Returning from virtual teaching, many teachers came to the classroom with a plethora of new digital learning skills. Having always relied on, and stuck to, teaching via Powerpoint and whiteboards the virtual classroom was a whole new world for me and developing digital teaching skills is something that I’m still working on today.
At Sandringham, the return to school in September also meant a change of scenery for the English department, we finally moved in to the new K-Block, which bought with it new high-spec interactive boards. Nothing can bring fear to the heart of a routine-loving teacher like the prospect of having to work out a new interactive board.
After much trial and error during the initial half term, I have found that the following ways are most useful in using an interactive board successfully in the English classroom.
Annotating is inevitable for English teachers. We work so hard to help our students develop an emotional response to texts and looking at language closely is one way to implement this. Historically, English teachers have used prolonged teacher talk, questioning and feedback, key quotation slides and visualizers all to support their students successfully annotate texts. This year, the English department have been able to annotate texts live with students due to the new interactive boards.
The prospect of annotating a text live with students can be a daunting one. A huge amount of preparation goes into readying a text for teaching. With overwhelming teaching schedules and the constant fight to maintain a work-life balance, many of us rely heavily on our pre-annotated texts to support our teaching. Annotating live removes this comfort blanket. But, I have found it brings about far more opportunity to draw out analysis from students and engage them in the annotating process.
The first step in the process for successful live annotating was to find blank versions of the texts which could be uploaded in a PDF format and shared with the department. Having found these, they were then saved to a central Google Drive folder to be accessed easily. Using blank PDF versions of the texts seems to be the best way to allow students to easily follow the texts with the board, providing visual support as well as spoken support a text which has already been annotated can lead to confusion and an overwhelming visual experience particularly for students with SEND.
I have found it best to zoom in on the page to make the text clear to students. I then access the writing function on the board via the pen icon. This then allows me to access different colour options for colour coding. For example, I annotated the entirety of Act One of An Inspector Calls in pink, in honour of the ‘pink lighting’ referred to at the beginning of the play. Discussion of the dialogue is then had and key annotations written live on the board, which students use to aid their own annotations. I have really enjoyed having students feel confident in developing their ideas on texts perhaps because they are less concerned with hearing and then writing down key ideas now that they are clearly on the board as a visual aid. The ability to erase text or even clear the whole screen has been very useful especially when running out of room!
With absence a more common occurrence in today’s current climate, another useful feature has been ‘screen shotting‘ this has allowed me to take snapshots of annotations completed on the board and share on Google Classroom. This has then allowed students to access annotations made in lessons even when they are isolating at home.
The new interactive board also allows for screen sharing. Students are able to project the work they have completed on their devices on to the board for the rest of the class to view. This has been particularly helpful during restrictions caused by Covid-19, which means peer assessment is more difficult to accomplish. Students are able to project their work, which then can be commented on or even edited by the rest of the class without swapping books.
During a lesson with year 9 on Of Mice and Men, I had asked students to complete some in-character writing. We then spent the last 15 minutes of the lesson with students sharing their paragraphs on the board. The function allowed us to discuss, as a class, successful writing and areas of improvement. I was even able to annotate the work – essentially marking the paragraphs live for the students. This meant that the students were then able to edit their own work based on these recommendations, something that would not have been achieved so quickly without this technology. The only limitation I have found, is the lack of function that would allow teachers to share these annotations with students who have shared their screen. We have got round this by taking pictures of edited work using devices.
For me, using any sort of technology is a real feat and accomplishing these two functions on the interactive whiteboard feels like real progress!