Caught on camera

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week:

What's sitting in the ICT or classroom cupboard that could become a fun, efficient and creative addition to your assessment toolkit? The digital camera, that's what!

There are a number of ways it could be helping you, rather than sitting there waiting to become obsolete. As digital cameras become increasingly user-friendly, more and more uses for them are being found. I'm sure that not a piece of sewing goes home, or a piece of artwork is displayed, without being snapped for posterity. I also find digital cameras are good for filling in those everyday gaps in my assessment picture.

One of the things I have always found hard to do is write what used to be called training "field notes". I have heard of teachers who had notebooks and pencils dangling from their belts. When something noteworthy happened, they would quickly jot down a reminder or record, which over the course of a week, could then inform future blah, blah, blah ...

At the end of practical activities, particularly group work, I realise that all my mental notes have been made with invisible ink, and only my mental pictures are left as to who interacted with whom and which teams co-operated with each other. Enter the camera.

If used often enough, a digital camera is no longer a novelty and pupils are not phased by the teacher snapping away. As I am working my way round the room, joining in here and there, when I see pupils contributing - Jor not - I take some shots. If I see something significant, such as someone making notes, I take a picture of it happening. Here are my field notes as images. Even in discussions lasting only a few minutes, I can take shots of each group. The images act as an easy-to-keep mental prompt. I can put them in a Word document and add some notes or, if the images are not representative, I delete them.

The real beauty is the way the photos facilitate a simple transition from being an assessment tool for me to being a self-evaluation tool for the pupils. If printed on A6-sized paper, they can be given to the children and kept as a record. Pupils can then annotate them, saying what they are doing in the picture, what else they did while working with the group, and whether they think they played their part. It takes practice, but over time pupils begin to better understand the process of collaborative working, making every effort to stay "on task", not just when the camera is approaching. But do make sure all school procedures relating to the taking and keeping of images are followed.

I have found this visual record of learning invaluable when writing reports. It also helped me to catch the mystery tissue-dropper!

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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