Computers may bring with them any number of technical problems, though most of these require only basic knowledge to sort out.
Does the software item that you want to use actually run on the computers you have in your classroom?
Does the software item that you want to use actually run on the computer(s) you have in your classroom? Schools, of necessity, have machines of many different vintages. Software designed for the latest PC will often not run on older machines. Check the system requirements on the box carefully and then treat them with suspicion! While the package may install and run in a limited way on a minimum specification system, the experience may not be a good one. If a specification is referred to as ‘preferred’ this may actually be the effective minimum if you want to use all of the features of the software at a reasonable speed. Note also that by upgrading to the latest version of a well-loved package you may also require access to a higher specification computer.
Different versions of an operating system can be another headache for teachers. In many classes there may be two, or even three, versions of Microsoft® Windows; in others a mix of Acorn RISC OS, Windows or possibly an Apple Macintosh. The children often seem to cope admirably, but not so the poor teacher. Ideally, all computers in a classroom would have the same operating system but given the wide variations in age of computers this is not always possible. Unfortunately, you will need to learn sufficient of each system in order to use it.
Organising the pupils
Class management when using ICT may cause a few problems, especially if only one or two machines are available in the classroom. Even if the class is organised into the usual three or five groups, it may not be possible for all members of a group to use the computer at the same time. Non-computer-based activities are then required. To make these sessions successful requires careful planning and may involve the tasking of a classroom assistant or parent helper as well as the pupils. Obviously, some groups will require more teacher or adult input than others and this must be allowed for.
Managing the pupils
The management of the pupils is a further consideration. Matters of existing skill levels, access by some pupils to ICT in the home, subject knowledge and understanding, and known behavioural problems all enter into the equation. And, of course, even if a computer suite is available, pupils will frequently have to work in pairs or larger groups:
- Pairs and groups are not necessarily a problem. Children learn from each other and, providing that each partner or member is taking an active part and the tasks are rotated, all can make progress.
- The individual personalities of the pupils are a consideration, as they are with all group work. The teacher should consider especially the ICT skill levels within a group and the possible dominance of a self-appointed 'expert’. Usually, mixed-sex groups of similar abilities work best and enable some differentiation.
- Enabling individual work is a constant problem. While careful monitoring will indicate who achieves what, there must be opportunities for each pupil to demonstrate their own capabilities, perhaps through a common assessed task. While time-consuming, this is the only way to be sure what an individual can do.
Occasionally, pupils are seen working at a computer with little or no monitoring or intervention from the teacher at all. This is not teaching, it is using the computer as a childminder, with little regard for the learning outcome and it is not acceptable.
- Will there be a need for focused teaching? In other words, will the teacher need to work with a group, either to teach specific ICT skills or to lead the pupils through the exploration of data, an internet search or other activity?
- Is it feasible for a more experienced pupil (in terms of ICT capability) to give support (eg in dealing with a printer or software problem?) This both recognises the pupil’s skills and can free the teacher or other adult.
- Has sufficient time been allocated for whole class teaching and demonstration? You must teach ICT skills and capabilities; these are not acquired by osmosis. While much can be learned of ICT simply by attempting to use the computer, it is no more effective for many pupils than hoping that they will learn to read simply by being given books.
- With one or two computers, whole class teaching is more effective if a large monitor or projection system is available. Text on a small monitor is virtually invisible to pupils sitting only a few metres from it. Teaching may need to take place in small groups.
- Will any demonstrations be easy for pupils to follow? Watching a pointer moving on the screen is not the same as making it move yourself. Keep instructions simple and brief and back these up with worksheets and lists of key points on the board. Older classes can keep their own notes, perhaps by completing a worksheet before undertaking the activity at the computer.
- Have you provided an adequate area by the computers to seat the group or class for introductions and demonstrations?
- How far should you maintain normal classroom rules and discipline when using ICT and will you need some extra rules (eg hands off keyboards, headphones off, etc) when you wish to speak to the group? These will quickly become part of your management repertoire.
- How frequently will you monitor activities, in order to assess progress with the task, to make teaching points and to pick up on problems before they become disruptions? How well do you know the class and their capabilities? This is as important with ICT as it is with all work. If the complexity is too great for the pupils or stretches them beyond their capabilities without a support safety-net, they can become bored and disruptive.
- Are there suitable worksheets, not only to lead the pupils through the activity but also to provide guidance on use of the software or computer system?
Teachers should also remember that they have a responsibility to plan activities that meet the specific needs of individuals and groups of pupils. This principle of inclusion of all pupils, regardless of their special educational needs is an integral part of the national curriculum. Full details of the requirements for ICT are provided in The National Curriculum for England: Information and Communication Technology, in the section titled ‘Inclusion: providing effective learning opportunities for all pupils.
Other areas of pupil management that require consideration include the following points.
- Who gets most computer time? It has been shown that in the past it was the able children who often dominated; they were the ones who finished other work first and were then allowed to use the computer as a reward. Those who might have benefited most were more likely to lose out. Indeed, it is pupils with learning difficulties who actually gain more if the work is properly targeted.
- Access to meeting individual needs must be a consideration. To some extent this involves selecting appropriate software, or level of difficulty within the software, but may include provision of tracker balls instead of a mouse, perhaps a touch screen or other access device.
- Children with specific handicaps may require specialist equipment such as braillers, British Sign Language word processors; special keyboard covers for cerebral palsy and similar gross motor problems and perhaps switch-operated equipment. Much of this is common in special schools but may be increasingly found in mainstream schools as part of the move to inclusive education. Specialist advice is needed and should be sought from the local authority.
- Classroom assistants/parents are invaluable but need to be adequately trained and must be properly briefed as to their role.
- An awareness of gender differences is needed, such as girls who are reluctant to use the computer or boys who dominate use but for little gain in productivity or learning. The dominance of male-oriented games software often leads to a perception amongst children that computers are a 'boys' toy.
Organising activities and tasks with limited computer access
With one or two machines available, access will always be difficult and will provide a strong test of your classroom management and organisational skills. However, there are successful methods that can be adopted.
- Use short, realistic tasks that most pupils can achieve in the time available, or by setting time limits for the activity. This alone imposes a modicum of competition to which some pupils respond well.
- Set clear targets (eg find information on…, make notes on the word processor and print out by the end of the lesson, complete the entry of the sheets of data, etc).
- Using the computer for short, intensive pieces of work – captions, poems, posters, etc. Some of these may take only minutes, but repeated regularly within different subjects they both reinforce skills and allow for progression over time.
- Set collaborative tasks, for example, paired writing, separate contributions to a joint newsletter, multimedia presentation or similar.
- Encourage pupils to develop a piece of quality work over time (several sessions) where this will help them demonstrate high standards within the subject context or demonstrate higher level ICT skills.
- Where appropriate, allow pupils to work as long as necessary to complete a task.
- Have clear instructions by the computer for basic tasks and the software being used.
- Ensure that pupils can load, save and print without close supervision.
- Have disks, paper, etc near the computer.
For work with younger or SEN pupils, a classroom assistant can type in text such as the child's story and then support the child in editing and redrafting the work.
The use of partially completed text files or word banks to ease the problem of slow keyboarding. Again, this is a very useful strategy with younger pupils.
Ready, steady, teach!
Knowing where to turn for help and advice before you start your student placement and first teaching job will assist you to thrive, not just survive. This handy booklet - new for 2013 - not only includes tips on things like finding your first teaching job, settling in during the first few weeks, parents' evenings and writing reports, but also answers commonly asked questions and explains how ATL can help and support you. This edition replaces two previous ATL publications, Into the Classroom and Ready, steady, teach!, which were specifically for student teachers and newly qualified teachers respectively.
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