Bad practice

13th October 2000 at 01:00
In the second of his regular columns looking at all that's bad and how to learn from it, Jack Kenny ponders the question of who's afraid of whole-class teaching?

Fairly common in secondary schools and may spread to primaries as more of them acquire ICT suites is the practice of the teacher repeating the same teaching point to many individuals simply because they are working individually at the PCs. It makes for very poor use of time and is largely a result of the teacher not "bossing" the teaching environment. The teacher seems to accept that in a suite where all the kids face away from the centre because that is how the machines are laid out, you cannot easily make teaching points to the whole class, instead they deal almost exclusively with individuals even when they are encountering a common problem. The effect is often that some kids wait ages for help.

Where next? There is network software that can flash up the same information on all screens, but it is simpler when you have identified a common problem to say "stop and pay attention while I explain this". Everyone could have been helped in a minute by some whole-class teaching.

I know best

After an influx of money for ICT the art and media department went to the headteacher: "We're tired of PCs. The new Apple machines will do some superb work with video. You can download video from the camera, edit in the iMac, and send it back to the camera. In addition, the machines are far better for DTP."

The head said: "This is not a question for me. I've appointed a head of ICT and it is up to him. That is what I pay him for!" "I can see your point," said the head of ICT soothingly and patronisingly, "but I have to take a wider view. We simply cannot support two platforms. The PC world will catch up, it always does."

"So," said the art teachers, "in the mean time we have to deprive these kids of these creative opportunities?"

"'Fraid so."

Where next? The desire to be tidy and use one platform is not unusual. There are occasions when the superiority of one platform is very marked and this department probably has a point. The art department will not now go along with the policy happily. If the ICT manager can't convince them intellectually and forces the issue by pulling rank or superior knowledge he weakens his position. The art teachers could suggest a review of buying policy but they will probably be unsuccessful with that kind of headteacher.

The ICT co-ordinator was very pleased with the amount of discrete ICT he had with Year 7, nearly 30 hours in a year.

"What do you do with them?"

"Word processing."


"Word processing. There are all those drop down menus to cover."

Where next? Can't you feel the dreariness of all this? The English department needs to protest. This is the kind of approach that gets ICT a bad name. These kids should be using the computers to write, compose, create, edit. The decontextualised nature of work is like losing curriculum time.


Everyone in school was very pleased; the new computers had arrived. Pentiums, masses of gigabytes, loads of memory! Wonderful! The teachers in the infant classes looked at them longingly. For one moment when the machines came through the door and were set down just outside an infant classroom they allowed themselves to dream but they only rested there for a while and then made their way to be used by the top juniors. One infant teacher was brave and a touch irate: "Couldn't we have just one of the new machines?"

"No," said the head. "We are, however, going to cascade machines down the school and you will get rid of your BBCs. That will be an advance for you because you will leap into the era of the 386 machines that will come out of Class Four."

The brave infant teacher, just as irate, returned to her classroom to give the bad news.

Where next? The same syndrome produces large classes when kids are learning to read and write and small classes when they are doing A-Level. The correlation between age and computer power is not understood in many schools. The common view seems to be that the older the pupil the more computing power they need. In fact, a good case can be argued for the opposite: the younger the child the more power that is needed to make the machine accessible. It will be a difficult case for the infant teachers to argue but they need to find a friendly adviser who understands the correlation.

We are looking for more genuine examples of bad practice. If you know of any, please email details to Jack Kenny at

The purpose of this is to encourage good practice, there is no intention to pillory any school or individual. All material that we use will preserve anonymity.Bad Practice will feature in future issues of TES Online along with extra material on the TES website.

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