them are improved classroom discourse, increased student motivation, and enhanced student learning. The quality of classroom discourse is essential in helping students develop a comprehensive understanding of the process and products of science. It allows teachers to check student understanding, and identify, confront, and resolve student misconceptions. Most students find whiteboarding to be fun. Experience has shown that students really look forward to opportunities during which they can whiteboard results of discussions, brain storming sessions, or experiments. They enjoy using a variety of colors and formats to show off their work. For many, “fun” translates to “motivation.” What better way to develop an engaging, inquiry-oriented classroom atmosphere than to implement the whiteboarding process? For details about how students benefit educationally, see Whiteboarding and Socratic Dialogues.


National Research Council (2005). How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom. Committee on How People Learn, A Targeted Report for Teachers, M.S. Donovan and J.D. Bransford, Editors. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.  Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Research Council (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning and Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice. J.D. Bransford, A. Brown, and R.R. Cocking (Eds.). Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Wells, M., Hestenes, D. & Swackhamer, G. (1995). A modeling method for high school physics instruction, American Journal of Physics, 63(7), 606-619.

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Last updated August 23, 2012