To (IW)Be or not to (IW)Be, that is the question…

To IWB, or not to IWB: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the class to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous misunderstandings,
Or to take interactive arms against a sea of ignorance,
And by opposing end them? To IWB: to teach;
No more; and by a teacher to say we end
The mind-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That learning is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To IWB, to teach;
To teach: perchance to learn: ay, there’s the rub;

My apologies for that…

(If you would prefer to jump straight to the point, then click the link)

But to teach, perchance to learn: ay, there’s the rub indeed. So back to first principles we go:

  • One does not need an IWB to be an effective teacher
  • One does not need 1:1 laptops to be an effective teacher
  • One does not need iTouches, student response systems or coloured paper to be an effective teacher

Indeed, what does one need to be an effective teacher at all? Indeed, do we just get in the way when we try to teach them? Do we have a negative effect? Would the whole learning process be better if we just stepped aside and let the kids do all of the work, only occasionally chiming in with a better definition for a word when their Google-fu fails?

Maybe. But probably not.

The debate about which pedagogical models work best and what a teacher’s role should be within a classroom is forever ongoing, but today I just wanted to write about IWBs. Before I do that though, I should make my own base assumptions quite clear, so that if you choose to disagree with me, at least you have all the facts:

  • There is a place for “up the front teaching”
  • There is a place for collaboration
  • There is a place for independence and self discovery
  • Resources can enhance a learning experience
  • Resources can hinder a learning experience

I just wanted to put those out there.

Now, hands up please, who uses resources in their classroom? [a sea of hands] Ok, who has a particular worksheet they are particularly proud of having created? No, it’s not a trick question…I mean one that you feel really helped a particular concept just ‘click’ with some kids. [some confident hands, and beaming faces] And finally, who believes you can teach a class with only worksheets? [A smattering of knowing snickering]

No teacher in their right mind would attempt to teach every class for their entire career with worksheets. Some in their wrong mind do, but you wouldn’t be reading a blog if that was you, would you? Some teachers want to teach solely from the text book. Some teachers want to teach solely by handing out colourful sheets of A2 sized paper and letting the kids explore, inquire and learn all by themselves. But most teachers, those right-minded teachers, know that there is a time and place for various teaching and learning activities.

Interactive White Boards are a great means for standing up the front and teaching, (which is sometimes appropriate, remember?) Many suggest that everything that can be done with an IWB can be done with just having a computer and a projector. To some extent this is true. On an IWB I like to run a quick web search, take a snap shot of a website and annotate it. I teach English, History and IT and I have had good reason to do this in all three areas. With the IWB this is simple, since I can open a web borwser and enter the search terms from the board. I then use the screen capture tool built in to the board to take a snapshot, and this automatically gets created as a page in my ongoing presentation, I can then pick up the pen and annotate it immediately. Can I do that without the IWB? Well yes. I walk over to the computer in the corner of the room, somewhat with my back to the class, and run the search. Then I fire up ZAPGRAP which is a little app I use for screen captures, then I take my Powerpoint off of presentation mode, create a new slide and paste the screen shot in. So far I can do all of this, but it is already less efficient, since I’ve had to locate the screen capture tool on my USB and fiddle around with Powerpoint. With Smartboard Notebook, this is all achieved without breaking stride. Finally, annotating anything on the screen without a tablet is a joke, and I don’t have a tablet. I could use a print out and a document camera, but I don’t have a printer in the room and the document camera is in the Science wing. To combat this I would probably have to think ahead and have annotated the screenshot in advance. This would deliver the same information to the kids, but I’m not there just to deliver information, I’m there to model thinking, which is much more effective in this scenario with the IWB than without it.

There are many such scenarios when IWBs can make a teacher more effective than they would be without them, just as any resource can have this effect. IWBs are just one of many possible resources. At the moment many teachers are not using IWBs when it would be much better if they were making fully informed decisions not to use them. There is a big difference here. If I use a worksheet in class, it’s because I know what it is capable of and why it is the appropriate tool. If I get the kids to make podcasts for an assignment, it’s because I know what they are capable of and why they are appropriate. And when I use the IWB it’s because I know what it is capable of and why it is appropriate. It is not always capable of the most appropriate thing, so I don’t use it every lesson. If I did, that would almost definitely be inappropriate.

We need to get teachers to the point where they know what IWBs are capable of and they are able to discern when they are the best teaching tool. We also need to ensure teachers are not fooled into thinking that the IWB is going to make them into a great teacher. Plenty of bad teachers are just made worse with the wrong resources.

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Maslow’s Hammer needs to be viewed both ways. If you only have a hammer in the toolbox, you won’t always have the most appropriate tool for the job. If the only tool you have is:

  • A textbook
  • A worksheet
  • An iPad
  • Podcasting
  • Groupwork
  • Independent learning
  • Teacher at the front lecturing
  • An IWB

…then everything looks like a ‘nail’.

Let’s go to work with all of the tools.

To (IW)Be or not to (IW)Be, that is the question…

Under Exam Conditions

I read the final comments from the front page of the exam, wished them luck and the reading time silence began.

The papers all turn over at the same time and sound like a flock of startled pigeons scattering themselves at the prompting of the proximity of an unexpected predator.

They do not speak, but communicate in sniffles that say ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘I know how you feel’, with the occasional blowing of one’s nose to suggest that one might have it harder than the rest.

And when the reading time is up, an applause of clicking pens signals the end of the prologue and the beginning of the show. A particularly nervous student absentmindedly taps out a distress signal in Morse code as he writes out his essay plan.

The zipper on a pencil case lets out a cry and it purges its contents noisily onto the desk. In the other corner a pen is thrown down in exchange for a luckier one while a dictionary ruffles its pages like a hen her feathers when she is trying to find a synonym for vixen.

And above it all, the relentless drone of the air conditioning ensures that, under exam conditions, this is the noisiest room in the school.

Under Exam Conditions