Soft option on structure
Ninestiles School in Birmingham has the buzz of a school that is taking charge of technology. Not content with standard ICT training, it flew people over from Seattle who put staff through three highly successful days of training. The school has since set up its own training company, NinestilesPlus, which is staffed by teachers. Eddie Halliday (right), an advanced-skills teacher in English, is in charge of using ICT in an English faculty of 20 staff.
Eddie describes the school, a mixed 11-18 secondary with around 33 per cent of its 1,500 pupils on free school meals, as energetic and fast-improving.
It certainly seems that the ICT training was a major catalyst for change.
He says the US trainers didn't show staff how to use a computer; instead they shared ICT-based teaching ideas. "The training focused on Microsoft Office applications and showed how they could be adapted to help students.
It was simple things like creating hidden text so that work could be structured, or example answers or so that marking criteria could be provided to the students. The learning curve has been huge and has enabled staff to think in different ways about ICT," he says.
Eddie's Year 8 class were preparing for a series of lessons using ICT to focus on narrative writing. But at Ninestiles there is no need to book the ICT suite. The school has one of the largest wireless school networks in the country and most pupils have leased laptops through the school as part of Microsoft's Anytime Anywhere Learning project (www.microsoft.comukeducationschools). Each faculty has banks of laptops (40 in English, drama and media) that can be booked out when needed.
Teachers have access to 60 tablet PCs.
The school has projectors in every room, so Eddie feels that tablets provide the functionality of whiteboards without the expense. The first lesson started with a quick game of Clock Words, a starter game available from www.englishonline.co.uk. "This one is the Countdown anagram game and is very popular," he says. Then he showed a holiday snap on screen, a general street scene with plenty going on. The first task was to annotate the picture in pairs, using Micrografx Windows Draw. "Annotating the picture enabled them to start thinking about what was happening and add descriptive phrases to the image," he adds.
Students shared their ideas as a class. Eddie directed them to open Microsoft Word and change to outline view. "Their first task was to think in terms of paragraphs and decide what would happen in their story. This forced them to think carefully about the use of paragraphs and their structure," he says.
The next step was to talk about the structure of paragraphs. Eddie led a recap of the four-part narrative structure of opening, development, supporting and concluding. Pupils went back to their Word document and for each paragraph they put in four sentences or ideas, keeping to the structure discussed. These ideas were "denoted" on screen so they would not be confused with the paragraphs. Then the students went back to each of their sentences and added descriptive words. Again, these were denoted so that they stood out from the sentences.
At this stage, the class had all their ideas and sentences written in draft and had been able to concentrate on the structure of writing rather than the plot, as they had had to think of each level of writing separately.
Switching their document to normal view, they were able to look at each paragraph and develop the sentences, focusing on techniques of descriptive writing rather than worrying about plot.
Once they had completed their first draft, they turned on the tracking-changes tool and swapped seats with their neighbour. They were now able to work on their partner's draft with the knowledge that they could see what had been altered. In the plenary, they discussed the alterations and justified their own changes. It was clear that this made them aware of the sorts of things that can be improved.
Eddie says: "This use of ICT deconstructs the process of writing, allowing students to focus on each skill separately. However, each part still has a context and you are not teaching a particular skill in isolation. I like structuring writing in this way as it uses the computers to aid teaching rather than just as expensive word processors."
He has more text analysis tricks up his sleeve for Year 8: "Using Word, it's very easy to collapse any text into an alphabetical list enabling the students to study the language out of the context of the writing. This can be done using the find-and-replace tool: replacing each space with a paragraph mark produces a list of the words in the text, then you simply select A-Z sort from the table drop-down menu. Alternatively, one of the WordLab activities on www.englishonline.co.uk enables you to do the same thing.
"Once you have the alphabetical order, you can compare how different types of texts are constructed and analyse what different types of words are present. This enables quite close study at a word level and enables predictions to take place about what sort of text the words would make."
Eddie is enthusiastic about taking ICT in English beyond word processing and has thrown his energies into developing his ideas with the National Association for the Teaching of English, Teachers Evaluating Educational Multimedia and the Department for Education and Skills, alongside his NinestilesPlus training activities and the teaching day. "I do think that ICT is massively underused as many teachers do not see its value in teaching English," he says.
Eddie clearly is a man on a mission to change that perception and offer affordable ICT teaching ideas for English teachers.
ieVote+ from Interactive Education enables us to make up our own quizzes.
This software from Immersive Education means pupils can make very high quality storyboards while still focused on studying the text.
We use software called Audacity (freeware) that enables sounds and voices to be recorded easily.
We have been using E Mind-Maps, a simple mind-mapping software available free from Birmingham Grid for Learning. We hope to swap to Inspiration, which is far more detailed.
find their WordLab invaluable.
Micrografx Windows Draw is still useful although any picture editing software would allow pupils to insert and comment on images.