On any weekday morning in term time, up and down the land, teachers with a fresh brew will open their laptops and load up their lessons for the week.
For many, these will take a reassuringly familiar format: a lovingly crafted PowerPoint presentation.
But a teacher's use of PowerPoint is suddenly under attack.
PowerPoint in schools
Why has PowerPoint become a contentious issue? Some are claiming that this ubiquitous staple of the teacher’s toolkit means the skill of lesson planning is being lost.
Now, in the drive for consistency across the curriculum, some school leadership teams want to ensure that certain “non-negotiables” are being delivered. In practice, this means that some teachers are being forced into delivering “off-the-peg” lessons from shared PowerPoint presentations.
In such cases, there can be (legitimate) concern that the subtle art of lesson planning is being lost, with experienced teachers becoming deskilled and NQTs never having the opportunity to learn how to plan lessons themselves.
But PowerPoint is not the problem here. For many, the use of PowerPoint presentations is a useful tool for the careful planning and sequencing of lessons.
Here are the reasons PowerPoint remains a crucial teaching tool.
1. Sequencing ideas
Student teachers are still required to provide multiple sheets of A4 paper to evidence their planning process. Some schools still require the same for lesson observations.
Yet a PowerPoint is a much more efficient planning tool: slides can easily be moved or rearranged to ensure that ideas are sequenced in the most logical way.
2. Working memory
An understanding of the limitations of working memory has led to many teachers reflecting on how to reduce the cognitive load for pupils. Does the same not apply to teachers?
Consider all the information a teacher may have to hold in their working memory: hundreds of pupil names, taking the register, setting or collecting homework, passing on messages. All this as well as remembering the complex ideas they are teaching as part of the lesson.
PowerPoints are useful memory aids. I don’t want to miss out any of the well-thought-out lesson I planned the night before because it has been pushed out by other demands on my working memory during the lesson.
PowerPoint presentations are efficient in terms of resources and time. When budgets are shrinking, PowerPoint presentations reduce the need to print out tasks or questions for the whole class.
Similarly, if you only have a precious two hours with a KS3 class, surely time wasted writing out instructions on the whiteboard could be better spent on the pupils themselves?
I greatly admire the type of teacher who can stand in front of a class and hold them, captivated, without a PowerPoint presentation in the background.
Yet, for pupils who struggle with solely auditory information, such as some SEND and EAL pupils, a supporting PowerPoint presentation with keywords, definitions or images can be hugely beneficial and inclusive.
When your NQT days are long behind you, it can be easy to forget that many NQTs work in departments with no shared resources and oblique long-term plans.
In my NQT year, it was not uncommon for me to spend two hours planning a one-hour lesson from scratch. Looking back on those lessons with an experienced eye, I shudder at what I thought was a good lesson.
Yes, NQTs need to learn their craft but, by sharing well thought out PowerPoint lessons, we can model what effective lessons might look like. The beauty of the PowerPoint is that it is quick and easy to add, remove or restructure to fit the needs of the class in question.
I would never advocate simply clicking through a pre-prepared PowerPoint. That’s not why any of us got into teaching. But by new and experienced teachers working collaboratively, we can ensure consistency and help teachers develop their craft.
If teachers are becoming deskilled in the subtle art of lesson planning, it’s not PowerPoint that’s the problem. Don’t let reductive thinking distract from the real problems that threaten the professionalism of our work.