About a decade ago, I worked in a Central London school which had a PFI overhaul. The Victorian-workhouse style building was demolished, to be replaced by a state-of-the-art new building. Only it didn’t quite go according to plan, and, come September, the promised swanky new building wasn’t ready. And all our resources were packed in crates somewhere in a warehouse. So we spent several weeks improvising with groups of students in makeshift classrooms around Camden. I won’t suggest it wasn’t stressful. It was. But there was a Blitz mentality which made us pull together in a crisis. More importantly, the situation necessitated a complete revisiting of what it actually means to teach when faced with a group of young people with none of our usual props. No books, no boards, no computers… It was actually one of the most rewarding and powerful experiences of my career.
Another memory: NOF training. Anyone else remember that? It was all about increasing ICT literacy amongst teachers. Only, in essence, it was a crash course in how to design a Powerpoint presentation. We spent hours creating whizzing, blinking, flying, squealing words and images. The documents were eventually so big they couldn’t be attached to an email. We presented them proudly in our classrooms with some degree of smugness and success. Since then, Powerpoint has become central to almost every scheme of learning I’ve come across. In the vast majority of cases, the ‘lesson’, saved in the S: drive, is synonymous with ‘Powerpoint’. Like any tool, it clearly has huge advantages, and many people in the world of teaching and business have moved away from the reading text aloud from their presentation to creative use of images and puzzles to promote curiosity and enquiry.
And yet I am deeply wary of this phenomenon for a number of reasons:
1. Writing a Powerpoint is NOT the same as planning a lesson. It doesn’t take into account the unique class dynamic, the differentiation through interaction, the need to check, review and refine according to the inevitably unpredictability of our young people.
2. Worse, ‘the Powerpoint is just there’ will sometimes lead to teachers entering a classroom and working through it step by step with little or no advance preparation.
3. The classroom is a physical, almost theatrical, environment. The ability of the teacher to move around, to teach from the back corner, the center or behind the potentially disruptive child, is crucial. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a working remote (they’re like gold dust!) Powerpoint can ‘fix’ the teacher to the front of the classroom.
4. Because of the prevalence of Powerpoint, our young people frequently experience a diet of five hours’ Powerpoint in a day. Combine this with the amount of screen time they are experiencing outside the classroom, and are we not exacerbating a growing problem?
5. Over-reliance on Powerpoint can impede relationships and stunt variety. Due to malfunctioning projector. I recently rediscovered flashcards. Remember those? Numerous possibilities for presentation, reinforcement and movement. Having a screen in the room means that eye contact is limited, individual interactions are curtailed, and the disappointed eyebrow, encouraging half-smile and best horse-impression can easily be missed.
I would happily promote a week-long Powerpoint ban, if I didn’t know quite how much teachers like being told what to do(!) But I’d urge teachers to consciously consider teaching without Powerpoint with each class at least once a fortnight. It will be liberating, I promise. Do some role plays, play some games, read from real books (there are some wonderful, neglected text books out there).You’ll get to know yourself and your students better. And surely that can only be a good thing?
To read more interesting content on this subject look-out for the next edition of Teaching and Technology, or visit the Teacher Support Network website to read more from this author.