Closing the Distance with Thesis Gallery Walks and Wipebook




Danielle Filas, Middle School Teacher,  Presbyterian School, Houston, Texas.



One year ago, ask any middle school student about how eager they were to go to school and they likely would have prioritized homebound screen time in sweatpants playing Minecraft or Fortnite. Now? Nobody wants to stay at home. In a strange twist of fate, students everywhere happily set alarm clocks, don masks, and squeeze into uncomfortable plastic seats. Why? If we’re honest, students are most eager for the social interaction in-person school provides more than they are eager to learn how to balance equations or scan poetry. The irony, of course, is that such personal interaction, even in the face-to-face classroom must be reconfigured, carefully engineered to adhere to CDC and local guidelines for safety. What used to be simple collaborative activities must now occur six feet apart with plexiglass and hand sanitizer. Even turning desks to face one another can present problems in classrooms not set up to accommodate these necessary restrictions. Fortunately, innovations like Wipebook Flipcharts can help teachers and students pivot and collaborate while still staying healthy and safe.



Thesis Gallery Walks 1.0  



In my classroom, writing has always been a team sport. I encourage students to produce and share rough drafts immediately, soliciting peer feedback and input right away. Doing this, I have found, helps students look at the act of writing as an ongoing process in which they spend most of their time tinkering together to make everyone’s work stronger. In past years, students could draft working thesis statements up on my classroom whiteboard. They’d underline portions of their statements that needed help, or they’d simply ask for any available feedback. Using colored erasable pens or sticky notes, the rest of the classes would file past this “Thesis Gallery Walk” and slap notes on the raw, baby thesis statements. By the end of the day, sticky notes and arrows pointing to circled phrases sprouted all over my white board. Students bustled into class the next day to see the gifts that had been left to them by anonymous friends from other classes. This model, of course, suffered setbacks in the 2020-21 school year.






At Presbyterian School of Houston, where I teach eighth grade English, we have responded to COVID-19 by keeping students in cohorts, while teachers rotate classrooms. This necessary change challenged me to rethink much of what I do, including my old Thesis Gallery Walk model. I knew I wanted to retain the collaborative spirit of public feedback. I also knew that my student cohorts don’t move. And, though I’m personally deeply invested in digital tools (I collect badges and certifications like some folks collect shoes!), I also feel strongly that hand writing, especially in the drafting process, encourages more authentic ideas and more honest feedback. Scribbling a thesis you can erase with a thumb swipe or change with a scribble and an arrow feels like a creative process to the author. And seeing a thesis scrawled and smudged grants the editor more power to give feedback because the raw, baby thesis looks open to help. So, I wanted to keep the handwritten element. What to do?



Wipebook Flipcharts- The Tool for the Job! 



What I needed, I realized, was to be able to split my whiteboard into several areas to encourage social distancing. And I needed to be able to tote those whiteboards around to each of my classes without having to hire a personal valet or borrow a neighbor’s donkey.



Wipebook Flipcharts to the rescue! 






WipeBook offers the ability to place its rewritable surfaces all over the room. A few turns of the plastic fasteners at the top of the Flipchart and the pages were quickly freed from the easel back. Separating the pages allowed me to place the sturdy heavy duty surfaces strategically around the room in healthy social distances from one another. Each Flipchart also comes in an easily tote-able cardboard carrying case. This nifty tool allows the Wipebook Flipchart pages to travel hassle-free from classroom to classroom.



 Thesis Gallery Walk 2.0 



Here’s how my Thesis Gallery Walk 2.0 works



  • Prior to class, challenge students to use this EdPuzzle that walks them through the process of producing a working thesis draft before class. You can reinforce this with a quick Kahoot I built for use in class or individually. Note that I taught this skill in conjunction with a book club students had just completed. At this point, students had read their books and were starting the drafts for a formal reflection essay

  • Students then move into groups (I use their book club groups, but this isn’t required. It works great with random groups as well.) If members of the group are online, they can seamlessly join via any video chat tool approved by the district, school, or teacher. We use Zoom. Students join my Zoom room and I place them in manually created breakout rooms. I keep groups to three or fewer.

  • Students choose roles in their groups: time keeper & scribe (keeps an eye on time remaining and has nice handwriting), evidence wizard (pushes each thesis writer to dive into evidence from the book), why asker (pushes each thesis to connect to bigger issues). 

  • Each student reads their thesis and the group tinkers with it, seeking more evidence and a deeper connection to the wider world.

  • Each scribe receives a sanitized dry erase pen (wet erase is less smudgy, but also harder to erase errors!) Groups move to their assigned Wipebook Flipchart and read their thesis statements aloud as the scribe writes the thesis clearly. Online students participate, but obviously cannot be scribes.

  • Keeping their pens and their groups, students rotate to the next Wipebook surface and give feedback on the thesis statements already there by underlining, drawing arrows, writing in questions, adding stars for great phrases, etc. Online students can still participate with the help of the scribe.

  • Rinse and repeat! Be sure to sanitize pens between sessions. Also, it’s helpful to take photos or use an app to scan and share digital images of the pages for students who are absent or online.






      Building a solid thesis proves vital to composing any essay. After two decades of teaching, I have honed this process that works for my students. Through the Thesis Gallery Walk, students learn to view writing as a process, to be less precious and more precise with their own writing, and evolve their ability to give cogent, helpful feedback. I know the Thesis Gallery Walk is cooking when I see notes that demonstrate a deep understanding of how to write a strong thesis:



    • “Unpack this phrase more. What do you mean by ‘perspective’ here?”
    • “There’s a great example of this idea on page 32!”
    • “Be specific about how the book changed your view and why that matters.”
    • “You say it taught you lessons. What’s a specific lesson you learned?”


      I like the Thesis Gallery Walk 2.0 even better than I liked the original. I love that it gets students moving around the space (I used the hallway, too!) in a format where they’re sometimes pinned to their seats all day. I love that they are able to work with other students in safety. I even love the mysterious build-up when they see my cardboard carrier and I unveil the works of their classmates from other cohorts. And, above all, I love that Wipebook Flipcharts puts my students’ ideas at the centre of their own learning. Even if we bid COVID-19 and all its burdens farewell (and I hope we do), I plan to keep Thesis Gallery Walk 2.0!






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