All hail Macbeth
I'll admit it. Some disappointment was voiced by my low-ability Year 9 class when I told them we were returning to Macbeth for final SATs revision. I got the impression that since finishing the unit in December, the class (mostly students on our special needs or English as an Additional Language registers more than capable of demonstrating challenging behaviour) had been trying hard to forget that Shakespeare had ever lived.
But an hour and a quarter later, the same pupils were leaving the room having fully met the aims of the lesson. More than this, they were leaving with smiles and "thank yous" and having uttered several "wows" during the lesson. Their behaviour had been perfect throughout and I'd heard them debating fine nuances of director's decisions in versions of Act III, Scene i with confidence.
It was using the interactive whiteboard to support the lesson that had made the difference. My lesson aims were to review the main events of Act III, Scene i and to prepare for the director's question on the SATs paper.
I created my starters, two interactive games to revise events of the scene, using flipchart pages for Active Studio (the software that comes free with all Promethium whiteboards).
The first was a multiple-choice quiz testing basic understanding. I used the reveal tool (which is the ICT equivalent to covering parts of an OHT on a projector with a piece of paper) to reveal the quiz question by question.
The class had cards with A, B and C to hold up for answers but electronic voting pads would be useful here.
I also made a cloze passage summary of the scene, using the flipchart software to create a click-and-drag activity, whereby missing words could be moved from the bottom of the screen to the correct places with the digital pen. It's always the pupils who are normally hardest to engage that are desperate to come to the whiteboard to take part in this kind of activity.
The main bulk of the lesson focused on the director's question and how to tackle it in the exam. Trying to counter the tendency for weaker pupils to write about costume and lighting at the expense of language analysis, I showed extracts from four versions of the key scene, asking them to compare tones of voice when Macbeth commands the murderers to kill young Fleance as well as Banquo.
The whiteboard offered many benefits here over a small-screened TV. I used the excellent value Channel 4 TV-Rom of Macbeth (which contains copious notes as well as the entire film with Macbeth played by Sean Pertwee) for one version. Our head of ICT had edited and transferred three other versions of that key scene onto one DVD for teacher-ease. The large screen helped them focus and our home-made DVD held endless possibilities: with a brighter group you could compare timings, discussing what's been left out and how this affects the interpretation; pause on still images and then freeze the screen and annotate on top with the digital pen; or lay two versions side by side to watch playing through simultaneously.
I'd given the class a list of adjectives that could describe Macbeth's tone of voice and asked them to circle or highlight the words that best fitted each version, starting a discussion about different ways of saying the same lines. Not throwing more traditional methods out, here I projected an OHT onto a blank flipchart page and then highlighted the words using the digital pen.
Modelling the essay
I then modelled how to turn these ideas into a Point, Evidence, Explain (PEE) paragraph for the SATs exam essay, typing my paragraph straight onto the whiteboard (a Bluetooth wireless keyboard is very useful for this kind of task as you can be anywhere in the classroom when typing). By modelling on the whiteboard you can use the digital pen to highlight annotate the paragraph to make the writing more explicit.
Now we were set up for guided work. The focus was writing a PEE director's paragraph on a short extract of text. While some of the class worked independently, two differentiated groups worked with teachers. One wrote a paragraph on sugar paper, the other directly onto a whiteboard flipchart page using the keyboard. During the plenary we could evaluate both paragraphs with the class. One tip I was thrilled to be given is that by Blu-Tacking sugar paper onto a blank flipchart page you can then highlight and annotate directly onto the top of it - something which children always seem to think is magic. The paragraph typed straight onto the flipchart page can also be annotated and then, crucially, printed and saved to use in another lesson if necessary.
Four teachers observed the lesson and all said they felt inspired to try similar ideas in their own classroom. When evaluating it a head of English from a nearby school wrote: "The lesson was word- and text-level focused and ICT clearly facilitated this. The use of the whiteboard to record a group's work was also very effective. The variety of tasks really worked at maintaining students' focus on learning a challenging skill - directing."
Why was the lesson such a success? Crucially, it wasn't because ICT had revolutionised what I did as an English teacher, providing hitherto unimaginable opportunities. ICT wasn't a flashy add-on, or a PowerPoint-style non-interactive presentation. Instead, the resources had allowed me to focus on the quality of teaching and learning.
The technology supported a transfer from didactic whole-class teaching to interactive and exploratory learning and from individual work to guided group-teaching. Ultimately, this change in culture enabled all my class to engage in difficult concepts with enthusiasm. And as part of revision two weeks before the SATs, this suggests that by embracing technology within English there is a creative and fulfilling pathway through our exam-orientated curriculum.
* Rachel Kitley is head of English at Kingsbury High School, a large inner London comprehensive.
Kingsbury English department is one of six departments across Brent LEA to be involved in the Brent "Hands On Support" ICT training programme where teachers train each other by sharing ideas and advice about using ICT in their subject areas.