Clip art

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Clip art

You know how it is. You're sitting at the computer, knocking up another resource sheet. You want to make it a little different, pleasing to the eye. You select "clip art" and put in your search criteria. You select "animals" and before you know it, you have every animal under the sun, but some are wearing hats, others are juggling globes and, for some reason, the monkey you could have used is riding a Jack Russell. You know the perfect image is out there that sums up the learning, you can see it in your head.

If only you could see it on the screen.

While looking unsuccessfully for something on "muscles", I sat back and thought about what I was doing. I was using all the thinking skills and processes I want my pupils to develop. I was considering the information as a whole and evaluating what I considered to be the salient points. I was trying to distil this into a single image I felt would convey the meaning.

It sounds grand, but that is what we do every time we make those clip art choices.

So I left it blank. Instead of choosing clip art, I selected an autoshape rectangle, drawing it where I would have placed my clip art. None of the pupils commented on it but during the plenary I called their attention to it.

Keeping to my promise always to explain my purpose for any task I give them, I told them of my fruitless search and said I didn't want to have the same problem the next time I taught the lesson.

I challenged them to design a piece of clip art that would fit in the shape I had left blank. As they talked, they began to refine their ideas in the same way you refine a search. A body builder was rejected because it didn't teach anyone anything.

Tom and Chandny came up with a stick figure which had arrows pointing to named muscles they had learnt. Adam and Hoomera decided on two people having a tug-of-war with the word, "pull" to make the point that muscles don't push.

The purpose and size demanded a key learning point. For the same reason, it has proved useful as an assessment tool. Asking pupils at the end of a topic to design the six most useful clip art images for me on resources gives a chance for those who think visually to demonstrate their understanding.

And you know the best thing? You don't have to waste even more time trying to find a working printer.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester.


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