Get with the program

27th October 2000 at 01:00
Debbie Davies advises new teachers on how to use their ICT skills on the job

Technology can be a useful tool in teaching - just as long as you remember that the operative word is "tool". Use technology by all means, but don't let it use you. Pam Turnbull, science co-ordinator at The Heys Primary School in Ashton-under-Lyne, is well aware of the advantages and pitfalls.

Having recently entered teaching after a career in magazine publishing, she says: "Teachers coming into the profession today will find themselves more qualified in ICT than many of their colleagues. But finding the time to develop your resources and incorporate ICT into lessons is extremely difficult. Take every advantage of your time in training to develop as much lesson material as you can."

She uses ICT in every lesson but says she would be confident of teaching just as well if all the school's computers disappeared tomorrow. "Computers are just a tool like any other."

Teachers need to avoid starting with the computer, the software package, the digital camera, or whatever, and deciding what they can teach using that piece of technology.

"Start with your learning objective and then consider whether a piece of software you may have can help you teach," says Turnbull.

As a Year 3 teacher with a high proportion of children with special needs in her class, Turnbull has found talking book software to be a valuable resource for pupils who struggle with reading.

She also uses software to reinforce mental arithmetic and teach Logo, but has stopped short of inviting experts into the classroom through video conferencing. "It is too gimmicy. When I worked in publishing, video conferences always ended with everyone being polite and were never very useful. Children need real things and real people."

So for all its political favour, ICT is not something teachers need apply without question.

But they do need to be involved in how their school's ICT budget is spent - teachers, not technology, are responsible for students meeting standards.

Turnbull's advice is to keep abreast of software publishers. Catalogues from the likes of AVP and REM are comprehensive but will not tell you what you need to know about the effectiveness of a program. "Talk to other teachers, read reviews or offer to go to ICT shows or computer fairs in place of the ICT manager if he or she doesn't want to go," she suggests. New teachers will find ICT impacts well beyond teaching resources.

Computers are perfect for managing the complex, paper intensive task of teaching. "We do all our planning on computer, and our assessment manager tracks children when they arrive and plots where they should be by the end of Year 6," says Turnbull.

Storing this sort of information on computer does not tell a teacher anything new, but it does provide useful evidence to support resourcing.

Turnbull considers a computer at home to be essential. "The job does not stop at 3.30, and you need a computer at home as well as in the classroom to use ICT properly."

But for discussing a child's progress with parents, she sticks to face-to-face contact. "I prefer talking to parents in person. With email or a letter, you may not confront the things that really need to be discussed."

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