Poetry and ICT are made for each other. What other medium allows us to experiment with language so freely? What tool comes close to the word processor in enabling us to revel in the possibilities words offer? Whether we are helping children write poetry or encouraging them in their reading and understanding of poetry, there are many ways in which we can call upon ICT to assist. Here, I focus on transformation, investigation and presentation.
Transformation: sequencing The word processor provides an ideal means of making changes to texts. One of the simplest changes involves re-ordering or re-sequencing. Putting pieces of writing back into their original order is a good way of learning about texts, how they are constructed and how they cohere. Doing this without ICT is awkward and frustrating.
For example: The sky was dotted with stars
For he was only the farmer's boy
He lifted up the bars
She neither smiled nor thanked him
And she was the Jersey cow
They walked the lane together
Because she knew not how
They reached the gate together
In this simple poem, pupils can look for clues in the rhyme pattern as well as the meaning of the piece. The process is modelled with pupils before asking them to sequence the same poem and then other, similar, poems. They can build up confidence with, say, limericks before moving on to more demanding poetry. This is an activity which works as well with a sonnet as with a limerick and prompts up particularly interesting questions with a haiku.
There are several ways in which texts can be de-and resequenced: lWord processors can cut and paste (tool bar icons, edit menu items, keyboard shortcuts, drag and drop).
lSome word processors (for instance, Textease) and publishing packages (Pagemaker) allow text to be picked up and moved around the screen and placed wherever you wish. lPowerPoint can be used in a similar way.
Words typed into an art package can be moved around like "fridge magnets".
Paint will allow you to do this, but be careful, it's easy to lose words, or bits of them.
Take a poem which you wish pupils to examine closely and make it invisible.
Type or paste it into Word and save it. Highlight the text and change the colour of the font to white. Using a projector (you don't need an interactive whiteboard), show the invisible text. Double click anywhere in the text and a word will be highlighted. Change the font colour to anything other than white and the word will be revealed, for example "gourd". What kind of word might precede or follow this? Find out if you were right. You can continue until a whole line has been revealed or dip in somewhere else altogether. Textease will allow a similar activity, though you will have to click and drag rather than double click to reveal words.
Show pupils how to play this game with each other. How many words did they have to reveal before they recognised where the words came from - or the type of poem it was? What gave them the clues? Were they misled at any point and if so, why?
ICT is a powerful presentational tool. Indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is its main function. Many teachers' experiences have been restricted by bullet points in PowerPoint or the use of word processors or desktop publishing packages to make work look good.
However, we all know the danger of valuing presentation over content. A word-processed essay is not a better essay - it is just easier to read.
However, there are activities where presentational tools offer interesting opportunities for learning.
Helen Dobson at Richmond School in Yorkshire has used hyperlinks to help pupils investigate Beowulf. "We use PowerPoint to link a section of the poem to other screens in order to allow students to explore techniques and language within the poetry. For example, a kenning was linked to a screen that had explored that device. We also use PowerPoint and Paint to explore poetry and Shakespeare scenes. It works really well and leads into excellent speaking and listening presentations as well," she says.
A poem presented in PowerPoint makes an impression. A poem prepared in PowerPoint by pupils makes a lasting impression.
Trevor Millum is communications and development director at the National Association for the Teaching of English. His website is www.fernhse.demon.co.ukeastwordclass
www.youngwriter.orginterviews with authors, children's workwww.kidsreview.org.ukpupils' book
reviewswww.creativewriting4kids.compublishes pupils' work