As a terrified ITT student ten years ago, learning how to use PowerPoint was a Godsend; the idea that I could put my whole lesson on something that would guide me through my painstaking lesson plans so I wouldn’t forget the questions I wanted to ask, information I wanted to give and activities I wanted students to do along with the precise time-limits to ensure I got to the plenary that was the make or break between a passed or failed observation was beyond my wildest, exhausted dreams. Spending hours on them was a small price to pay in exchange for that sort of peace of mind and students who would be captivated by the colours and whizzy animations, plus, I would use them again and again…. Right?
Well… wrong. The following year when I dug out my PowerPoints to teach the units on Of Mice and Men and travel writing again, I looked at them and realised my questions were unclear, my explanations overly complicated and my activities lacked direction. In other words, I had learnt a lot about teaching over the year and my practice had developed beyond the lessons I had planned (and committed to PowerPoint). So I re-planned and re-PowerPointed, sure that now I knew what I was doing, and I could create lessons that I would deliver year after year. Except the problem was that over that NQT year guess what happened? I learnt more, my practice developed further and once again, a year later, I looked back on my PowerPoints and realised I could do way better.
It shocks me really that I carried on like this for the next six or so years, honestly believing every September that this was the year I had nailed it, and I would plan (and PowerPoint) lessons I thought I would keep on using, until about two years ago I realised I had, in my decade of teaching, re-used a PowerPoint only a handful of times. Not only was I in the hands of the ever-wavering National Curriculum and GCSE specification Gods, but I was never going to ‘nail it’; I was going to keep developing my practice and learning more about my subject, so why would I want to use last year’s lessons when I would always be a better teacher who could plan better lessons than I was a year ago?
Over the last 18 months of very rarely using PowerPoint I have come to the conclusion that it has improved my practice. I am more responsive to my class and am much more focused on teaching according to their rate of progress than on getting through my eight slides. Of course I plan my objective and sketch out the episodes of my lesson – usually give some instruction, ask some questions, model then allow students some time to apply what I have taught them – but I don’t drag my groups through my meticulous plans regardless of whether they are ‘getting it’ or not. Rather than display 6 bullet points about Romantic poetry which I read out to my group, I talk to them about it and bullet-point as I go, therefore modelling effective note-taking. Rather than displaying a task that might say something like: 1. Write paragraph (10 minutes); 2. Swap with a partner and find their similes (3 minutes); 3. Give yourself a www/ebi; EXTENSION Use metaphors too, I set them up with the task and then walk around and look at what the students are doing to decide when to stop them rather than work to a prescribed time limit (I have never understood this outside of exam question practice), work out whether they are ready to move on or whether I need to stop them and re-teach something or grab a great piece of work to display on the visualiser to show them all what it should look like. Rather than writing a model answer onto a PowerPoint slide, I write a model answer directly onto my whiteboard or using my visualiser, narrating my thought process as I go.
The most powerful thing about ditching PowerPoint has been the way it has forced me to be better prepared for my lessons in terms of my subject knowledge; if I am going to explain something without the use of five pre-prepared bullet points then I have to know my stuff, and I have a feeling that spending 30 minutes reading up on feminist interpretations of Lady Macbeth is 30 minutes better spent than making a flashy PowerPoint about it. (And you know, if you display five picture of Lady M played by various actresses looking calmly at the blood on her hands, then that is what your students will be focusing on – ask yourself whether that is what you want!)
Of course, PowerPoint has its place as a resource – I still use it to display pictures, clips, bits of text and sometimes my ‘do now’ starter questions, but I would argue that it is not an effective medium to actually plan lessons. If I haven’t convinced you, then go and have a walk around your maths department. I bet you won’t see a PowerPoint presentation in sight. Ask those teachers why they don’t use it.
If you can’t imagine delivering a lesson without your projector then I urge you to challenge yourself and give it a go. Research your topic so you feel confident about your subject knowledge and make a few notes to roughly plan out what you want to achieve and how you think you’ll get there. You might find that you don’t get to your plenary and you know what? If you don’t because you have ended up slowing things down, or going over something again, or maybe even veering off in a different direction because it turns out that that is what your class needs – it doesn’t matter.