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Ready for the impact of ICT?

An opportunity has been missed, says Martin Tibbetts

I recently attended a day celebrating the life and work of the late Sally Tweddle, the influential advocate of ICT in education whose thinking about the need to address screen-based texts focused the minds of many teachers of English and NATE. So I found it somewhat ironical to be invited by the QCA to discuss "Media, ICT and the Moving Image" in the context of reviewing the new curriculum. Closed stable doors sprang to mind.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the day but wondered why such a debate was taking place after the publication of the new Order. NATE tried hard to influence thinking and made many suggestions for inclusion in the new Order. Sadly, they were ignored and our pupils are the poorer for that.

The new English curriculum fails to recognise the world our pupils inhabit. Many of them are already confident users of the new technology, as are an increasing number of their teachers. The opportunities for addressing writing for real purposes for real audiences were lost at a time when the Government was giving the nation's teachers the opportunity and training to integrate ICT in their teaching.

There is a pressing need for the UK to address and research the nature of English on a computer screen. We teach children how to make sense of a library but there is no requirement for them to be taught to search the internet effectively and make a success of interactive genres that are different when using the new technology.

I need to print a document from the internet to make sense of it. My primary pupils do not. They seem able to read text in letterbox byte-size chunks. However, I do watch them spend an inordinate amount of time going down internet cul de sacs because hey need to be taught how to research effectively and use search engines appropriately.

Enter the literacy hour in key stages 1 to 3. The straitjacket model does not enable ICT to play a part. I challenge any English teacher to attempt a "guided" or "independent" ICT activity in that 20-minute opportunity and get beyond teaching ICT skills to access an English text.

Given the enormous status ICT has in this country, I am both worried and puzzled that the attendant skills for pupils to make a success of this medium that will have a profound impact on all our lives have been neglected. English on the internet is different. Texts are both confused and enhanced by moving images, graphics are not always linear and material and resources can be enriched by direct responses from readers.

I do not see the computer as a substitute for traditional English teaching and learning, but the new curriculum has remained retrospective, not supporting them to make a success of new media opportunities. The national ICT and literacy initiatives should have been co-ordinated with thinking about the new curriculum.

Meanwhile, teachers are discovering what the technology can do in the margins of their time and pupils, with ICT access, are experimenting and well ahead of the game and their mentors. Sadly, they are operating without the skills we should be teaching them now in the classroom to enable them to be effective, not random, users of the new technology.

Martin Tibbetts is headteacher of Cheslyn Hay Primary School and chair of NATE's English and New Technology Committee.National Association for the Teaching of English, 50 Bradfield Road, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S8 OXJ.Tel: 0114 255 5419E-mail: nate@hqbtconnect.comWeb:

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