On a blustery autumnal morning, I reached my desk in my classroom, switched on my computer, opened my first PowerPoint presentation for the first lesson of the day and pressed the ‘on’ button on my projector.
That trusty piece of equipment that on a daily (hourly!) basis projected my entire lesson for students, complete with title, instructions and visual aids, had inconveniently decided to take a temporary break from being my teaching aid. On that windy morning, I quickly realised that I was going to have to go the whole day teaching ‘old school’ and quickly simplify activities.
This wasn’t the best of days for my projector to go MIA: I was facing double year 10 and the introduction of a new type of exam question; a challenging year 9 class and critical analysis of American Civil Rights leaders with Year 13. However, earlier that week I had read Ben Newmark’s blog on Ten principles for great explicit teaching and thus inspired decided to turn this unexpected turn of events into an opportunity to hone my teaching. The results were surprising:
- The students were forced to listen. Perhaps as a result of planning resources not just for myself but for members of my department too, my PowerPoints have evolved over the years with explicit instructions that students use to complete activities. The bonus of this is twofold: it serves to remind me at a later date how the learning should unfold in that lesson and the clearly displayed, broken down instructions can be referred back to by students which particularly benefits less able students and those with ASD. Without my beloved projector however, I had to be explicit in my verbal instructions instead and request students to repeat them back to me before they got on with the desired activity. What was surprising about this is that I had less instances of ‘Miss, what do I have to do?’ than I would in a normal lesson. Admittedly, I told students that I would not be ‘constantly repeating myself this lesson, so listen carefully’, but without the fall-back instructions prominently displayed, students paid more attention to my instructions the first time which meant that the pace of the lesson improved. This makes me wonder how necessary it is to constantly display instructions every lesson and if I continue to do so, am I unwittingly, making my students lazier?
- I was fussier about what went on the whiteboard and how I displayed information on it. Often my whiteboard acts as sidekick to my projector- I’ll write the correct spelling of key words on there, record praises and consequences and there will frequently be a mind map of some description, but the whiteboard had to really step up on the day of projector doom. When introducing a new type of exam question to Year 10, verbal instructions for some activities didn’t quite cut it (no matter how well the students listened) and I needed to write some instructions/ sentence starters/ key words/ model paragraphs/ praises…all went on the board. I had to think about how to display ideas concisely and more neatly than I would do usually. This could only have been a benefit to my students on that day.
- I was more inclined to go ‘off- piste’. Like many people I imagine, my PowerPoints are now my complete lesson plan. Slides include questions I wish to pose to the class, key words and their definitions, even worksheets. The finished product is my prompt for the lesson, a direction of travel and, although not a slave to my lesson plan (I will miss out slides if necessary and amend activities), generally I go through the PowerPoint from start to finish in the allotted 60 minutes. I learnt on PJ (Projector Jinxed) Day that I have acquired a bad habit of letting my PowerPoint fix the course of my lesson a bit too much. Without its presence to remind me what questions I wished to ask, the discussion that unfolded with my Year 13s was far more insightful and resulted in us testing, as a class, criteria that the students proposed to judge the effectiveness of American civil rights leaders. This was certainly not something I had planned to do at that point, but what the students got out of that lesson is crucial to the development of their examination skills. It was a timely reminder to let lessons unfold organically.
I confess that I perversely enjoyed the challenge that day of having to adapt lessons quickly, to simplify activities while making instructions explicit. But out of those stripped back lessons came important realisations about the current state of my classroom practices which has helped me to refocus. I’m not advocating a mass anti- projector movement (mine is back in working order and I’m very glad that it is), but I would challenge any teacher who feels that their teaching has become stale to do a day without one. What will you learn?
Emma Smith, History.