Bestworst lesson

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Best: My best lesson was with my Year 9 boys presenting work on the war poets. How could they demonstrate their knowledge of the poets' imagery and ideas? I decided to put them into pairs, allocating them a war poem and the task of creating a "poem film" using PowerPoint or Movie Maker. I chose poems ranging from the powerful but short, like Dulce et Decorum Est, to the more complex Anthem for Doomed Youth, both by Wilfred Owen. I paired the more experienced geeks with the technologically-hopeless.

Boys selected key lines, even single words, to film. Complex poetic lines were filmed by overlaying images, sounds and their own videos. This built up multiple meanings.

My favourite sequence was from Siegfried Sassoon's Base Details, where a pupil-pair imported the image of a suitably "scarlet Major", placing blood red text below it. This then faded into rapidly projected sepia photographs of young soldiers, with the dates of when each was killed in action written below.

Their film soundtrack used Colonel Bogey fading into It's a long way to Tipperary. These jolly tunes jarred with the horrific battle images projected alongside them.

It was wonderful to see pupils working together using sophisticated technology techniques married to a narrative.

Another group filmed the Great War memorial plaque in our school foyer, a tribute to former pupils who died, making it their film's final, moving image. It was one of those lessons where the boys achieved what you wanted, with 100 per cent more besides.

Worst: The lesson was A2 literature in the ICT lab. Coursework deadlines loomed. I gave pupils the last 20 minutes of the lesson to research sources and critics. Soon, they were the picture of concentration. Even Danny, our bright but easily distracted joker, was working. So I shut down my slideshow and explored the new interactive whiteboard. I had to understand the new beast. I opened menus, created clip art men and books. It's an impressive little gadget.

One helpful girl, Sally, suggested that I use the pen: "As it's got more options and it's what you point with, Miss." Sally was right - my all-powerful pen could create thick or thin lines, lift up and place down.

Drunk on the power of my new wand, I clicked away with the clip art men, clearing the board, swirling and swiping with my lovely new pen, drawing elongated U shapes. Thick purple marker lines were a good highlighting colour. "That's good, Miss!" trilled Sally. The others looked up, mildly intrigued. "Now... click off it... all your earlier work comes back. Cool, innit?"

Except it wasn't. "Clicking off", I was horrified to see a returned army of grinning clip art men, complete with suggestive thick purple shapes blurting out of them that looked exactly like: "Willies. Oh, Miss" yelled Danny, hands folded in mock outrage. "What have you done?" Roars of laughter ensued. I must be the only English teacher who remembers The Colour Purple without recalling Alice Walker.

Cassandra Hilland teaches at Hampton Boys' School in Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey.

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