technology

So, that technology thing again. 

I taught a lesson today, during which I used a cassette player. I also couldn’t switch the computer on as I needed the socket for the cassette recorder. So no interactive whiteboard either. 

And do you know what, it was ok as well. The world didn’t end. The listening task was nice, the work the students did was useful, engaging, all those things. Would it have been better with a digital rather than cassette recording? Marginally, perhaps, because instead of rewinding the cassette while students checked in pairs, I would have been able to monitor the conversations a bit, but even then, it wasn’t an onerous task, and I managed it pretty speedily. In to activity, the technology neither enhanced or transformed the act of listening. And neither should it. What about the board, though, did the lack of IWB make things worse? Not realky: if anything it made it better: with an interactive whiteboard I have more or less infinite pages of board, which makes me very sloppy in my boardwork: everything goes up there, uncurated and chaotic. With the limits of the regular one, you have to think carefully about how you are laying it out, which bits you keep, which bits you get rid of. Today I ended up with this, for example: 

It was a fairly organic board (yes, I know that’s a posh way of saying “unplanned”), but it captured everything from the lesson where an IWB would have sprawled across multiple pages. The list in the middle is the answers to the listening task (listen and say what type of relationship it was). The words in the top right and bottom left are the remnants of a discussion that we had at the beginning about different types of relationships (it was tempting to drill “I am in love with you” but propriety stopped me). The stuff at the top left is language that emerged during the final speaking task (tell your partner about three different relationships).  It’s not an award-winningly clear whiteboard, and it only made sense if you were there, but it captured it in one “screen”. 

And I do think this is a valuable skill. I worry with CELTA trainees, in a curmudgeonly kind of way, that they are all learning how to use an interactive whiteboard and PowerPoint before they have really learned how to use a whiteboard. I worry about this because there is a very real chance they may rock up at a job in a year or so and find themselves with nothing more than a few old coursebooks and a whiteboard and pens, and not know what to do with it. Or cassettes: standing there with the original Headway and some old cassettes, how will they cope? Ok, so that’s maybe a little OTT, but you know, I wonder. 

Then there also the sneaky, naughty, not-Best Practice thought that although things like IWBs and digital recordings bring a load of convenience to the classroom (and believe me, I’d miss them) another part of me wonders if  there’s something to be said for the discipline of a whiteboard and a cassette player which makes you think more concisely about what language is happening in the classroom. Or perhaps it’s just me, and perhaps I can think of ways of bringing across that focus and  concision into using an interactive whiteboard, so that all the other bonuses of the interactive whiteboard (printability, quick access to google images, that sort of thing) can be utilised as well. 

I realise, of course, that this is a well worn tread for this blog, and I should probably redress the balance and say something warm and cosy about how great technology is. Because it is and it can be, and to be fair, interactive whiteboards are, in and of themselves, pretty remarkable bits of technology, even if they tend to be overloaded with unintuitive, gimmick-heavy software. And a digitally controlled audio recording is damn useful. But there are plenty of blogs and articles out there doing the hard sell, so I’ll leave that job for now. So for now, just remember, using tech is fine, in its place, and so is not using tech. Just don’t be too much in awe of it. 

Moodle: A Year Off

Last year, I carried out a bit of research into how ESOL learners perceive and feel abt the notion of online and blended learning, and I had grand plans, or plans, anyway, to trial some sort of blended element to one of my courses this year: adding an online element through the VLE as an adjunct to the main course, and linking into the main course as its been taught.

It didn’t happen. In fact, for most of the classes I taught this year, the VLE generally has been a non-event: not unused, for sure, but much less promoted and enforced as I might have done in previous years. Strangest of all, I spent a significant chunk of this year teaching ICT, a context in which VLE access might be seen to be somewhat integral for all sorts of reasons.

There are several ways a person could react to this. There might be knee-jerk outrage that I might be so openly rejecting best practice in elearning as espoused by my institution. Frustration, perhaps, as well as outrage, that someone so evidently capable of using the VLE without much specific effort has simply failed to engage. Yeah, whatever. So sue me. I’ll put it in my action plan for next year, if you like.

However, the only really interesting reaction is to ask questions about why this might be. which is a great question, but I’ll tell you what, I don’t really know. I’ve always blown hot and cold on the VLE as a general thing, often finding it too staid and dry, with clunky interactive tools that are much easier to replace with externally sourced things: Google forms and documents replacing quizzes and assignments, for example, emails and the occasional Facebook update forming communication and feedback channels for student work. And you know what, there has been paper: real texts, bits of cut up paper, photocopies, all the stuff that works bloody well without the extra fart-arsing of logging into a system, whether through college devices or BYOD. Controversial, I know.

There just hasn’t been a need. There hasn’t been a gap that the VLE has had to fill. There has been no process which could have been more efficiently or effectively managed through a college VLE. Indeed, for some of my courses, the VLE would have created an extra layer, extra stuff to do, an extra barrier to learning, and arguably not an enabling thing at all.

And let’s not forget that the notion of a VLE as the be all and end all of online or blended learning is essentially flawed. From a certain perspective a VLE has many benefits: tracking learning, monitoring engagement, that sort of thing. I can see that, although that is at least one of the reasons a VLE is just so horrendously dry and tedious.

I’ll tell you what, though,  we’ve been blending all over the place. Most digital technology use in class is no longer special, and lessons are connected in ways which were simply impossible in the past. The biggest visible impact, of course, would be student’s own devices: I’ve done whole ICT sessions with students using their phones to carry out search activities, for example. The interesting thing there, of course, is that the activities themselves tended to be printed on paper to enable more comfortable switching between task instruction and the web search. Sure multi-tasking smart phones are pretty average these days, but it’s still not easy or smooth on anything smaller than a tablet simply because of the physical dimensions involved. Student devices feature most prominently as reference sources: dictionaries using either spoken or written words, google images to find simpler meanings, that sort of thing. Apps have had very little impact, apart from dictionaries. I think the paid for nature of that aspect places significant limitations, although some amusement was found with the google translate app which can sometimes show translations of printed words floating on top of the original in a very cool augmented reality stylee. We’ve had some iPads at one of our centres: I’ve used them a few times with maths: researching prices, for example, or number based information to form the basis of some numeracy practice. 

And I’ve got to admit the interactive whiteboard has really come into its own this year for me: being able to manipulate an audio recording, then annotate the answers to the questions has worked well this year, and generally using the IWB as part of whole group checking of answers, as well as simply as a projection screen has been fairly normal. In one class we managed to bring to life the inexplicably common subject of house types by looking up students’ houses using Google Streetview. Quite why words like “terraced house” and “semi-detached” which are neither high frequency nor terribly useful are so often taught at low levels is always a bit of a mystery, but still, we did, and it became real.
Then there has been my own use of technology to develop resources. Just because the students haven’t used the tech themselves doesn’t mean the tech hasn’t had an impact. I create a lot of my own resources, using, yes, digital technology to do so, utilising the web as a source of authentic texts, both written and spoken. Then there is the cation of resources, digital and otherwise using technology: I created a neat little jigsaw speaking activity using a photo of the college canteen menu with the prices blanked out: I took the picture with my phone,  and then edited it in word using text boxes to cover prices.  Easy as pie, and an authentic, realistic, communicative speaking task for a group of beginners. I emptied my wallet onto a table and took a photo of the (edited) contents to teach money and simlar vocab: this formed the presentation on the whiteboard and the practice and speaking work that followed. 

Still, by all means, tell me I’ve not being using online learning. In one regard, perhaps, I might as well not have bothered using the technology at all if it isn’t tracked through the VLE because there is no evidence to an outsider that any of this happened. This is hardly a reason to use a VLE, of course, if the impact on learning is negligible. I have scant respect for this kind of auditing “evidence” of learning in lieu of professional trust, not least because fifteen students accessing the VLE every week for ten minutes isn’t proof of anything apart from, well, accessing the VLE. I’ll concede I don’t think I’ve been innovating particularly, mind you. All I’ve been doing is making use of the technology in a way which is normal, without forcing in the technology because someone thinks it’s best practice. This “normal” technology is embedded in a way that the VLE could never be. I have been using the VLE with one group, my evening class, fairly regularly as a support for and extension of lessons, or for people who miss class, because I know it works well in that manner for that group of students. 

But for the rest of the time? It’s just not the best tool for the job. 

Bridges

I have a whole bunch of anxieties and grumbles going round in my head in the whole work related department, mostly to do with exams and the filthy murk of exam backwash. However, there’s a time and a place for that, and anyway, I’ve blogged about it before. So instead let’s talk about a nice lesson what I taught yesterday. It was a game of two halves, with the beginning being a session based around a listening task on following instructions from the lovely folks at ESOL Nexus, followed by one of my favourite fun filler lessons that just happens to link to the notion of instructions and sequencing.

I need to put my hands up and admit that it is a total steal. The idea first appeared in a book called Ideas which was published in 1984, and written by a gentleman called Leo Jones. It’s a speaking and listening activity book; the kind of book you can pick from as and when you feel the need. Naturally, for a book over 30 years old, sections are dated: the technology chapter, as always, is a corker, but the methodology and the ideas are all generally sound. This task, ironically, comes from the technology section, and is devastatingly simple.

The essence of the task is this. You set up the tables so they are one metre apart from each other. You’ll need one pair of tables per pair or group of students. Each pair gets the items below and have to use these to successfully transport the ping pong ball from one table to the other. They can’t carry, lift or throw the ball.

 Yes, that is a box of matches…

I like it for lots of reasons. It’s fun, and a bit silly, and probably as a result, the students usually get into it. It’s also highly flexible. Low level students can just do it and perhaps prepare a simple report on what they did, or simply do it as a straight speaking task, following on from prepositions of place, sequence markers. High level students can give a formal presentation of a proposal for their project, for example, before building it. Or afterwards, describe the stages in instructions to another group. Yesterday, I used it with what is probably a mostly Entry 3 group but which various local, national and institutional policies dictate can only be called Entry 2 (another of those grumbles), and it properly flew. It was the last hour of the afternoon, and the students spent most of that time discussing, arguing and collaborating to build assorted bridges.
Woah, I hear you say, but weren’t you only the other week bitching about the pointless time wasting of posters and the such? Isn’t this just the same? Well, yes, it is. It’s exactly the same, but as I’ve always said, and if you had been reading properly you would have noticed, I’m not automatically opposed to stuff like projects, posters and displays. What I’m opposed to is doing it for the sake of the wall display, not for the sake of the learning and language development. And that is exactly what this lesson activity was about. The bridges, while excellent, were pretty much incidental. Instead we had students practising their instructions, their prepositions, their arguing and discussion skills and generally using English to communicate. It was also interesting to see some of the practical engineering/design backgrounds of some of the learners coming out; interesting and also pleasant, I hope, for them.

So there it is. I’m not sure I’d use this with younger learners, at least not with the matches, but it was a jolly enjoyable way to practice some speaking skills. I’ll leave the grouches and the grumbles for another day. But for now, let’s say, we had a good lesson.

Blended Learning MOOC week 1 #flble1

Look at that, I made it through week 1 of the Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started MOOC and I’m surprised. Surprised I made it this far without giving up and surprised at some of my learning / reactions on the way.

Most of the first week was around what Blended Learning is and what it means in terms of impact on teachers and learners. I came to this slightly arrogantly, I think, although still don’t think that my reservations in terms of impact on learners has really been addressed. The definitions surprised me a little – there seemed to be a fairly arbitrary line drawn between what constituted blended learning and learning with digital technology which was basically over the complexity of the technology applied, rather than the interactivity of it – thus a straight set of powerpoint slides with words on would not count as blended and yet add a couple of diagrams and videos and suddenly it is. Students n an internet cafe making a set of powerpoint slides on a thing they’ve just learned icounts as blended learning, although this is still a fairly arbitrary distinction – technology here is not adding anything to my mind, merely making it look pretty, I’m not convinced by these at all, although I can see how some of the activities would count as blended – like recording workplace data using a smartphone, or using a virtual simulation before doing a practical task.

That said, I like that the definitions of the blend are more flexible than the usual one – that blended learning is basically “doing homework via the VLE to save money”, and also the assumption that there has to be an element of conscious teacher direction involved – it’s not enough for learners simply to be checking stuff out in their own time and off their own backs. This, perhaps, says more about the psychology of teachers that we feel a need to assert ourselves on students’ learning in this way, rather than identifying where this independent learning is happening and drawing it into the shared learning environment of the classroom.

The other big reflection for me was around the ways in which technology has changed classroom practice – this was one of the first tasks and this is what I wrote in a draft blog post at the time:

“How has technology changed teaching and learning? That’s an interesting question. it’s interesting because it focuses not on some unspecified future, but on the present. For one it takes as its opening assumption that technology is changing teaching and learning. This is a claim which some commentators don’t agree with, suggesting that the field of education (people talking to other people about stuff and learning from it) hasn’t really changed over the last 100 years when compared with fields which have always been comparatively highly technologised, like medicine and aeronautics. The latter is my favourite, even though I can’t find the link: to suggest that education and flying several tonnes of metal through the sky can be compared in terms of their technology use is frankly bizarre.

I do think technology has changed and is changing the way that we work. To take a very simple example, in the last 15 years or so for listening activities in a language class, I’ve gone from audio cassettes & VHS video to CDs & DVDs to MP3 files and now streamed audio and video through the Internet. It hasn’t necessarily changed the manner of that particular activity: you still play the recording and students listen to it, but there is a lot of great flexibility in the classroom: it’s far easier now, for example, to play just the audio of a video recording, and build activities round that: it’s easier too to control an audio recording using the slider control on screen, and so on. There’s nothing massively game changing to this sort of thing in and of itself, but these are all sorts of marginal gains, minor changes with little impact on their own, but when aggregated become quite dramatic. In terms of my own practice, it is only these marginal gains from the inclusion of interactive whiteboards in the classroom. The dramatic visual opportunities of whizzy graphics of the IWB is gimmicky and rather less impressive and practical than the ability to print and share the board, or do things like highlight text or complete gap fills reflecting student work in the class: small things but with far wider reaching possibilities than swish graphics, especially the usual deeply tedious getting students up to do drag and drop stuff on the IWB. That isn’t game changing, it’s just naff. If that was such a great idea why weren’t teachers doing it years ago with paper and bits of blue tack?”

I am critical of the sometimes slack-jawed awe that people have over technology use. It is only a bunch of pixels on a screen, and if the essential idea is rubbish, then the finished result will be rubbish regardless of the medium of delivery. 50 dull powerpoint slides is still 50 dull powerpoint slides. Not the best tool for the job. In another post I drafted earlier this week I reflected on how the best tool for the job of taking my family the 350 or so miles to Devon for the half term week is a car but for navigating 6 miles of traffic clogged city streets then the best tool for the job is a bicycle. Using tech for the sake of using tech is like driving a stupid 4×4 through a city centre at 8am – pointless, inefficient and you look a bit of a knob as it rarely works quite as you wanted.  As a teacher you look at the full range of resources available and choose the most suitable one for the task in hand. That may be something as low tech as cuisenaire rods or mini-whiteboards, but these can be a far more effective than a higher tech equivalent in terms of immediacy of use, reliability and impact. On the other hand, online learning curated and developed by a teacher and presented through the VLE can be an excellent way of extending and building on the work done in a face to face setting in a way which simply wouldn’t be possible in a non-technologised manner. Of course, the low technology options are not considered as “blended” at all, but that’s a much bigger and longer discussion – given that I’m over a thousand words in, I’d better stop.

Anyway, looking at the week ahead, I think the question around evolving pedagogy is going to be addressed, so I think I will definitely leave it there. Fingers crossed I can follow this through!

Giving Bad Whiteboard

When we do CELTA teaching practice we have a space on the lesson planning forms for a whiteboard plan. It’s a funny space: four roughy 5x3inch rectangles labelled 1-4. It’s also, for the last few years, been more or less ignored in favour of printouts of IWBs or PowerPoint Presentations. My regular readers, all three of them, will be reminded of my occasional ire towards all things interactive, but this is not one of those times. Rather this is about how learning to make good use of a regular whiteboard is actually a useful thing, and many of the things that make good whiteboard can also be used to make good PowerPoint or good IWB. The reality of things is that you may or may not have an IWB or even access to PowerPoint, but you will almost certainly have access to some form of regular whiteboard, and I think they need to be used well. 


So here, in proper controversial style, is a list of the things that I try to remember when I am freestyling on a whiteboard. You can call them “dos and don’ts” if you like, or God forbid, good practice. But I’ll stick with “stuff I try to remember”. 

1. Have a basic shape in your head. Essentially, for me, a normal landscape rectangular board is a square with two columns, one down each sideline the board. You may prefer one column, or the size of the board may dictate that only one is realistic, but I work on the ideal principle of two. If I am being very organised, one of the columns is used for vocab, the other for grammar, or something like that, but essentially these side columns are where you write stuff to remember across the lesson with space in the middle which can be rubbed out regularly. 

2. Have more than one colour pen. You don’t need a rainbow, like the CELTA trainee I saw once with eight colours: two is enough, four is plenty. The reason? Highlighting. If I am writing up a key sentence to demonstrate a grammar point, for example, I will write the key bits of the grammar in a different colour to the rest of the sentence. Then I can use this colour to write up the rule once it has been elicited. You could use one of the colours to write vocabulary you need students to remember, or simply to make different bits stand out. 

3. Learn to draw, but don’t worry about it. I once attended a workshop on “cartooning for teachers” which was very interesting and gave me some basic techniques. Most useful of all, however, was the message that all you have to do is get the idea across. Take a reindeer, to use a real example from my own teaching: basically it’s got four legs and antlers. So I do a sort of generic four legged animal shape and stick antlers on it. It works. Some things are better if you can use google images: the difference between a bee and a wasp is a million times easier that way. But you can get most ideas across with some very simple line drawings.  

4. Remember that a board includes your commentary on it. You may not be able to draw, but at the same time as drawing or writing, you are probably also explaining or eliciting with questions. To use my reindeer example above, I would probably be talking about Santa, about sleighs, maybe Rudolph, (because, let’s face it, when else does the word reindeer ever come up in class?) and reinforcing the whole “antler” thing with demonstrations and hand movements. 

5. Board work can be an organic, growing process. Rather than the fixed “here is the information” encouraged by PowerPoint, and, albeit to a lesser extent, by a pre-prepared IWB slideshow, a whiteboard allows you elicit example language from the students, then build up the grammar analysis through questioning and checking. I have to be honest and say that that stage of a lesson is probably my absolute favourite part, and probably the hardest bit to learn how to do.

Taking a sentence from a student, or from a text, then breaking it down and putting it back together, checking with all the students, getting them to work out the rules and the systems, either as a whole class, or increasingly, for me, by getting the students to discuss together in small groups first, is the crucial bit, and if you get that hit wrong, everything afterwards tends to fall apart. I’m not dismissing the rest of the lesson, not at all, because it takes skill to devise practise activities and knowledge and experience to select the language practice tasks, and to plan and set up the warm up activities, and these bits of the lesson, particularly the language practice opportunities, are absolutely vital. However, those bits, somehow, are very often “set it up and off you go”, whereas creating and developing and eliciting and building up language analysis has a degree of spontaneity and risk. I think, as well, that getting a language idea across is somehow the essence of what we do as language teachers (cue angry dissent: I told you this wasn’t a best practice list…)

6. Easel type whiteboards are rubbish. Rubbish rubbish rubbish. They don’t even have a place in executive meeting rooms these days. 

7. In the event where you have to clean off the board (for example because your employer thinks diddy whiteboards are acceptable) but it has lots of useful information on it, check with the students first. If they haven’t written down notes, then make time for them to do so. Alternatively, or as well, get them to take a photo of the board, and do so yourself so you can share it electronically if you want to. This also serves as a good prompt for the next lesson when you want to revisit the language. 

8. Don’t just sling words up in random fashion. At the very least try to aim for a nice list to one side, even if you are doing nothing else with the thing. 

9. Consider this: if you are using PowerPoint or an IWB, and you know which vocabulary you are going to use or which sentences you are going to need to to illustrate your point, then plan it into your presentation, rather than using the board. That said, I do think planning all the animations so that the core elements appear when necessary is a massive drag that takes about half an hour to work out and fouls up horribly when you forget the sequence of animations/reveals, compare to a few quick sentences and lines on the board, but it does mean you avoid mess. An IWB can avert some of this, but God help you if you slightly cock up a line and can’t move it without moving significant chunks of the rest of the text. 

Hmm. I think that’s it. I should probably go back through and replace the guidebook “you” with a more personal “I” but I can’t be bothered. You know that there’s no such thing as best practice, and that I am hardly the one to tell you what it is. I don’t think that IWBs and PowerPoint are useless, or that they have no place. They can be used and used well but in a different way and with different considerations. Using a regular whiteboard, however, is something of a dying art, particularly in the technology obsessed educational establishments of the UK and the US, and yet they are still present in most of the world, and indeed in lots of settings in technologized countries: teach in a community centre in the UK, for example, or in a workplace setting. So it’s worth knowing how to use them. 

A little thing about whiteboards

I had an interesting experience with an interactive whiteboard this week. I know that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but do bear with me. I was teaching in a room with a large IWB at the front of the room and a large regular whiteboard on wheels. I started with a text we were working from on the IWB but as the lesson progressed, and I left the text behind to focus on the learners’ language, the mobile whiteboard crept slowly but surely to the dominant position more or less entirely in front of the IWB, and Windows quietly logged me out due to inactivity. It looked, in fact, like this:

  
So, reasons for this? The first set of reasons is practicality. The IWB is, shall we say, a mature Smartboard, and perhaps a little less smooth to use than it once was. It’s also a lovely room well lit by that traditional enemy of digital projectors, natural sunlight, meaning that the display was hard to read without shutting all the blinds.this was even less attractive because it was a glorious sunny April day. The layout of the room is generally such that the board is significantly distant from even the students at the front of the room, with a large, heavy “teacher” desk in front of it, making it a small but significant distance for me to move back and forth from the display and for students to see the board clearly. 

The second is more about temperament. I still, as I’ve noted before, default to whiteboard as writing surface, be it interactive or non-interactive. I like the extended features of the IWB, for example being able to display and work with a text or handout, highlighting, completing and so on, but essentially it’s just a regular whiteboard with knobs on. I also don’t particularly get on with the software, Promethean’s exceptional exercise in counter-intuitive program called “ActivInspire” (Inspire! Actively! Yeah!).

The third issue was the nature of the lesson. We were focussing on present perfect for experiences, based on a couple of sentences from a text we had read the day before. It was very much about emergent language, as I had the learners suggesting the contexts and the experiences they would like to discuss. In this kind of lesson, the IWB system has to be damn good, because you can’t rely on masses of pre-prepared stuff, and the language grows and develops in the classroom and is recorded on the board. A pen and a writing surface is still the best method of recording this kind of “of the moment” thought process: how much success, for example, have you ever had with digital mind mapping systems? 

I’m not saying IWBs are bad, particularly, just that on that day, in that context, it wasn’t the best tool for the job. That’s a crucial point, really: a sentence which contains two of the most important prepositional phrases in teaching:

On that day

In that context

For technology and indeed any type of classroom practice, the best anyone can ever say is that it worked for that lesson and that lesson alone: in this setting, for a number of reasons, the regular whiteboard was simply the better of the two options. 

Unplugged ICT

It occurred to me today that one of the reasons the learners in my ESOL & ICT class struggle with the functional ICT stuff is that they don’t get the analogy. Like Word is a piece of paper, PowerPoint a series of posters or slides, and Excel is the work of the devil. So I thought I would re emphasise the analogy a bit with the class this morning, and we did an ICT lesson without the students making use of digital technology.

The first stage was to make the link clear in the form of the learning outcomes. This was indeed one of those lessons where I wanted to be absolutely explicit about why we were doing things and what we were going to achieve. This was not least because the label on the lesson said “ESOL and ICT” and I was worried the students would complain.

So we opened with an activity that my colleague Cathy thought up for a workshop we delivered on Twitter for teacher CPD many many moons ago. I had the students write a question (about English) on a sticky note, then pin it to the nearest large flat surface This, with wonderful irony, was the interactive whiteboard, initially showing nothing, although I later switched it on to display questions as a prompt for discussion. They then had to respond to or comment on one other person’s question, then check for responses to their question, then comment again, and so on. I let it run for a bit until it started to sag, and then elicited the parallel between the activity and social media. I then got all the students to discuss how their interactions were different in our toy social network.

IMG_0040

There were some good insights:

“There is more time to think.”
“I have two faces.”
“We are more comfortable.”
“We use special language.”
“We are more harsh, more honest.”

Based on these reflections, each group then brainstormed some social media advice. This advice then formed the basis of a poster, but her the instruction was simple: make the poster but you must not write directly on the main sheet of paper. All writing must be done on coloured paper which you can cut out any way you like. The point being, of course, that this would get them to focus on layout, on moving and manipulating text, literally cutting and pasting.

The results of the poster task were terrific – students thinking hard about layout, just as I had hoped. The plenary question, then, was to identify how these ideas applied to using Word and PowerPoint, and structuring a page, where we raised issues like clarity, text size, and not obscuring images, all of which are part of the assessment for functional ICT.

I think this was probably my favourite lesson so far for ESOL & ICT: more satisfying, somehow. Not because it was “unplugged”, although I think everyone enjoyed the novelty and got a lot from it. No, I think it was more because I think it was the first time I’ve really focussed on specific ICT skills, with focused, pre-specified ICT outcomes, rather than on a more task-based approach, where the class are working towards an end product like a leaflet or a poster. I don’t think there’s anything terribly wrong with that approach, mind you, because it allows lots of differentiation to happen quite easily, and in each of those lessons I’ve been able to show everybody something new. One of the reasons for the task-based lessons, I think, is my own confidence in the subject. I’m a new ICT teacher, after all, with no formal training or qualifications in the subject, so I find it easier to identify what learning outcomes arise as part of a task than to attempt to be prescriptive about what will be learned in a given session, with all the implications there for differentiation. But this worked out, so I think I shall have to try this prescription on for a bit, and see how we get on. God help me, but I may even have to start writing out formal lesson plans…