If you were to ask most modern foreign language teachers, they would agree that information and communication technology probably improves teaching and learning in the languages classroom, but if you were to ask them why or how, they would probably find it much harder to answer. You may get vague replies, such as "ICT improves motivation" or "boys like computers".
This book, which coincides with the national roll-out of the key stage 3 strategy in languages, aims to explain why ICT is beneficial to teaching and learning modern languages and how it can be best exploited by busy teachers.
The book's focus on pedagogy rather than technology is a welcome relief for those of us who have been dazzled with the wonders of new software and hardware, but are not sure where to start and which ICT activities really make a difference to learning a language.
The book begins by listing the foundation subject strand's nine principles for teaching and learning, such as "Focus the teaching", or "Provide challenge", and then faithfully shows the reader how ICT can contribute to effective practice in all these areas. The emphasis on the word "cognitive" helps teachers look beyond the form to the real cognitive content of an ICT lesson.
As more and more languages departments are purchasing interactive whiteboards or projector screens for computers, the chapter about using ICT for whole-class teaching is very welcome. Co-author Claire Dugard, who is a language teaching adviser for CILT, the National Centre for Languages, says of the book: "The main value that is added when using ICT in this context is that you can appeal directly to a wider range of learning styles at once. For example, a PowerPoint presentation with 'virtual flashcards' can include pictures, sound and the written word, as well as colour, which can, for example, help to reinforce different genders. Not only will this mean that more pupils will understand, but they will hopefully be more engaged in learning - rather than disrupting the lesson - and will, therefore, learn more quickly and use the target language to a greater extent."
This has certainly been the case at Dixons City Technical College in Bradford which, in 1999, was one of the first schools in the UK to install an interactive whiteboard in its languages department. The staff have produced PowerPoint presentations and Word-based interactive worksheets, which are saved on a shared workspace that all staff have access to, and are translated into other languages, edited, improved and used yearafter year.
The book gives many helpful examples, using the internet and common ICT software, such as Fun with Texts and PowerPoint. This makes the book practical as well as theoretical. There are pictures of PowerPoint slides and suggestions as to how they can be used to maximum effect, such as to slowly reveal a picture.
For the busy teacher, Claire Dugard suggests concentrating on authentic texts written by children from the target language country, such as those in the comptines and poesie sections of www.momes.net.
These can be cut and pasted into a Word or PowerPoint document and edited by the teacher as appropriate. Pupils can then interact with the text by, for example, adding adjectives, extending the text or using it as a template to create their own text, such as a poem.
What is vital is that teachers prepare activities that focus on the process, rather than the outcome, (which has traditionally been the case with ICT). This book offers some timely practical suggestions, which teachers can use to build on their New Opportunities Funding training.
Claire Dugard says: "The best training model to put these ideas into effect would be for the languages department to meet weekly or fortnightly for one hour with an ICT technician present. The department should ideally do a quick audit of schemes of work to look at where opportunities for ICT are not being taken."
Another suggestion is that teachers split a picture bank into common topic areas, such as school subjects, and save it into a shared area. Ideally, it should be labelled in the target language, which pupils can then use when they create their own work.
What is vital, however, is that teaching materials are being created for a purpose. Staff should be making something they can use next week with Year 8, for example. And this is, of course, concrete evidence of continuing professional development - a must for all threshold and post-threshold applicants.
Every languages department that's serious about improving its use of ICT and wants to join the 60 per cent of departments that make effective use of ICT (according to Ofsted, July 2002), should get hold of this book and take on board its ideas.
Wendy Adeniji is a PGCE tutor at the University of Leeds and ICT consultant for Trinity and All Saints Comenius Centre