Know Your Options: Writing Surfaces in the Classroom

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A Guest Article by Angela Petteys

Sometimes, the best way to teach or to learn is by picking up a pen (or a marker or a piece of chalk) and physically writing something down. As important as computers have become in education, a good writing surface is still is one of the most valuable tools a teacher can have. But if it’s time for you to get a new writing surface for your classroom, it’s important to remember that not all writing surfaces are created equally. There are several different options out there and each one has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Melamine Whiteboards

If you’re looking for an inexpensive whiteboard option, melamine whiteboards are one of the most affordable options on the market. Melamine whiteboards basically consist of a plastic laminate mounted to a board. Not only are they affordable, they’re very lightweight and easy to install. However, melamine surfaces are porous, meaning they’re prone to ghosting and staining because ink from markers can seep through the surface.

Melamine whiteboards also aren’t very durable and to get the most out of a melamine board, they need to be cleaned very frequently. Between the low durability and the porous nature of melamine, they’re not an ideal option for a board that gets a lot of use, such as the main whiteboard in a classroom. However, if you need whiteboards for other purposes in your classroom that wouldn’t be used as frequently and would be easy to replace as needed, melamine whiteboards might fit the bill.

Porcelain Whiteboards

Since whiteboards in classrooms get so much use, durability is a key factor to look for. Not only do you need one that won’t get stained easily, you need one that will stand up to years of heavy use. Although they’re not one of the less expensive whiteboard options, the durability and low-maintenance nature of porcelain whiteboards have made them one of the most popular types of whiteboard options, particularly for classroom use.

When written on, the surface of porcelain whiteboards allows markers to create crisp, defined lines that are easy to read. If you want to be able to display pictures or papers alongside the things you write on your board, porcelain boards are a great option to consider. Since porcelain whiteboards consist of an enamel surface applied to a metal backing, magnets can easily be used with a porcelain whiteboard to hang those extra materials up. Other types of writing surfaces might not necessarily be magnetic. Some glassboards are available in magnetic styles, but not all of them.

Glassboards

Glassboards have become a very popular type of writing surface in recent years. As the name suggests, they’re made of tempered glass and many people like them because they feel like they have a more modern look than traditional whiteboards. They’re also very durable and have a nonporous surface, so they’re easy to clean and aren’t prone to ghosting or staining. They’re not the most budget-friendly type of writing surface available, but their high durability means they’ll last for a long time, even in high-use environments like classrooms.

As you look for a writing surface to use in a classroom, it’s important that students are able to easily read what’s written on it. When glassboards are written on, the writing typically has a softer appearance than writing on a porcelain board. Glassboards are also more reflective than porcelain whiteboards, so things like overhead lighting and light from windows can produce glare and make a glassboard difficult to read. This also means glassboards aren’t an ideal solution if you’re looking for a surface you can use a projector on or if you like to take pictures of your notes for future use.

Whiteboard Paint

When you’re on a tight budget, finding a DIY solution can be a great way to help you get what you need in a way you can afford. In the case of writing surfaces, whiteboard paint can be used to turn entire walls into a big instructional tool or to turn other surfaces, such as tabletops, into whiteboards for students to work with at a lower cost than buying a ready-made whiteboard. As an added bonus, many students find the novelty of being able to write directly on a wall, or any other surface you’re typically not supposed to write on, to be really engaging.

One of the biggest downsides to whiteboard paint is that it can be difficult to apply correctly. For best results, whiteboard paint needs to be applied to a smooth, dust-free surface, so getting a surface ready can take some prep work. Getting whiteboard paint ready to apply can also take some effort to make sure it’s mixed correctly and that there aren’t any air bubbles left in the paint, otherwise you might have a hard time getting even coverage. Once your paint is mixed, you also need to be ready to work quickly since many whiteboard paints will become too thick to work with after about 40 minutes to an hour.

Since whiteboard paint has a porous surface and is less glossy than some other types of whiteboard options, surfaces painted in whiteboard paint can be more difficult to erase and are prone to ghosting and staining. As far as durability goes, whiteboard paint tends to become worn with frequent cleaning.

Chalkboards

Even in the digital age, chalkboards haven’t completely become a thing of the past. While they’re less common than they used to be, they’re still being used in many classrooms around the world for a variety of reasons. Chalkboards and chalk are both less expensive than whiteboards and markers, making them an accessible option. In some countries, chalkboards are still a popular choice because the written language involves many intricate characters and many educators feel like writing in chalk better helps students to build strong penmanship skills.

Regardless of why you might consider adding a chalkboard to your classroom, it’s worth noting that the quality of chalk has improved over the years. With dustless chalk on the market, you can use a chalkboard in your classroom without worrying about it affecting the health of your students.

Each type of writing surface has its place in the world, but knowing the benefits each one has to offer will go a long way in helping you find an option that helps you better meet the needs of your students so they can make the most of their time in the classroom.

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