Volume 1 Issue 1 - Summer 2001
|Only one computer in the class? Might as well give up and go home then. Doris Chow wonders what on earth you can do in a primary class with such meagre provision.|
Suites eh? Rows of gleaming computers impressing the parents and giving children one to one access to ICT. How about a nice VGA projector, maybe an interactive white board, a network technician and an air conditioned server room? A floating ICT specialist?
Oh yes, that'll do the trick. Sort out the ICT provision good and proper that will. Sorry, what's that? A Primary school? You don't have any spare rooms? What do you mean you can't afford a technician? You don't have a VGA projector..? but they're so cheap now, only £2000... what's your problem?
The problem is that the above vision is a secondary school model, which for them, seems the right way to go. A syllabus based upon separate curriculum rooms and where children are the mobile factor rather than the equipment suits the suite model, itself inspired by networks in industry. But it has been fostered onto primary schools by market forces and lack of ideas rather than by any philosophical choice.
Now I don't want to get trapped in an argument about suites vs. classroom computers as that will be hard to resolve. There is no clear winner. The truth is that suites DO work.. That’s why advocates refuse to believe they are not the answer. But what subject wouldn't benefit from a room dedicated to it and full of equipment, let alone a specialist teacher/technician floating around? It's certainly not wrong for a school that can implement some of this to do so, but in reality, suites in primary are often at the expense of a computer in the classroom, or worse, made up from donated equipment that may not be able to match the standard in class, bringing with it a host of problems for maintenance. Still the benefit from increased access is felt, and standards do improve, although in Primary very rarely are we ever talking about 30 computers, there is always some form of sharing required.
But is this a replicable model for all? Is this a financially viable option for all?
The reality of most primaries is that they have one modern computer in the classroom and 30 children. Do they shrug and say, "well we can't teach ICT, we haven't got a suite"?
What this article is about is sharing the creative ways that teachers have come up with juggling the meagre resource that they have, and will have for the foreseeable future.
Is the answer to take the computers out of classes and form a suite of 8 or 10 computers? For me this is not an option, I would hate to think of the computer absent from a room where the children do 90% of their work.
It also still means as many as 3 or 4 children to a screen which makes assessment very difficult. Which child did what? This is not a suite, merely a cluster.
Is the answer to have smaller strategic clusters nearby the classes, say in the corridor? In some cases this has worked well, but the teacher may have to split attention between inside and outside the classroom and again it is dependent on space, a precious resource in Primary where Libraries, Music and Drama rooms are often forced to be combined.
Is the answer to have a rota throughout the year and allow every child some access?
This is the more common option but the child has to wait to get access and may be unsupervised and uninstructed when it is their turn. Those that can cope, do. Those that can't, don't.
The number of solutions is as diverse as the shape and means of the schools themselves, and perhaps it should be.
It's easy to blast holes in genuine efforts in making a thin resource stretch too far, but it's also too easy to just say, don't make the resource thin in the first place. It doesn't help the reality facing the average, overburdened Primary Teacher, who quite rightly is reluctant to take on any more tasks if it can be put to one side and an excuse is being provided by promoting an unobtainable model.
Unfortunately this is what has happened for many years, but with the current emphasis on ICT in the political agenda, Ofsted are coming in and looking straight at how Literacy, Numeracy and ICT are managed. It is no longer an option to place the blame of non delivery of the curriculum on only having one computer in your class.
So what do you do?
Snowball is an interim scheme of work, based on the ACITT scheme, that is currently being used in Greenwich. It has a model of teaching that has won me over due to its pragmatism and the quality of teaching it promotes.
The teaching model is based on the QCA one and goes something like this...
A 15-20 minute whole class demonstration.
A 5-10 minute individual, short focused task.
Then consolidation of skills through longer integrated activities.
But how do I teach a whole class lesson with one computer and 30 children?
The key to this is two things. One, visual aids, and two, short focused tasks.
|Whole class lesson
30 children sitting on the mat looking at one monitor is not only do-able it works! Yes, that little 15" monitor and 30 children. Changing the font size on the program can often help but what about those little icons? This is where the visual aids come in. Using enlarged printouts of the screen icons is one way, simply drawing an approximation of them on the board is another. It may sound crazy but it actually works.
I did a lesson recently where I taught how to resize graphics using the resizing handles. Not only did drawing the different states of the mouse pointer on the board help, looking back I can’t think of a more economical and efficient way to achieve it.
The children all understood, it made it very clear. Ok, I could have used a VGA projector or an interactive whiteboard, gorgeous, yes. But would the children have had the reference of the different mouse pointers at a glance? Next to each other for contrast and as a summary? Would they have seen them as large as I could draw them even with a projector? How much quicker/cheaper was it to simply draw them on the board?
At the end of the day, the most important thing was that it worked, I felt in no way deprived. If you have to get the shopping, do you need a Porsche 911 to go and get it in? Just because a Porsche does the job, does not mean a Skoda is invalid.
The other metaphor involves a wall, lots of tins of paint or using a paintbrush.
The benefit this approach has is that teachers recognise where they are. They are in their classroom and they are teaching just like they would in any other subject. This reassures them that they have valid skills to bring to bear, the ICT side is just another body of knowledge, they already know how to teach. The temptation with a suite is that a specialist is required not only to maintain it, but to teach in it.
Short Focused Tasks
But, you say, surely this is no good if the children do not concrete their understanding by actually using the computer?
True. The short focused tasks Snowball refers to are similar to those in D&T. They are quick, simple and de-contextualised. The object of them is simply to check that every child understood the lesson. (The technique)
5 minutes per child enables you to confirm this within a week, sometimes an afternoon. You organise a rota, conduct it either in an afternoon while children are working on other tasks or designate a slice of undirected time each day (silent reading perhaps) to get through 5 or 6 children.
The tasks are of themselves unimportant. Learning the fill tool? 3 shapes are already on screen, fill them with colour. Done it? Next child. Learning the Alignment tool? First line to the left, second to the middle & third to the right. Done it? Well done. Next. The pace is brisk and the context unimportant.
This of course is heresy to the vision of the computer always used as a tool, empowering children to achieve more in their work and transforming the nature of learning…. But it is pragmatic, it is good clear teaching and it does work.
It is not ideal, (you want ideal? buy them all a laptop that never needs recharging!) but it manages the available resources efficiently. 5 minutes out of whatever task they are doing in the afternoon is not the end of the world. Obviously you cannot do it when direct teaching is going on, and there is less and less undirected time nowadays granted… but still there is time left where the rota can happen without too much disruption.
One important point is that you wouldn’t need to do this
sort of input every week. Once a half term maybe.
By now there are people reading this champing at the bit to tell me that 5 minutes is nowhere near enough for children’s hands on. What about developing capability…?
The integrated activities are about reinforcing the initial input wherever the opportunity arises in the rest of the curriculum. Identifying and creating these opportunities are what you would focus on for the rest of the half term.
That is why the computer in the class should be being used throughout the curriculum to reinforce ICT, just as much as because it can genuinely enhance work and subject delivery.
And remember, not all children need experience of the same integrated activity … only the opportunity to reinforce the same ICT technique. Whether you use the fill tool in maths to explore symmetry on a grid, or use it to create a silhouette of the fire of London makes no difference. The aim is to reinforce a whole class input on how to use the fill tool by providing a context. Some children get one context, some another. Otherwise it becomes impossible to finish it.
|Integrated activities happen in other curriculum time, for example in maths. While some children are using pin boards and rubber bands to explore shapes, others are using dotted paper and a couple are using the grid and line tool on an art package. The time on the computer now is more like 30 or 40 minutes and the focus is less on ICT and more on the subject being taught. The difference the short focused tasks have made is that the ICT technique has already been covered, it is not new to the child, merely the context, which means it is the subject objective that receives the focus, the ICT skill is consolidated and its application within an appropriate context develops capability. (Skill)|
Wherever possible this should be happening in all curriculum subjects in all lessons. That is why Ofsted expect to see the computer on in the class for most of the day.
To conclude then, am I anti-suites?
Well…. No. The improved access they provide is undeniable. The suite model is geared to making a teacher’s life easier. (although some may laugh at that!) It is actually a teacher centred model.
And interestingly, if I were working in a suite, I would use exactly the same model of delivery as above, beginning with a whole class introduction and a child modelling the process to their peers, but the suite makes the short focused task and the integrated activity achievable in one lesson.
However, I do argue that suites are not essential. You can teach an ICT lesson without ever turning on a computer! (there’s a heresy for you.)
Furthermore, if computers are to be used continually throughout the curriculum to consolidate technique and develop skills (capability) then surely that is a case for more computers in the class than relegating them to a 40 minute session in the computer room each week.
Suites are not the golden calf. They can be an absolute nightmare if badly set up but they are not all bad. I simply question if they are really the right approach in Primary.
(Primary ICT Coordinator, Greenwich)
N.B. The Greenwich SOW “Snowball” including example lesson plans is freely available for download from:
Volume 1 Issue 1 - Summer 2001