Ask most English teachers what prevents them from using computers in their teaching and the answer will be "lack of access". The long-winded process of having to book the computer suite, transfer the class to the new location, set up access to a website or electronic resource and arrange technical support is more than most teachers are prepared to do. What if your department had access to its own computer suite, where all the computers were connected to the Internet and the room was set out flexibly enough to enable appropriate use of the technology? "If only..."
Well, this is a reality for English teachers at Leasowes community college in Dudley. Every department has a dedicated learning resource centre. For English, this means a flexible space equipped with computers, reference books, comfortable chairs, a television and video, work desks and room enough for drama activities. Neil Shaw, head of English, says: "The space is flexible enough for a wide variety of activities and the centre is much in demand with teachers. Staff like the idea that they don't need to book it weeks in advance and that the desks are arranged in an informal way to allow for written work as well as computer work."
During my visit to Leasowes, I saw Year 11 pupils preparing PowerPoint presentations on a poem from the GCSE anthology. The task was to research one poem and present some revision material to the rest of the class the following week. Pupils had access to the BBC Bytesize revision web pages, where they found most of their background material and electronic versions of the poems. They used this to select, cut and paste into PowerPoint to prepare a multimedia presentation on the poem and poet of their choice. The pupils were obviously enjoying the process and learning about poetry at the same time. No poblems seemed to occur with the technology and pupils did not seem to be wasting time on ICT issues at the expense of the business of studying English, which is often the case when pupils are exposed to flashy new technology or software.
The fact that the Leasowes pupils were not diverted by presentation issues suggests that they are familiar and comfortable with the use of PowerPoint and that ICT is well and truly integrated into the English curriculum.
On Leasowes' Intranet, Neil Shaw showed me the pupils' own poetry anthologies, each with a theme, such as love or friends. The poems showed great awareness of structure and style, some written as haiku, others as sonnets. The pupils' awareness of audience was also evident. They presented their poems in a lively way, intended to appeal to their peers.
The departmental resource area is one of a number of initiatives in the school designed to improve the use of ICT. All teachers have their own laptop and staff can share their resources in the department area on the Intranet. Leasowes' headteacher, John Howells, believes that this has been one of the main motivating factors in improving teachers' ICT skills, which in turn improves the creative use of ICT across the curriculum. Leasowes may be an extreme example of the integration of ICT into curriculum areas and it might feel alien to those still struggling with one ancient PC in the corner of the classroom. But we should all take note of its vision and intentions. Eventually, all teachers will be ICT competent and your school will want to improve its provision. Will you be in a position to explain your vision for ICT within English?
Jane Spilsbury is English education officer, The British Educational Communications Technology Agency, Millburn Hill Road, The Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7JJ. Tel: 01203 416 994 E-mail: email@example.com