ICT is now widely used in the teaching and learning of English, as it is in all areas of the curriculum. However, as most English teachers would acknowledge, there is still much more to do to make effective and enjoyable use of the technology. Practically,the aim of this article is to provide a very diverse set of inspirations and starting points so that we can make full use of this considerable potential and explore all regions of ICT in relation to technology and English language.
In my view, English always comes first and technology of any kind, from the old overhead projector or spirit duplicator to the latest digital device or Web 2.0 application, must serve the teaching of the subject. It should serve the subject not by offering alternatives for the sake of it but because new technologies can extend, enhance or make more efficient what they already strive to achieve.
The structure of this article is based on the document called ‘The Entitlement to ICT in Secondary English’ produced by the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) with other key partners. It provides an extremely elegant summary of the range of potentials represented by ICT and the way they map onto the teaching of English. As analysis of the relationship between the subject and technology, it hasn’t been beaten, and we would recommend all English departments to obtain a copy of this article as soon as possible.
Teaching English Using ICT
abbreviation ‘ICT’. It stands for information and communication technology and has been adopted in schools and colleges in place of ‘IT’ to signify the part played by a wide range of technology, not merely to process information but also (crucially for education) for communication. It also indicates a much wider remit than computers at a time when most students carry around at least one mobile device more powerful and versatile than the machines that first started to appear in classrooms 30 years ago. We see the development of ICT in English as a progression, a gradual evolution, rather than a dramatic leap into the unknown. It’s a bit like rungs on a ladder – each rung needs to be in place for ascent to be safe, and it’s risky to skip a rung, and dangerous to leave one out. In the chapters that follow, you will find activities which are well within the capabilities (or the availability of resources) of those who are beginning to use ICT in their teaching.
There will also be ideas to extend and build upon such practice and there will be suggestions which will appeal to those who are already confident ICT users. We all know in theory about the fluidity, the slipperiness and flexibility of language, and we experience it when we talk. Traditional methods of recording language – typically writing with a pen and ink – tend to lock words in place, fix their form, sequence and impact. The computer, by contrast, accentuates the fluidity of language. It enables experiment and constant readjustment. Not only can the position and form of individual words be altered, a writer can also radically change the visual impact of the text by selecting different fonts, sizes, and layouts. ICT also allows us to move beyond words on the page or the screen to embrace other modes of communication. Images, still and moving, together with audio recording and editing can be employed in ways which are both innovative and more manageable. Furthermore, we can exploit the still developing world of Web 2.0 applications to the advantage of our students and their learning without ever losing sight of our overriding purpose – developing our best practice in the teaching of English.
ICT in a case point – poetry
To make a case for the use of ICT in English we might look at one aspect of the subject, poetry (the NATE ‘Hard To Teach’ project that we mention several times in this book found this area an especially difficult one to communicate in class). If we ask ‘how might the use of ICT enhance or extend the enjoyment of poetry?’ the answers illustrate very well the methodology, purpose and spirit of this write up. We start by identifying the unique qualities of poetry and then we match them with the special attributes of ICT.
What is poetry?
Poetry is an art form composed from words
Poetry is by its nature playful
Poetry is multimedia by nature
Poetry is rule-bound
Poetry has a ritual and highly significant function in society
So how does ICT interact with and support these qualities of poetry?
- ICT adds fluidity to words
- This playfulness can extend to include the physical arrangement of words on the page, which can be experimented with painlessly on a computer
- ICT allows poems to broken down and rebuilt
- ICT enables multimedia approaches to poetry
- ICT allows poets to publish their work to worldwide audiences
Let’s look at these attributes in turn: Poetry can be described as an art form composed of words, based on the sound and rhythm of words arranged in lines, and the emotional and pictorial power these compressed expressions have to communicate feelings, thought, belief, philosophy and sense information to the mind of the audience.
Poetry is by its nature playful; both in the way that words are organized and the way meanings are juxtaposed. Even a poem’s layout out on the page can be an excuse for wit or powerful dramatic effect.
ICT enables playfulness with text; it adds fluidity to words, encouraging a spirit of risk-free experimentation – words can be moved around, they can be changed, they can be deleted and added to in powerfully efficient ways impossible before.
ICT will not only allow this high-level form of editing, it will also enable the writer to choose the final font for the publication of the poem – a function that used to be the exclusive province of a compositor or printer. Computers have therefore added immensely to the sense of control over the shaping and the final form of a composition.
What is lost in the process? Much has been written (Daniel Chandler launched this debate several years ago) about the way ICT detracts from the human, ‘touchy-feeliness’ of the handwritten artefact, its messiness, its crossings-out and hard-mapped insertions, its arrows and jotted marginalia, its unmistakeable encapsulation of an individual’s unique mood and personality.
Looking at the drafts fortuitously left behind by Wilfred Owen you can see the point. If he’d had a laptop at the front (weird image!), what a world of thought and expression would have been lost in the clinical up-to-datedness of the digital draft! If one wishes to preserve a thought-map of a composition one has to take special steps to do so – switch on track-changes, save regular drafts, make frequent printouts.
However, nothing really matches the scruffy handwritten versions for power. Most writers operate some sort of mixed economy – some composition and editing on screen, some handwritten edits on printouts. Both forms should be celebrated and their special advantages acknowledged. It is vital that teachers don’t weigh in strongly on either side. For some students, handwriting is a source of immense pride, a place where personality and flair find expression.
For such students, computers can seem to rob them of something vital. For others, handwriting is a private shame and an embarrassment: computers offer liberation and new motivations. Creative, joyful coexistence of ICT and traditional drafting forms should be the rule – not some mutually exclusive regime
Playfulness with words (and by this we do not want to imply any lack of serious intent) can be extended to include the physical arrangement of words on the page – the witty recognitions of concrete poetry or careful indentations that convey formal meanings can be experimented with painlessly on a computer. ICT has a related part to play in the reading of poetry.
Teachers can disturb the order of lines (de-sequencing), or collapse a text to provide completely new ICT-generated pre-reading activities.
ICT allows poems to broken down and rebuilt so that new ways of reading the text can be explored. Typically, lines can be re-sequenced without the aid of scissors. Rhyme-schemes and other formal features can be mapped. A puzzle element can provide a hook, and ICT makes such puzzles practical to construct. No one watching students working with the Developing Tray software can ever quite forget the moments of revelation, the dawning of comprehension as shadowed meanings begin to light up through thought and discussion.
Something magical happens if you stay with text, if you chew on it for more than the usual half-distracted three minutes. As long as we don’t as teachers blight the memory of the writing with some pre-digested, regurgitated version of its meaning, students begin to discover layers of meaning, personal resonances and hidden nuances. The problem has always been to find a way to keep attention fixed long enough for the text to cast its own spell .
Text Mapping, invented by Tony Clifford, remains a particularly brilliant use of the word processor. As a reading/analysis approach, it relies on the fact that a word processor can mark a text using font, style, font size, colour and effects such as highlighting. All of these features can co-locate on the same word without rendering it illegible. Each feature can be assigned a meaning by students, and the key to the map written at the foot of the page. The lesson concludes with full presentations from each group doing the mapping, explaining how they have marked the text, and discussing what they have discovered in the process.
The fun of manipulating the mapping tools keeps concentration high; and the challenge of the final presentation ensures inventive, valuable critical thinking is achieved. Poetry is multimedia by nature; it interacts with other art forms. Visual art (the poetry of Blake is a supreme example) has always been associated with poetry, and fine poetry paints word-pictures in the mind. Poetry, because of its origins and its strong rhythmic basis, is directly related to music and song
ICT enables multimedia approaches to poetry, the combination of words with images, with movies – cartoons and films. It facilitates composition of music and makes arranging images in special sequences an easy task. It also helps with the final production or presentation .
What these ideas have in common is a startling realization that ICT can scramble and unscramble a piece of writing, can select and isolate special elements in it, can allow activities that are simply impossible without the computer’s help.
The thought occurs that there may be new rules and new forms of writing enabled uniquely by ICT.
Choose your own adventure? Why not choose your own poem? Static words on the page? Why not animate the text? (I recall Chandler’s experimental programs for the BBC Model B computer!) One form of text? Why not exploit the power of hypertext for new forms? Solitary poets? Why not bring writers together in new ways for collaborative composition? What we call a ‘wiki’. Remote and semi-deified poet-people? Why not connect established writers and young enthusiastic pupils into collaborative creative communities?
wish this article to have as wide an application as possible. With this in mind, we have tried to avoid references to particular curricula, examinations or other nomenclature which tie us down to a specific place or a restricting purpose. As a result, this article is organized according to those kinds of things which all teachers of English will want their students to experience.
In Using ICT to Explore and Investigate English, we demonstrate how ICT can be used to help students discover things about a text (of whatever kind) which would be difficult or impossible to achieve by other means. In Using ICT to Analyse Language, we take a look at the powerful tools offered by Corpus approaches and Wordle for taking that discovery to the next stage.
In Using ICT to Respond, Interpret, Reflect and Evaluate, we show how students can express their reactions to and interpretations of texts in creative and engaging ways.
Using ICT to Compose and Create offers ideas to assist students in expressing themselves. However else it may be used in other subjects, in English ICT is a tool for creativity. Within Using ICT to Transform you will find teaching approaches which enable students to understand the conventions of different genres and text types and to see the impact of often subtle alterations to language, with a range of writing activities enabled by the technology to take existing text and transform it.
In Using ICT to Present and Perform, teachers will find examples of the many ways in which ICT can be employed to share students’ work and to enhance not just their reading and writing but their speaking and listening also.
ICT allows, indeed encourages us, to communicate and collaborate. Using ICT to Communicate and Collaborate is a chapter which explores the ways in which this facility can be used most purposefully in English. Using ICT to Inspire and Engage, focuses on programs designed specifically to spark the imagination and motivate students to discuss and write.