Stand and Deliver

The traditional whiteboard (or even blackboard) used to take centre stage in the classroom. It has been pushed to one side (where most pupils can’t see), reduced in size or eliminated altogether. The other day I had a conversation with a talented young teacher who declared that she was going to request a traditional whiteboard at the front of her room as centrally placed as she could get it. My heart leapt with joy.

So far, since interactive whiteboards were introduced, I think I have come across one which actually worked interactively. And that one wasn’t properly calibrated – if you tried to annotate or write using the IWB pens, the words fell off the page. So whiteboards are used for projecting. That’s good and useful, some of the time. Displaying Kerboodle worksheets / digital versions of textbooks, internet websites etc. is very helpful. Using visualisers can be invaluable. Modelling writing using a word processor can be much quicker and clearer – although, of course, it doesn’t reflect the students’ experience as they have to handwrite everything in most exams.

However, the image quality on IWBs is poor. Years ago, if we wanted to watch a film, a lovely man called Martin used to wheel in a TV on a stand with a VHS machine underneath it. The students could see the film clearly. Now we use the IWB and, to be honest, we might as well be watching a film underwater. Using Word we have to zoom in so that a lot of scrolling has to take place if we are using a longer document.

The other “downside” to the IWB being used as a projector is that some teachers now plan and deliver all their lessons using Powerpoint. The key word here is “deliver”. Do we want to deliver or do we want to teach?

Using a traditional whiteboard enables us to work much more spontaneously and organically with a class. Throwing things onto that whiteboard with a pen means we work at a similar pace to the students; we write what needs to be displayed as it is needed. We can show how to mind-map, how to make notes, how to draft and redraft, how to highlight key points and ideas in real terms – with the teaching equivalent of pen and paper. Corny as it may sound, we can join that learning journey (groan) with individual classes and adapt, differentiate and reshape our lessons as we go along. If we need or want to, we can exploit new tangents. We have to move away from desk at the side of the room where we click onto the next slide. We have to stop reading off the board at an unrealistic pace and expecting students to digest too much information at once. Actually, we have to know our subject and talk to them. I think the ppt has become a prop which teachers are afraid to let go of in case they can’t think of anything to say or they don’t have the ‘right’ answer. That is not English teaching. There is a place for ppts but not in every lesson for the whole lesson.

One argument for the Power Point will always be “Well, I have there it for back-up. We can easily digress.” But do those teachers digress? If I had spent an hour putting my ppt together, I would want to use it, all of it, in the order I had put it together. I would feel it calling to me – “Get back on course. Why bother to miss University Challenge last night so you could create that lovely looking ppt if you’re not going to use it?”

I decided to have a conversation about this with an excellent TA / Cover Supervisor I know. “We all moan about ppts when we go on training courses. And then we expect the students to be happy to see one and have us go through it one slide at a time.” I rest my case.

web_Jill_CarterJill is a teacher, former leader of English and author, with over 20 years of teaching experience. She currently works in a secondary school in Kent, and, in what spare time she has, she writes articles, and is an author, working on a number of books found throughout schools, including Ignite English and new 2015 GCSE English publishing.