A word to the wise

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Jack Kenny discovers how Anna Smith's job has been transformed through the use of technology

Working with a pragmatic intensity is one of the marks of the practice of Anna Smith. Why does she use ICT? "Because it works. I wouldn't use it if it didn't," says Anna.

Anna's introduction to ICT was in a school she worked in during her gap year in Bishop's Stortford.

"There were computers in the staff room," she says. "I taught myself and started to think about how IT could be used in lessons. Most of my other training has been at the point of need. 'I want to do this; what do I need?' Of course, there was other training at key points."

Anna feels that learning about HTML and the Hot Potatoes program was an important step for her. The PGCE year introduced her to the internet; she also learnt how to use Word in different ways.

Teaching history at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge for eight years, she has been making serious use of ICT for the past four. "It has given me so many new challenges that I feel as though I am in a different job."

Anna uses Outlook (both its email and discussion group facilities), Word, Publisher, Hot Potatoes and HTML on a very regular basis, and is now working on activities for the data projector, including the dynamic use of PowerPoint.

Anna's activities aim at developing both knowledge and thinking skills, and she places great emphasis on developing the students as autonomous learners.

Word is the main application that she uses. "The emphasis is on getting students to think about the material, not on thinking about Word as a word processor. It is a tool for organising thoughts or ideas rather than changing fonts to make work look pretty. A lot of collaborative tasks are written out, cut and pasted, edited. You can pick at text."

Anna devises activities around Word. In a small-group essay activity each person writes a bit of the essay and emails it to another in the group.

They then sit round the computer and edit the essay together.

"There is the talking, the discussion," she says. "Then they will send it to another group in the class who will peer review it. At that point, what they are really saying is: what makes a good essay?"

"We also use writing frames. I will sometimes send out dynamic worksheets by email. These the students can edit, change, add to or re-sequence."

Hot Potatoes is a program for devising tests. "It is helpful in enabling students to get their heads round the basic facts," says Anna. "I try to think before devising the tests what facts will the students need to use for supporting evidence on a topic. For document response you can use the multiple-choice options to ask: 'What is Luther arguing at this point; what point is Lenin making?' It is a diagnostic tool to refine their thinking."

Not many people have found useful ways to use the summariser in Word. Anna has. "The student can ask the summariser to work on one of their own essays. Does the summariser highlight the main points of the essay? If not; why not? Is the argument not clear enough?"

Anna's history classroom is not lavishly equipped. She has a desktop computer, a projector and standard screen. "I think that there is potential in interactive whiteboards, but there is still more that we can do with the data projector before we go to the next stage."

Considering the future, Anna believes the change is imperative in the examination system. "I do think there is plenty of room for another look at how we assess students in examinations," she says. "In the lower key stages teachers are working with pupils to get them to organise their thoughts and refine their ideas."

"It is making students think better, write better," she concludes. "Yet at the end of the courses, we get them to sit a paper-based exam that does not allow them to use the skills that they have developed."

* Teaching tips

* Keep focused on the learning outcome, not the technology. Remember that IT is just a tool. Ask yourself: "why I am I using IT here - would pencil and paper be better?"

* Ask the students what resources and activities they would find, or have found helpful

* Experiment. Try things out to see if they work

* Think creatively about what you can do with what you have. General programs, such as "Office" applications, have just as much potential for exciting IT use as specialist packages

* Brainstorm with colleagues to develop and refine activities and resources


* www.tudors.org

John Guy is a leading Tudor historian, and has put a selection of papers and lecture notes up on the internet

* www.factmonster.com

A quick checker for things such as dates and mini-biographies, often displaying the entry to the class as an instant response to a student query

* www.calvin.educasgpaindex.htm

An excellent collection of Nazi propaganda sources, including posters, speeches and extracts from books and pamphlets

* http:ferl.becta.org.uk index.cfm

Takes some time to explore fully, many case studies, tutorials and example resources

* www.activehistory.co.uk

Very inspiring site. Very learner-centred, with lots of fun activities. The dating game is addictive


Robert Newcombe Computing lecturer West Cheshire College Cheshire

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