Electronic cover stories

From concept keyboard teddies to word origins on CD-Rom, theres's a wealth of opportunities to use IT, says Chris Turner reports.

Just when some grown-ups are recognising the advantages of CDs over LPs for playing recorded music, pupils in primary schools have moved on to using CDs to access vast amounts of data, complete with moving pictures and digitised sound. And that's not all: ask them to send a message to someone, and their first thoughts are likely to be of using the fax machine or electronic mail.

The fact is that these forms of communication and ways of getting to grips with information are all important, necessary, worth teaching pupils about - and validated by the new English Order.

Let's look into the near future and visit some schools in the autumn term of 1995 and see what the effect has been on the teaching and learning in English.

In a Year 2 class in a rural primary school, pupils are reading and listening to electronic stories on a computer screen, some following the narrative in the printed version as well. Other pupils are exploring a more complex story stored on a CD-Rom, gripped by the many different narratives hidden in various parts of the picture. As they point and click using the computer's mouse, the small group is chattering away in a very focused and purposeful manner as they make decisions about where to explore next as well as considering what might happen next, and what it all means.

Next door, a Year 3 class has been listening to and reading stories about teddy bears. The pupils and the teacher have prepared the concept keyboard with words and phrases from the books they have been using so that the pupils can make their own stories about teddies. They are using the concept keyboard with a talking word processor, so that they can hear their story as well as read if from the screen. A small group of pupils is using a CD-Rom to get information from an encyclopedia about the origins of teddy bears, while another group has been to the school library and used the computerised catalogue to find some reference books on teddies.

Futuristic? No. Exciting? Yes. Relevant? You bet! Here are some quotations from the new Order for English at key stage 1: o Pupils should be given opportunities to talk for a range of purposes, including: predicting outcomes and discussing possibilities o Pupils should be encouraged to make use of a range of sources of information including. . . IT-based reference materials oPupils should have opportunities to plan and review their writing, assembling and developing their ideas on paper and on screen A Year 6 class in the same school has been doing a topic on the Victorians, and has had access to a database holding information from 19th-century census material on farm labourers in the district.

The pupils are deciding which information they should send to their twin school in a nearby large town where the same topic is the focus for the half term. They hope pupils there will find the rural information useful, and they hope they will send them information from a similar store of data about employees in a cotton mill, so that they can make some comparisons.

The rural pupils prepare to send their reports by electronic mail using the computer in the school secretary's office.

Eventually, they hope to create an electronic topic book using a multimedia program, enabling them to combine words, pictures, and sounds. They want to include scanned photographs of themselves in the final product so that their twin school can get an idea about what they all look like!

The Order for key stage 2 says: o The range of non-fiction should include IT-based reference material o Pupils should be taught how to find information in books and computer-based sources by using organisational devices to help them decide which parts of the material to read closely o Pupils should be taught to re-present information in different forms o Pupils should be given opportunities to write for an extended range of readers In an inner city comprehensive school, a Year 8 class is finding out what it is like to be part of a team producing the 2.30pm, two-minute news bulletin for Radio 7, an imaginary community commercial radio station serving the are around their school. The computer-generated simulation grips them, and the tension mounts as the station manager (the teacher in role) reminds them that time is running out.

Meanwhile, a Year 9 class is writing branching stories in the computer room as a way of exploring the narrative structure of Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespeare play the pupils will answer questions on in the key stage 3 SAT.

They are using a program which allows them to offer the reader alternative possibilities for the way the story might go. So far, most of them think Shakespeare made the right choices to maintain the tension, but there is always the hope that someone just might find a better way to end it. There might be a musical in it somewhere.

In a Year 10 class, pupils are considering the effect of different typefaces and font sizes on the impact and readability of a text. In the next lesson, they will get chance to practise such skills for themselves, with some previously loaded texts as well as some of their own. Eventually, they will be able to use a range of editing tools when writing their coursework - spell-checker, grammar-checkers, and electronic thesauruses.

A Year 11 class has access to a CD-Rom version of the full Oxford dictionary. They are exploring some aspects of the development of the English language, and they are using the computer's search facilities to find all the words which originated from the languages of the Indian sub-continent.

Time for quotes again, this time from the programme of study for key stages 3 and 4: o Pupils should be given opportunities to participate in a wide range of drama activities, including role-play o Pupils should be given opportunities to . . . consider how texts are changes when adapted to different media o In presenting final polished work, pupils should be taught to ensure that it is neat and legible, and makes full use of presentational devices where appropriate o Pupils should be given opportunities to use dictionaries and thesauruses to explore derivations and alternative meanings In fact, none of these anecdotes is fiction. They have all happened already. We are talking about the present, not the future.

The new Order firmly establishes IT at the heart of teaching and learning in English. These are exciting times. There is more money promised for CD-Roms in schools, software developments mean that powerful programs - like Hypertext - are within the grasp of even very modest budgets, and there is the prospect of cheap access for schools to the worldwide web of the information super highway.

Chris Turner on behalf of and with the help of NATE's English and the new technologies committee.

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