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Global creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Smile engagingly, please

This week I offer another way to free the little treasure that is the digital camera from simply being used to record school trips or prove who won the staff race on sports day. I warn you though, it does involve pupils getting their hands on the cameras themselves.

I always used the camera to take pictures of anything that could easily be snapped and printed, so there was a record of it. If a pupil had painted something great or made a model, I would take a quick photograph of it. I still do, but I have also learnt that pictures taken during a lesson can have even more value than those taken at the end.

Putting the camera in the hands of the class during the lesson changes the nature of the images dramatically. Rather than being a record of a product, the image can become the product itself. In this way, it can capture both the understanding of the pupils using it, and encourage them to think about how they can make that understanding clear. This can give a purpose and motivation. If a pupil wants to show me they have learnt something, a blurred picture of someone's thumb is not good enough.

For example, when we were looking at adverbs in literacy, we were following the usual pattern of investigating new ones to extend our vocabulary before using them in our writing. To make sure that pupils understood what they were using, I asked them to act their adverbs, so we had someone moping around to show "morosely" and someone else picking up their pencil, "delicately".

As we moved to using them in sentences, Tom and Sam, two less eager writers, asked if they could use the digital camera instead. I couldn't think of a reason why not, so I said yes.

They then composed some freeze frames to take some excellent stills, making clear their understanding of their chosen adverbs. Quickly printed and labelled, they had an excellent record of their learning - and so did I. I was also able to use the images at the start of the next lesson, during which a motivated Tom and Sam used the adverbs in their writing.

Using ICT is something most pupils are able to do with ease and speed. What they are not always so good at is knowing when to use ICT. The more opportunities they have to experience its benefits and frustrations, the more likely they are to be selective in its use. I find the same is true of the digital camera. If using it is a regular option, pupils learn when it is helpful and the photos they produce help my assessment.

My dream is one day to get annual reports down to simply one still image per subject. That really would be something to smile about!

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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