Pete Roythorne meets a teacher who exploits free software and designs his own ICT resources to inject a fast pace into lessons
As you walk into Nodehill Middle School in Newport, Isle of Wight, there's no mistaking Joe Dale's classroom. It's the one plastered floor to ceiling in film posters ranging from Harry Potter to Shrek 2I in French. Any spare space is allocated to vocab sheets and in pride of place at the front is Joe's interactive whiteboard, and it's this that makes you understand why Joe is writing a toolkit for the Specialist Schools Trust, why he has recently come back from doing presentations at Language World, and also why he is running ICT training courses at Dragonfly Training, an organisation that uses teachers to train teachers.
ICT is firmly embedded in Joe's foreign languages curriculum and the motivational effects on his pupils can be seen from the moment they step into the class. According to their latest Ofsted report: "The quality of teaching and learning is especially good in French. In two excellent lessons the teacher had the highest expectations of pupils, set a very fast pace for their learning and provided an imaginative and very varied range of activities to help pupils learn."
I saw two classes in which Joe used PowerPoint presentations and games that included hangman, a Blockbusters-style game, drag and drop word games, sentence jumbling quizzes and noughts and crosses. All were centred on the whiteboard and were either free downloads (see Free resources) or resources he had designed himself. Surprisingly, the children remain focused and engaged throughout the class. "Things move at a fast pace and the children are used to this," explains Joe. "If you only have two lessons a week, there's a lot of stuff to get through."
It's important to note that the whiteboard isn't the be-all-and-end-all for Joe's classes. While many criticise whiteboards for only engaging the child at the board, Joe is careful to mix new and old interactive technology. At one point marker pens and wipe clean boards are handed round so those not at the whiteboard can hold their answers aloft, thereby engaging all the class.
The most obviously impressive resources are the PowerPoint presentations Joe has designed himself, which are truly inspirational and a far cry from the death by PowerPoint we're so often warned of: "If you use slides with text and one colour then, yes, maybe that would be boring," Joe explains.
"The same goes if you get drawn too far in the other direction, using too much colour or sound. The message is distilled and you lose your pupils.
With PowerPoint, less is certainly more."
Joe's consistent use of colours permeates all that he does, whether it's ICT resources or printouts on the wall. "I use colours to denote genders of words," he explains. "Blue for male, pink for female, and green for plural.
In sentences the individual words will be coloured but when I'm using pictures in PowerPoint the background that the image is on will denote its gender."
The PowerPoint resource I saw demonstrated focuses on buildings. By clicking an action button on, for example, a stadium on a blue background, the words "le stade" are displayed. A tap of Joe's pen on the whiteboard and some shops are displayed on a green background, "les magasins". And so on until we reach a screen divided into three horizontal coloured strips: one blue, one pink, and one green. Here all eight pictures are displayed in their relevant gender categories. Once again Joe has designed it so that by clicking on the screen the pictures appear in random order and the class has to say what they are - in French, of course.
Sometimes the pictures spin round or fly across the page - standard animation effects in PowerPoint. "The children particularly like this one,"
says Joe as he holds down the backspace and return keys on his laptop and the image repeatedly flies across the screen. "I hold this down until they eventually get it right," he continues.
Besides their value for learning vocabulary, the PowerPoints have many other applications. Joe, for example, demonstrated the difference between je vais au, ... la, ... l' and aux. With the "le stade" image on the blue background and "la gare" on the pink background, for example, the class is taken through "je vais au stade" and "je vais ... la gare".
Joe explains some of his techniques: "Most of the time I'm using simple action buttons to move from one frame to the next in a linear fashion, but for more complex things such as getting words to appear over pictures I'm using triggers and hyperlinks. You can use simple techniques to create good resources, but you can also go way beyond that and take hours to create fantastic ones. While the buildings one took about four hours to make, two hours of which was spent getting the right pictures, I also created a full 24-hour clock which progresses at five- minute intervals. This was somewhat more of a labour of love including 144 slides and taking more than 50 hours."
But for Joe it's all about taking that extra time to make things look professional. For the future he plans to add sound files to his PowerPoint presentations so the children can hear the words being spoken. And there are plans to make his resources available through his own website, when he gets the time.
ferl.becta. org.uk An advice and guidance service for effective use of ICT in the post-compulsory sector .
Allows you to download animations .
A series of macros developed to produce exercises in Word, which may be printed or done on-screen. The macros functions include scramble a text by sentence or by paragraph or make a gap-fill exercise.
Make exciting classroom exercises with this software that includes simple crosswords, verb form tests, flashcards.
web.uvic.cahrdhotpot The Hot Potatoes suite includes six applications, enabling you to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matchingordering and gap-fill exercises for the web. Free for those working for educational institutions who make their pages available on the web.
Free downloadable templates for creating 11 different types of exercise.
Interactive literacy and language games including Hangman (pound;40 for two years).
Free downloadable templates for creating different reading, writing and listening games. Flash software plug-in needed.
Task magic pound;80 for single user 300 for site. The package generates a variety of games and exercises from one set of inputs.
For Joe's article on useful features in Word and integrating ICT into the languages.
www.ltscotland.org.ukmfle The languages portal for Learning and Teaching Scotland.