Engaging students with writable furniture

Kriscia Cabral

Growing up I was a fan of all things school. I went every day. I listened and followed directions. Yes, I was 'that' student. It wasn’t until college that I really turned the page and started asking the question “Why?” about the information I was learning. It is because of this inquiry that I have landed in the position I am in today.

My name is Kriscia Cabral. I teach a combination 4th and 5th grade class in a San Diego suburb called Poway. I’ve been working for the Poway Unified School District for eight years. Over time, I’ve grown as an educator, as learner, as an individual. Each year brings new reflections and learning experiences I look at as growing opportunities. My goal is to teach my students to think for themselves, ask questions, and teach me something new. I look at my role in the classroom as their motivator, their supporter, their partner in learning.

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While the beautiful San Diegan weather likely helps, it seems that the key to Kriscia Cabral’s cheerful outlook is fun, innovative teaching practices that really help her students. And what schoolchild doesn’t want to write on their desk?

Writeable furniture: the concept sounds silly. I agree. Of course, for those who are reading this, we are adults. We have forgotten about the little things in life. We have forgotten about how excited we used to get when we would bang the chalkboard erasers together. I remember being so amazed at my teacher when she used a crazy gadget that created five straight lines in a row with her chalk pieces, all at one time!

About four years ago I started the journey down the path of combination classes. Teaching two grades at one time has inspired me forever, but there was one big lesson I got out of it all.

Trying to transition between the two grades in one classroom was difficult. Often times I would move from one table group to another, with not very much time to prep or reset in between. When working with small groups and one-on-one, I always like learning to come naturally. This can sometimes be interrupted by the need to get paper, broken pencils, running out of room, etc.

One day I decided to stop with the pulling out of whiteboards, stop with the getting up in the middle of my lesson, just write on the desk (with an Expo marker that is). This actually was such an incredible moment for my students. They couldn’t believe they had the opportunity to write on their desks. Not only did this bring the lesson to life, it was a quick and easy way to assess and show evidence of their learning.

What’s the trick?

I use Expo markers in class, usually for whiteboards. The desks come clean with a baby wipe or disinfecting wipe you may use in your classroom. Since then, many companies have created whiteboard paint that can be used if your district allows for it.

What has it done for our classroom learning?

As I mentioned earlier, students are excited to show their work. They get excited to do just about anything when you ask for whiteboard markers to be out. I like it as a teacher because I always have a marker on me. It’s quick, easy, and effective. I can share what students need to have done with bullet points right on their desk. They have the fun of checking them off as they go. It is a win-win in the world of cheap teaching techniques that work!

What if you just can’t bring yourself to write on furniture?

Cover up a door or long work area with butcher paper.We have two doors at my site that I covered with black paper. Students get to use silver, gold, and metallic markers to write about things they’ve learned and want to share, or they can write about challenges they would like to take on as a genius hour project. The possibilities are endless.

The true joy in a child’s mind is something out-of-the-ordinary. My strategy for this, take something that you need from them (showing their work, sharing ideas, expressing their concerns) and put a twist on how it is presented. It will make a world of difference in the eyes of a child. Thanks for reading!

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