As I said in Why Is ICT* Boring?, a lot of youngsters find their ICT lessons pretty tedious. In this series I’m looking at ten reasons for this state of affairs.
If I had to choose just one causal factor to focus on, it would be the start of the lesson. I don’t think this is unique to ICT by any means. If you think about it, the way any activity starts, ie your first few seconds’ experience of it, sets the tone for the rest of the period in question.
For example, how long do you take to evaluate a website or an article on a website? I think the average is 8 seconds. I was recommended a podcast the other day, and I spent a total of 1 minute and 29 seconds evaluating it – and that was only because I tried a second episode to give them the benefit of the doubt after spending about 10 seconds hating the first one I listened to. I’m the same when I go shopping: if the person at the counter is more interested in finishing their conversation with a colleague than attending to me, I walk out, because there are plenty of other places that will be only too happy to accept my custom.
The big difference between these examples and school lessons is that students are, quite literally, a captive audience. If you’re not convinced of this, find yourself some spare-time work as a tutor in adult education. When I first did that I was devastated to discover that the attrition rate between my first lesson and the second one a week later was around 20%. In other words, the class of 30 I started with was down to 24 or 25 the following week. I felt like a complete failure. But my boss assured me that that was typical. Some people realise in the first week that the course is not for them. Others don’t like your teaching style. Others like it, but not enough to outweigh spending the time on other commitments instead.
If you’re ever involved in observing lessons, but don’t have the time to stay for the entire lesson, go for the first 15 or 20 minutes, or the last 15 or 20 minutes. They’re often the really informative periods if you’re looking at classroom management, because most classes can be reasonably assumed to have settled into some sort of routine during the middle section of the lesson. I prefer the first 20 minutes, because that sets the tone for the rest of the lesson, as a rule.
So, back to the ICT lesson. If you accept what I’ve said then you need to ensure that when the lesson starts, it starts with an activity. However, as I say in Go On, Bore ‘Em: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull:
The starter activity is the activity that the lesson starts with: that much is obvious, but many teachers take this to mean it’s the activity with which they start the lesson. It isn’t. The start of the lesson is experienced by each student individually, therefore the starter activity is the activity with which each individual student starts the lesson.
Obviously, the teacher needs to do something to ensure the lesson gets off to a good start, but what? If you adopt a cynical outlook, then almost any activity will do, like getting the students to write their names on top of a sheet of paper. Ideally, though, it should be interesting as well. Should it also be relevant to the lesson proper? My own view is that it should either be highly relevant, ie something that will be drawn upon during the lesson, or completely irrelevant, like a warm-up glossary quiz. I once observed a lesson in which the students came in, logged on and checked their email. That kept them quiet, but then the teacher had to virtually wrest them away from the computer screens in order to start teaching them. How much better it would have been to have ensured that each student would find information pertinent to the lesson in their inbox. That, at least, would have provided a legitimate educational reason for such an activity.
If you’d like to read more about getting an ICT lesson off to a good start, and 9 other key issues, check out Go On, Bore ‘Em: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull (that link gives you a free preview) – just £1.99 (+VAT if applicable) (that links takes you to the ordering section) for the ebook version!
* ICT = Information & Communications Technology
Photo source: Nicole Zimmer's Profile on SXC