Helen Smith, NGfL Adviser
The interactive whiteboard is an effective medium for the teacher presenting to the whole class, and for reviewing the lesson. The teacher at the front of the class is better positioned to observe pupils' response.
The board has been used effectively in a number of subject areas. In particular, it supports interactive teaching in the Literacy Hour and Mathematics lesson. The board also helps in demonstrating new ICT skills. Children see the teacher pointing to a feature or making a selection, rather than the mouse pointer, which may be hard to see on a complex screen.
In the primary classroom, it is important to keep a balance between class, group and individual modes of activity. Teachers need to consider how the board may be used for the main part of the lesson.
The board is an effective support for teacher-led group work. However, it is less effective for independent group work, with significant exceptions. Successful group work has invariably centred on highly interactive tasks which do not require text input. Examples are: using a graphics program; planning a DTP layout; exploring a CD-ROM.
Some of the most successful uses were in Key Stage 1. Children responded with enthusiasm and concentrated effort to the opportunity to write or paint on the board. A Reception teacher noted that children made better progress in using a CD ROM, through being able to touch features directly. A notable success was in using the board to practise handwriting: evidence shows how the large movements needed to write letters on the board assisted children with poor motor skills.
Difficulties arose where children needed to enter text. There have been problems in using the on-screen keyboard. Also, when groups work at the board, it is almost impossible to avoid casting shadows, unless the projector is ceiling-mounted. When children become frustrated, the captivating effect of the large display quickly diminishes. At one school, a cordless keyboard is being used to good effect.
The siting and positioning of the board must be planned, and reviewed. At some schools, there were doubts that it would be used to full effect if wall-mounted in the ICT suite. However, moving and setting up in classrooms is an issue, and is hardly practicable on a daily basis. On its stand, younger children cannot reach the top of the 60" board.
Younger pupils found it difficult initially to write with the pens. Some teachers also had reservations, but young and old alike found that skills improved with practice! The facility in Smart Notebook to 'capture' annotated screens is an important feature. The display, with pen markings, may be reviewed later.
The stand must be securely braked, with extending feet pulled out for stability. If a projector stand is used, this must also be braked. Otherwise, a slight knock necessitates recalibration of the display. For safety, cable protector must be used to cover all trailing flex.
Staff training by Matrix was felt to be excellent value for money, and essential. However, teachers need on-going support, especially if time elapses between the initial training and the teacher's "turn" with the board. All teachers need time to practise with the board and its accessories. They need to acquaint themselves with presentation software, and develop contexts for its effective use. In the early stages, at least one teacher needs to have access to the whiteboard regularly, to become familiar with its opportunities. There is likely to be a development period, with one or two teachers leading, before the board becomes fully integrated into teaching in all classes.