Pupils love it when a teacher slips up. Especially a supply teacher. So when I wrote the date on an interactive whiteboard (IWB) in indelible marker the Year 9 students at the north London comprehensive where I was covering a geography lesson earlier this year were thrilled.
There was also a marginally less humiliating occasion where I single-handedly managed to switch the IWB on. I wouldn't have got any further if the whole Year 4 class hadn't been whizzes with it and patiently showed me how to use the high-tech pen. But my handwriting ended up all over the place and kept changing widths - I think they thought I was showing off.
Before you take me for a militant member of the old school, let me clarify.
I left teaching in 2001, nano-seconds before the interactive whiteboard revolution and now - during my supply teaching stints - when I am not making humiliating and expensive stabs at using IWBs I treat them like the fabled elephant in the front room and politely ignore them.
It appears that I am not alone - RM has produced a new software package called CPD Workshop aimed at teachers flummoxed by the things - as well as more experienced users who want to hone their skills.
Year 2 teacher Richard Thaxter assures us in one of CPD Workshop's video case studies: "Once you realise the benefits of the interactive whiteboard it's not really an issue that you're going to have to learn new skills; it's more that you're going to want to have a go."
If the barrage of teachers spouting pro-IWB propaganda in the Why Use an Interactive Whiteboard section - "The children were glued to it, they were the most engaged I had seen them in a couple of years," raves one teacher - does not convince you of Mr Thaxter's sentiments then the videos of his and Natalie Dixon's intimidatingly model lessons will. The Training and Development Agency For Schools should snap up the rights to these videos and air them the next time it needs to boost the primary teacher pool.
Ms Dixon has her Year 5 children - apparently not so angelic when the IWB is not used, she assures us - sitting in front of the IWB, then writing at their desks before feeding back on the water cycle in a literacy lesson. Mr Thaxter does not rely entirely on the IWB either. He uses number fans, for instance, in his lesson. In short, CPD Workshop stresses that IWBs are not the be-and-end-all of lessons.
I can vouch that the software does what it says on the packet - teaches novices how to use an IWB. Using the Easiteach basic tools section I mastered the toolbar functions in 20 minutes. It also has basic, intermediate, advanced and extra tools sections for Promethean ACTIVprimary and SMART Notebook software users. The skills can then be used to adapt and build on the lesson plans provided.
CPD Workshop is more than an instruction manual written by techies though.
Teaching tips sit alongside instructions on how to use the tool bar: the edit and use key which moves and manipulates objects will be useful for kinaesthetic learners.
CPD Workshop understands that mastering the toolbar is only part of the equation. In Planning Effective IWB Lessons, CPD teachers are prompted to consider the kinds of activities (quick-fire questions, whole-class, group and individual work) and resources (internet clips, CDs, PowerPoint) they might use in an IWB lesson. In the Delivering Effective IWB Lessons, how to engage audio, visual and kinaesthetic learners is considered.
CPD workshop is excellent at anticipating the pitfalls of using an IWB: mini-whiteboards should be used to ensure the whole class is involved, not just those called to the board. It warns that it is usually only the able and disruptive pupils who are chosen to come to the board.
The rub with all this is the amount of preparation time a good IWB lesson requires. Sourcing interactive software for kinaesthetic learners, video clips for visual learners and sound files for audio learners is a time-consuming business. No doubt putting lessons together will become easier as skills become ingrained and banks of resources accrue, but there is no getting away from the fact that statutory planning, preparation and assessment time is coming in the nick of time for teachers who want to incorporate IWBs into lessons.
Off-the-shelf training pack on how to use whiteboards and how to use them as an effective teaching tool.
Price:pound;359.10 Tel: 08709 086969 www.rm.com