"You can have the best ICT in the world, but if it won't work the way you need it to, you would be better off without it." That is the refreshingly down-to-earth advice from Lesley Marwood, whose good practice with ICT earned her a top award earlier this year.
Lesley, winner of the New to Teaching category of Becta's ICT in Practice Awards (sponsored by The TES), has recently gained advanced skills teacher status in modern languages at English Martyrs school and sixth form college in Hartlepool. She admits to being "staggered" by the variety of high-tech products on the market, and urges fellow professionals to try before they buy. "Some adverts promise the Earth, but you can only assess the value of a product by taking time to look at what it can do for you in your classroom."
Her own assessment exercises have turned up notable hits and misses. The Classroom Performance System (CPS) was warmly welcomed when Lesley realised that not only did it encourage reticent pupils to take part in class exercises and quizzes, but that she could also tune questions very finely to students' needs. "The ability to tailor a system is very valuable," she says. "After all, you know your pupils better than anyone else." She is less enthusiastic about the department's interactive whiteboard. "I need to be free to roam around the class, and not all pupils like standing at the board," she says. "But we do use it sometimes to introduce variety. It is really important to use a variety of equipment and software to prevent boredom."
A strong believer in employing authentic materials, Lesley makes extensive use of French and German websites, and tunes into French satellite TV station TV5, taking particular pleasure in tracking down resources that work at many different levels. "Year 7 might listen to one of the TV5 Saturday morning songs, and try to identify the names of fruit and vegetables, while Year 13 might use another song as the stimulus for a debate on racism," she says.
Pupils are encouraged to play an active part in their learning, increasingly with the help of digital video. They enjoy being filmed acting out role plays, or chatting with the locals on exchange trips abroad, and the footage is now being used with younger classes. Lesley says: "It is difficult for them to stand in class and do a demonstration to younger pupils, but they can do it with the help of technology. The potential for this kind of work is huge."
She seizes opportunities to glean nuggets of good practice by attending after-school courses. "It can be difficult when you are tired, but I believe that if I come away with one thing I can use, it will have been worthwhile," she says. Departmental resources are shared on the school's network, and English Martyrs holds regular training sessions in which teachers take a half-hour slot to demonstrate how they employ a particular technology. "I find this incredibly useful," says Lesley. "Seeing something in action with other professionals really sparks off ideas. You think: 'If I changed this slightly, it could work for me.'"
She also shares her practice by giving courses for teachers from fellow schools in the Hexham and Newcastle Catholic Partnership, and always takes care to be precise about the use of ICT. "There are lots of teachers who don't know how to use PowerPoint or download pictures from the web, and they are embarrassed about asking. You don't have to say it all - often I present some of my ideas, then hand out a sheet that goes through everything step by step. My advice to trainers is to keep your presentation short, and leave plenty of time for hands-on work."
She stresses that in making any decision about resources, her focus is always on what she wants her pupils to achieve. "Then I try to find the best way of achieving it - whatever that might be. There are times when a piece of paper might do the job just as well - or even better - than technology."
To prove the point, she explains how an email exchange exercise with a French school would have been better conducted by writing letters - much less disappointing than booking the computer suite and watching some students staring forlornly at an empty inbox. "If we had videoconferencing, and teamed up with a school with the same kind of resources, I might try the exercise again," says Lesley. "I gaze longingly at schools that have videoconferencing."
* Be creative in your use of ICT. As technology loses its novelty value, you have to work creatively to come up with unusual approaches.
* Use a range of resources - don't restrict yourself to one type of equipment, or do all your presentations in PowerPoint.
* Use authentic materials in the target language to bring a subject to life - try using satellite TV, video and texts from the web.
* Involve pupils in presentations. Video them doing a role-play, and show the footage to fellow students.
* Encourage pupils to use the computer suite. Clicking and finding things for themselves takes them on to a new level of learning.
* The Classroom Performance System (CPS). A voting system which encourages all pupils to take part in class quizzes and tests. eInstruction UK: Tel: 01943 850119 www.einstruction.uk.com
* Microsoft PowerPoint
* Data projector.
Accurate AV: Tel: 08700 750750; www.accurateav.co.uk
* InterWrite SchoolPad. Ambra Solutions: Tel: 01794 502273www.ambra-solutions.co.uk
* Digital satellite TV. TV5 (channel 825 on Sky Digital) is excellent.
* www.linguascope.comLinguascope - provides a catalogue of interactive resources and a resource-sharing area.
Momes.net - French-speaking children's website packed with ideas.
Real French - free teaching and learning resources.
* http:yahoo.fr Yahoo! France - the French-language version of the popular search engine.
* www.bbclanguages.com BBC Languages - aimed at adult learners, but works well with pupils.