At 4:30pm today I was hot and irritable, and running late for a workshop through no fault of my own. I hate being late – and in this case, it was for a workshop that I really needed to get the most out of. When I eventually got there, half an hour into an hour long session, I wasn’t exactly in a great learning mindset.
The workshop was on interactive whiteboards. I got there in time to see a fair few demonstrations of how you could use it, coupled with Active Inspire (which is used in my school). When the other people in the group started practising those skills, those of us who had been late were given a whistle stop tour of the techniques.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I got anything out of the workshop. My irritation at being late exacerbated an underlying worry that really got my head in a spin and left me pretty closed off in relation to the learning process. The thing is, I really don’t like ICT. I was never great at it in school – I wasn’t terrible, but it was never something that particularly interested me. Unlike a lot of my peers, who were always thrilled when we had a lesson in the computer rooms, I didn’t thrive in front of a screen. I still don’t, to be fair. I spend far too much time on social media and news sites, but actually I prefer it when I don’t have access to a computer as it takes away those distractions.
When I was in school, it was still pretty exciting if a teacher had prepped a power point. Smart boards came in a few years before I left but I never really saw them used a whole lot to the best of my recollection. However when you go into schools today it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a lesson in which ICT isn’t used in some shape or form, whether that’s in the form of a simple powerpoint or a snazzy interactive smartboard presentation. Ofsted like it, and after all we’re living in a technological age, so at face value it makes total sense.
The truth is, the use of ICT in schools, particularly interactive whiteboards, makes me so angry and worried that in class today I was on the verge of walking out in frustration. I’ve been told that the research and anecdotal experience says that kids learn well with interactive whiteboards. This generation is very tech-savvy and computer literate, even if they come from deprived backgrounds, because they have access to shiny equipment at school. The problem for me, especially as an English teacher, is that I think they simply have too much ICT in their lives for it to be of much or any use or interest in a classroom situation.
To put it another way; my professional tutor told us a couple of weeks back to look at the “diet” that pupils were being fed in terms of lessons during our school observations. I’m pretty sure over the three days I didn’t see a single lesson that didn’t involve ICT in some way.
We talk so much about kids being unable to spell, read, write, add up, concentrate, engage. Is it any wonder, when they have been born into a world where a machine will spellcheck everything for you? Why concentrate when you know that the answer is just off-screen, waiting for a click or a dragging motion? Why bother to inquire or be curious about anything at all when all you need to do is type a few words into google?
I’m frustrated because I think it is very easy to use ICT for the sake of using it, and not because it is meaningful or increases the rate of progression in kids’ ability. I’m frustrated because I’ve got to include ICT in my lessons, and I never learned to love literature or language or anything for that matter through a series of slides, with a glaring backlight.
One of the best things we’ve done so far this Summer Institute is learn about Active Shakespeare, a way of exploring Shakespeare as a class, on foot, orally and physically. Although I am not entirely certain, I’d still be willing to say that this was the only session I’ve had that was “sans powerpoint”. And if I’m being entirely honest, I think I remember more about that session that I do about most others, although they’ve all been great. I’m not a purely kinaesthetic learner – I actually learn best visually, reading words. So it says something about my ability to view ICT as a useful tool, since I don’t think I have ever been able to learn from it myself.
I’m fully aware that a large part of my rage and sadness today was to do with insecurity and personal capability – because I am not good with ICT, I am really terrified of having to use it to facilitate learning on so regular a basis. Interactive whiteboards honestly put the fear of God into me. I don’t know how to use them, and I don’t particularly want to use them.
I can see the useful side of ICT – it is so much easier to not waste time writing instructions on the board. For SEN pupils (of which I will have many in my classes come September), simple and short instructions on a single slide, with images, are much more effective than oral instruction. I will use ICT when I think it is useful, when it is going to be best for my kids. Despite my lack of computer literacy, I do have some very strong opinions when it comes to good powerpoints; the anger I feel when I see a cluttered slide with clashing colours and difficult fonts is only equalled by the genuine anguish I feel when people misuse apostrophes.
I think if I manage to get some substantial time with an interactive whiteboard, and if I can familiarise myself with the Active Inspire Software over the few free days I have in August, I’ll probably survive. However I still think it’s worth bearing in mind that it may do kids good to have a break from technology in the classroom whenever possible. Outside of class they are constantly on phones and computers, or watching TV. There’s nothing wrong with the written word, with tactile sheets, with pen and ink. It just takes a lot of guts to go back to basics, guts I hope I’ll be able to hang on to, if only to prove that the book is mightier than the slide.
Ps. Roald Dahl takes a somewhat more extreme view than me, but I still think he may be right.