An interactive whiteboard is a marvellous tool for the inclusive classroom. It can engage pupils, regardless of ability, learning needs or language difficulties, through the seamless use of different media and provide a focus for everyone in the class. Not only does it make it possible to teach to the learning styles of all pupils, whether their preference is for visual, aural or kinaesthetic learning, it can also support specific special educational needs.
The visual impact of the whiteboard is obvious, it gives an immediate, brightly lit, difficult to ignore focus at the front of the room. This is important for pupils with visual impairments and also for those who are easily distracted or have difficulty engaging with the lesson. Although the content could be video, animations or graphics pulled straight off the internet and on to the large display, it also enables written text to become more accessible. They are more easily shared than books, with the teacher using a "spotlight" tool from the interactive whiteboard software, to highlight key words or read them aloud, so everyone can follow.
Word processing programs have "highlighter pens" with which key features of the text, a rhyming scheme for instance, can be picked out and colour-coded, so it can be seen as well as heard.
Enhanced sound usually goes with the enhanced display and the speakers of the interactive whiteboard make it easy for everyone to hear a soundtrack or the sound effects of a presentation, giving students another hook to hang their learning on. Using the sound system to provide background music when working can also provide a calm, purposeful feel to a room.
As for kinaesthetic learners, it can be argued that using technology is, in itself, a supportive activity. Interacting with it needs the use of the hands and fingers, through the keyboard and mouse. On an interactive whiteboard this is amplified. Students can pick up text and move it around to change the sense of a sentence, for example, or put it in its proper order. This can involve simply dragging and dropping sentences in Microsoft Word to write up a science experiment perhaps, or sort records in a database program, such as 2Investigate from 2Simple Software. Art students with poor fine motor control will find they can make correspondingly finer movements on a PC screen through the bigger canvas of the whiteboard.
Interactive whiteboards also make discussion and collaboration easier, whether creating mind maps in humanities, reading a text in a language lesson, or sharing creations in ICT, pupils can learn from and with each other. A good example of this approach is the use of the Developing Tray (also from 2Simple). Students are presented with fragments of a text and challenged to decode it. Through working together everyone can appreciate and understand the processes involved.
Even when working individually the whiteboard can act as a support. The teacher's presentation can be left on the board for those who need reminding about the lesson or the steps in a task. Previous lessons can also be quickly pulled up to prompt everyone's memory.
As a means of including all students in learning the whiteboard is a powerful addition to the teachers' toolbox. It can help to engage pupils, motivate them, develop their understanding through opening out the topic being studied, and it will enhance collaboration and, therefore, learning between students. This technology will enrich lessons for all pupils and support individuals with various learning difficulties. Now schools are getting the equipment, it is up to staff to make it work for their pupils.
John Galloway is advisory teacher for ICTSEN in the London borough of Tower Hamlets