The educational twittershpere can be a very strange place. Over the weekend there was a flurry of discussion about powerpoint – whether it was useful or not for teachers. Who would have thought that powerpoint could bring about such a passionate response…especially on the first sun-filled weekend of the spring? Interestingly though, it’s a discussion I’ve had at school on a number of occasions. It certainly stirs people up! Personally, I don’t think it’s as straightforward as whether we should use it or not. I’ve seen powerpoint used really badly and I’ve also seen it used really effectively. In the words of Bananarama and Fun Boy Three, ‘it aint what you do it’s the way that you do it’. Here are my thoughts.
- Opening up the curiosity gap – we can support effective explanations by generating curiosity amongst students. We can do this by presenting them with information that doesn’t tell the full story, intrigues students and makes them want to find out more. For example, a powerpoint slide could contain images of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and World War 1, generating discussion and interest about the links between the two.
- Useful visuals – again, explanations can be supported by showing students images that would be difficult to draw and explain accurately on the board. This also brings the explanations alive. For example, images of the human heart, with specific defects can be shown to students and discussed with them.
- Comparative modelling – simply showing an exemplary piece of student work e.g. an extended response to a question, on a powerpoint slide might not be useful, because if looked at in isolation, it would be hard for students to identify why it is a strong piece of work. However, if it is shown alongside a weaker piece of work, it becomes more useful. Why? When students see a strong piece of work alongside a weaker piece of work (answering the same question) they can compare the two and pick out why one is better than the other.
- Archiving excellence – whilst simply showing students exemplary work on a powerpoint does not equate to effective modelling, it can serve a purpose. If we collect exemplary pieces of work and store them on a powerpoint, this can be used to show and discuss the standard expected of students and then challenge them to aspire to this – at the start of a course, or at the start of a new topic.
- Peer critique – if a powerpoint slide containing a piece of student work is projected onto a normal white board, the teacher can initiate a student discussion that critiques the work and annotate it as the discussion goes on. A great way of sharing feedback about a specific piece of work.
- Low stakes quizzes – powerpoints can be used to prepare short, low stakes multiple choice quizzes, to use with students at the start of lessons to support retrieval practice. Whilst these could just be read out without the use of a poerpoint, a powerpoint allows you to incorporate images into these quizzes which, when used with mini-whiteboards, can be used to effectively assess understanding. Example below:
When used not so well…
- Showing the finished product – sometimes teachers believe that they are modelling, when they show students a finished product on a powerpoint slide e.g. a paragraph of writing in response to a question. The problem with this, is that you don’t model the process of getting there. What were the thought processes involved in starting the piece of writing? How did you decide what tier 2 and 3 language to use? How did you ensure that the argument was balanced? How did you summarise the key points? The best way to do this effectively is to write it together, on the board, questioning students as you go – live modelling. By doing this, you are modelling how you think, in order to get to the end product.
- Worked examples – when maths and science teachers are doing a complex calculation, that they may not be completely confident about, the temptation is to have a prepared worked example on a powerpoint slide to go through with students. As above, this doesn’t allow you to really unpick each of the steps involved in the process. Similarly, you are not really modelling your thought processes. Do it on the board, punctuated with questions and explain each step carefully.
- Lots of notes – it’s pretty well accepted that a slide full of notes for students (or anyone for that matter) to copy down, is unlikely to generate much thinking (that’s not to say there isn’t always a place for this – sometimes they just need to copy down a full and accurate definition). A small change could be to present them with a list of key words (or sentence starters) that they use, to construct their own paragraphs – and so generate thinking. We need to guard against dependency though, so this should always be used as a way of moving towards writing for themselves independently.
- Check the detail – google images is a great resource when producing powerpoints to use in lessons. Take care though. Just because an image is on the internet, it won’t necessarily be correct – in fact they can sometime contain some glaring errors. Yesterday, I saw an image of a cell undergoing mitosis with the annotation – ‘cell undergoing division by osmosis’.
- What’s behind you – some would argue that when modelling, it’s best to use a visualiser instead of a powerpoint and a whiteboard, as this allows you to face the class fully and monitor the class. It’s a fair comment, but I think as long as you are aware of this, it doesn’t have to be a huge issue.
So is powerpoint a dreadful thing that should be banned? No, I don’t think so. It’s a tool for teachers and like any tool, it can be used really well, not so well or badly.
Posted by Shaun Allison