In Defence of the Powerpoint

In Defence of the Powerpoint

A Powerpoint is not a substitute for ‘good old-fashioned board work’, but a tool to judiciously use to support great teaching.

The use of a Powerpoint for a lesson is a contentious issue for me. There are few lessons where I do not use one. However it became a running sore from the beginning of my teaching career. My fantastic course leader at the Institute of Education said we should all try to teach without them. I taught without one. The lesson was a disaster. I didn’t put this down to the lack of technology but my observer did. I’m not bitter about having been caught between a rock and a hard place…

However this internal dilemma has been reawakened by Michael Fordham’s declaration that he has been teaching for a term without a Powerpoint, with the suggestion that this has made him an [even] better teacher. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a new idea, I’ve discovered that Joe Kirby and the team at Michaela have similar thoughts.

I understand the appeal. There is something about not teaching with a Powerpoint that can make one feel more connected with the students in a class; it feels like we are doing more, imparting knowledge and crafting the learning more. However I can’t help but suspect that this is something of a Luddite daydream. Not that I want to be drawn into holding an absolute position – that a Powerpoint is a must for every lesson – but I feel a defence of its value must be made and propose that there is not necessarily an inherently ‘correct’ answer but that the judicious use of the ubiquitous Powerpoint will support great teaching.

  1. Teacher Time
    I reject the suggestion that teachers waste excessive periods of time re-formatting their slides and that time could be better spent on other activities. In the Joe Kirby article linked to above, he suggests four better uses of time. His ideas are, of course, excellent. However many plan their lessons whilst constructing great lessons, so to suggest that more time could be spent planning if less time was spent on Powerpoints is something of a misnomer.
  2. Planning Questioning
    I rely heavily on the idea of Socratic questioning and one of the fundamental principle of my lessons is to present students with some knowledge and then get them to do something with it. With a full teaching timetable, I’d hazard a guess that I field an exceptionally high number of questions each and every day, let alone week. This might just be a personal failing, but I can’t remember all of them. Many (I shan’t claim all!) are carefully thought through and designed to steer a lesson in a certain direction and to help students to work up their historical thinking from some initial source material. One might make the counter-point that one could just as easily write their questions out on a piece of paper. True. However there is an added advantage to having questions written out for students in advance. Questioning can also be adapted on a Powerpoint within a lesson to respond to the changing circumstances of a lesson – I’m often hammering away modifying a slide whilst students are getting on with a bit of work. This isn’t in any way different to writing your questions up on the board differently.
  3. Behaviour Management
    There is a desirable sense of authenticity about teaching the perfect lesson according to one’s subject’s pedagogical principles. In reality there are behaviour management issues to consider. One should never compromise too far but a realistic perspective must be had.Some students will miss questions if made orally. In an ideal world, they would be hanging off of my every word. Without seeming too arrogant, most of them usually This isn’t good enough. All students deserve clearly worded instructions, which they can continually refer back to, to maintain a sharp focus to their work. This does not happen with orally issued instructions, and frankly I’m too lazy to turn my back to a class and write them up in full on a board. Students also care extremely little for my handwriting.I also begin each lesson with a title, date, a reminder of the over-arching enquiry question and a welcome activity – something students can get on with, without any teacher input, allowing me to get on with other administrative tasks to support the start of a lesson. It is a routine I get every student in, and makes student behaviour and starting a lesson extremely easy to manage.
  4. Resourcing
    I love getting unusual sources into a lesson. As many as possible. The more unusual, varied and intricate the better. There are two issues here, therefore, with systematically not using some sort of visual display. First of all, my experience has been that the more precise images do not translate well when printed out. Second of all, I do not work in a school with unlimited funds – far from it. Many schools are likely to go off of the financial cliff during the lifetime of the current version of Powerpoint. Many Twitter ‘authorities’ are either blessed with significantly larger budgets than I and/or have reached a position of seniority which likely allows a degree of freedom with the volume of photocopying made per lesson by virtue of a smaller timetable and have easier access to colour printing. I’d rather use more sources, and collectively pick them apart, than fewer sources printed out.

 

I rest my case. I shall explore a little more with a few lessons whereby I will actively avoid making use of the Powerpoint and see how far my views shift. To support such an endeavour, I do look forward to receiving some ripostes which challenge my existing thinking and perhaps help me to navigate the troubled waters of life without visual display software.

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