Around 10 years ago I visited a school in which the computers were in a dreadful state. The school’s response was to not bother to renew the equipment on the grounds that it would only get damaged again, so what was the point? I understood their frustration, but in sense all they did was set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. So what should they have done instead?
As is often the case, there were several factors at play. Some could be addressed almost immediately, whereas others required a longer-term approach. In my opinion, the school should have made the following changes.
Rearrange the room layout
All the computer labs were arranged in rows, so it was impossible for the teacher to see what was going on. Hardly surprising, then, that pupils were able to do things like connect nice to the wrong computer, or do even worse things like cut the plugs off the leads.
Make the rooms more attractive
Nice tables and chairs, decent and interesting displays on the walls, a few plants dotted around the room (spider plants are especially good in computer areas): all serve to help make the space more welcoming. Most people are reluctant to vandalise an area they like to be in.
Replace or at least renovate the equipment
It seems counterintuitive, but a key response to vandalism is to reinstate nice-looking equipment. There have been plenty of studies that have demonstrated that picking up on “minor” offences such as graffiti, litter and similar misdemeanours helps to prevent the situation becoming even worse.
Have extra staff in the room
Having a classroom assistant means having both another set of eyes in the room, and also the ability to give more pupils more personal attention and help when they need it.
Make the educational technology facilities more welcoming
Whenever pupils started up a computer, there was a message saying that they had to agree to abide by all the rules and regulations before being allowed to go any further. So the school started off with the assumption that pupils were going to misbehave in some way. In my experience, people live up or down to other people’s expectations. In any case, it’s hardly what you would call welcoming, is it? If I invite you over to dinner, I won’t make you sign a set of terms and conditions before allowing you to cross my threshold!
Improve the lessons
If pupils are bored in lessons, they will usually play up. Are adults any different? When I get bored in a conference session, if I can’t vote with my feet I will vote with my keypad, by checking my email, Twitter and Facebook instead of listening! There is no excuse for ICT lessons to be boring, especially as I have written a seminal work on the subject of how to make them interesting! See Go On, Bore ‘Em: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull.
Improve the course
You might think that offering a dumbed down course to pupils with behavioural or learning difficulties would be the right thing to do. In fact, what you should do is the opposite: offer a challenging course – but one that is relevant. Young people know when they are being patronised or fobbed off with a rubbish course. Either find the right course, or write your own, perhaps in conjunction with a local college or employer in order to have the course accredited in some way. (In Britain, there used to be what were called “Mode 3” courses. Groups of teachers could submit their own course for approval by the Examining Boards (Awarding Bodies). This was a marvellous mechanism for ensuring that schools were able to offer locally relevant courses. If the new Free Schools and Academies are able to reinstate something like Mode 3 curricular they will definitely be worth supporting.)
It won’t be possible to implement all of these suggestions overnight, and the school will not see immediate improvements. But you have to start somewhere, and surely any one of these ideas is better than effectively ceding victory to the worst elements in the classroom?