Saturday, 21 February 2009

An evaluation of the ICT in my first school based training placement

Having spent six weeks on placement in a year four classroom, I feel I have had much more of an insight into the attitudes towards, and the provision and use of, ICT within primary education.

The quality of provision within the school I was placed in was fairly high as each classroom had an interactive whiteboard, and the class teacher was provided with a laptop. There was a computer room with approximately 20 laptops, and also a laptop trolley with 20 laptops which could have been moved to individual classes so that the children could work from their classrooms, using the wireless internet provided. There was also usually a classroom PC and each classroom had a good supply of calculators. However I didn’t see any roamers or other programmable devices in use, but that is not to say the school didn’t have them, perhaps they just weren’t making use of them.

I feel that the children in my class were exposed to a range of ICT resources and different situations in which to use them. The most common use of ICT in my class was to take the children to the ICT room to explore different websites related to their current topic or theme, which gave the children the freedom to look at what they want, however it didn’t always give them structure and a purpose when using the internet. A large number of the school laptops had 2Simple software downloaded onto them, which was a package that the children really enjoyed using as it is very child-friendly and allowed them to do things that, on other packages, may have been too difficult. I saw 2Simple used for typing practise, art work and graph creation, and produced excellent results as the level was very appropriate for the children in my class. I also saw the internet being used for research which encouraged the children to think of key words, and then once information was found they had to be critical of the source and consider the validity of what they had found - an invaluable skill.

Sometimes it may have been the case that the computers were used to type up work that had been written, however I feel that perhaps the computers should have been used from the start of the writing process? This should definitely have been the case for a number of children because as a class their written work was very poor and many were reluctant to write, so perhaps using the computers from the start may have increased their enthusiasm for writing? I feel that this would probably have been the case as the computers were still considered to be a ‘treat’ by the children, as although lots of them have computers at home, not all have access, and so were used quite successfully as a behaviour management technique. It is worth questioning, however, that once the children are used to the computers and they are no longer a treat, can they still be used as a means of engaging the children? If ICT is used a lot more regularly will their influence upon the children wane? I should also highlight the fact that the handwriting of most of the children in the class was appalling, and although handwriting will have less importance in their futures due to ICT, it is still an important skill, and so would the increased use of computers have a detrimental impact upon their already poor handwriting?

My CTM used her IWB on a daily basis very successfully, and always used her board in the desired ‘interactive’ manner, and not merely as a projector as other teachers in the school.I saw the board being used very well during maths lessons, as all children were involved and coming up to the board to share ideas. The chance that the children might have been asked to come up usually meant that they were all listening and behaving so that they might be chosen next – another behaviour management technique! The IWB is also an excellent tool for displaying concepts and ideas visually, which meant that more children were able to access and engage with the lesson, and I saw it used to great effect when using number lines to answer mathematical problems. My particular class also loved to be timed for everything, and so often my CTM would use an ITP and display a huge digital clock. When I first started my placement I was quite nervous about using the IWB as we had only had one session at university to familiarise ourselves with the boards, and I was worried that my lack of knowledge and confidence would impact upon the lessons I taught. I was also worried that I wouldn’t use the board in the same way that my CTM uses it, resulting in the children not understanding or engaging with the lesson.
However, I used the board during every lesson I taught, even if it was only to display the WALT and WILF to the children, and felt my confidence in using it start to grow. During my first ever lesson I used the board for almost every aspect of my lesson, and found that it wasn’t as difficult as I had originally thought, however I did keep forgetting to put the pen down when I wanted to close or open a window, something the children constantly reminded me about!

I feel that my most ambitious use of the IWB so far has been during a maths lesson in which I used an ITP, the standard Smart Board and also pre-recorded clips of myself demonstrating how I wanted the children to tackle specific division problems. This clip worked really well, however I think some children were too busy trying to work out how I had done it, rather than watching the demonstration itself!
I do feel that sometimes I focused too much on using the IWB and asking children to come up to the front, as often they took a long time, and not enough children were involved in the input – sometimes I think it is just a better idea to get them working on their individual whiteboards so that they are all involved and engaged in the lesson without always feeling that ICT has to be included in every aspect of what I'm teaching.

I also co-ordinated the class use of the laptop trolley which worked well, and I found it was easier to teach the children and gain their attention because the layout of the classroom is very different to that of the computer room where all children had their backs to you. The only thing I found with the trolley is that if the laptops aren’t put away properly then the laptops may not be fully charged, and this impacts upon the success of the lesson and the amount achieved in the time allowed. The session I did teach in the computer room went well, however the different dynamic, layout of the room and excitement of using the computers meant that behaviour management was much more difficult to implement.
The experience in the computer room also saw me experience the 'immigrants'/'natives' phenomena as there were some questions posed for which I didn't always have the answer, however the children were always keen to help each other, and could usually answer each others questions, which taught me a lot! I liked the fact that during this session, the children not only learnt from me, but I also learnt from them.

I feel that the IWB was the most important aspect of ICT that I came across on this placement as it was something I used every day and is an integral part of that particular classroom. I was also able to see both sides of the IWB debate as I experienced the pros and cons of this technology first hand. Like my CTM I found the board really useful in demonstrating concepts, and providing a visual stimulus, and feel that if used imaginatively it can really impact upon the children's learning. However, I also experienced the frustrations that many teachers feel as the board needed constant configuring and so often writing became illegible, which in turn slowed down the lesson instead of saving time.I was also unable to open and close things on the board due to the need to reconfigure, and had to turn around and do it on the laptop itself which affects the flow of the lesson and means that I often turned my back to the children when they were on the carpet.

Many teachers in my school were also annoyed with the placing of the IWBs in their rooms as they had been fixed on top of their original whiteboards, dramatically reducing the amount of whiteboard space. I found this quite frustrating too, as if there was a note or key vocab that I wanted to display, I couldn't always just jot it down on the whiteboard as there was no room. I feel that this may have impacted upon the teachers in my school, as now that the number of resources available to them have been reduced they have become too dependent upon their IWBs, and one teacher confessed that if her board stopped working she didn't know what she would do!

Despite this I feel that overall my confidence has increased, however using the IWB is still one of my areas for improvement as I don’t feel I am fully aware of its potential and need to spend some time trying different things and not being afraid to experiment. I also feel that I need to improve my personal knowledge of roamers as I wasn't able to use them on this placement, and feel that they could be a valuable resource in my future practice.

This placement really opened my eyes to the potential of ICT within schools, not only through the well taught lessons I did see, but also through things that I didn't see. I often saw opportunities for using ICT which weren't always utilised by my CTM and I feel that this experience has made me view ICT in a very different way, as a cross-curricular tool, which can impact upon all aspects of the curriculum, rather than a discrete lesson taught in a computer room.