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Play your cards right

So you're a very busy student teacher. But, says Cassandra Hilland, getting your teaching materials sorted now will save time later.

Resources are the teacher's secret weapon. They are the stocks and supplies that can always be drawn upon, aset of readily-available and reusable assets. Yet, when it comes to collecting and creating useful learning materials, new teachers are usually left to figure out for themselves what might come in handy one day.

It's easy to over-react by hoarding anything from cornflake packets to entire website printouts. Alternatively, you might decide to see what's needed once you start teaching, thereby guaranteeing that you spend the first week of your job rushing around grabbing anything from cornflake packets to entire website printouts. So how can we use resources resourcefully?

The best time to start thinking about gathering and creating them is while you are still completing your teaching practice.

First, you have more free time than you ever will as a full-time teacher - depressing, I know. Second, if you're lucky, your university's education department should be a treasure trove of (colour) photocopiers, computers with Internet connections, scanners, editing suites, laminators - and, of course, lots of books, tapes and videos for your subject area.

During my own PGCE course, I edited together video-clip montages, from "images of Hamlet" to "war through the ages". I created three learning packs on Joyce, DH Lawrence and Dickens. Best of all, though, was discovering that our education department had its own technician. Check to see if yours has. Our technician took dozens of slide photographs which I mounted on to slides.

"But I don't have any time," I hear you cry. It's true that trainee teachers work flat out. You probably think that you're too busy to worry about resources. But hang on a minute - think about all that painstaking lesson planning you're doing right now. If you created a set of work cards for the topic, packed with varied activities and extension work, it might save you preparation time in the long term. And, of course, you could re-use the cards next year.

A carefully-designed work card enables you to cover several lessons rather than planning each one separately. Good resources help us to save more time, which is the most precious resource of all.

Many trainee teachers steer clear of creating resources because they believe there is little chance of being able to re-use the materials in their first permanent job. Not true. You will almost certainly have to teach a "universal" topic during your teaching practice, and you will be using resources that are simply crying out to be laminated for long-term use.

Perhaps you are teaching key concepts, such as grammatical constructions or geometrical principles. Or, maybe, you are covering part of a set text in literature, ora political movement in history. These topics stay on syllabuses for years so, if you take the time to create resources for any key topic, there is a good chance you can use them again. And don't assume that they'll never be as good as anything you'll create once you've had more experience. A good resource is a good resource.

Think laterally. Your town is a resource - as is your local library, art gallery and museum. Perhaps there's an object from home that would help student learning. In a recent GCSE English oral exam on soldiers' experiences in World War One, a student brought in images of his great-grandfather in uniform, explaining his relative's role in the war and recounting family stories. Such human resources work brilliantly.

If you're teaching media studies next year, tape an interview with a local journalist. Maybe you know someone in a relevant job or industry - you have more materials than you realise.

Not only do resources provide help in a first teaching job, they also help experienced teachers secure new jobs. For an interview, I've been asked to provide samples of my contributions to my "departmental documents" - in addition to the obligatory sample lesson. I'll take along some colourful work cards I made to support the teaching of a modern novel, in addition to the requisite schemes of work.

Each card covers a key section of a different chapter, and includes questions and a range of activities illustrated with drawings, graphics and photographs. I also included on the cards the chapter sections themselves, so that the whole card is self-contained - handy for those annoying occasions when a student's forgotten to bring his or her book.

Innovative learning resources are seen as a sign of good practice in formal inspections. Our department was recently praised for its carefully-constructed and wide-ranging learning resources and displays. This is significant because the praise formed part of the formal feedback and related to one of the main strengths that the inspectors found.

Good resources tell inspectors something about the department. Work cards can show differentiation by task and an awareness of wider social and cultural issues. They are evidence that teachers are trying to make learning enjoyable.

So there you have it, the rich and wide-ranging world of resources. As long as you remember that that's how learning resources should be, you can't go wrong. When you're wondering whether it's worth investing time in a resource, ask yourself: would this material make the subject more accessible and enjoyable? Would it save me time in the long run? Would it be relevant for several years?

For me, a good learning resource brings a topic to life in living, vibrant colour, encouraging students to think about familiar subjects in new ways.

Cassandra Hilland teaches at Farnham College, Surrey

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