What is the place of ICT in the Literacy Hour?

Alison Tyldesley
Literacy Consultant for Derbyshire LEA
This article first appeared in MAPE Magazine 3 Summer Term 2000

The National Literacy Strategy and ICT in context
It is interesting to reflect on the key educational policies and strategies of this government. We have the Literacy Strategy, the Numeracy Strategy and the National Grid for Learning backed up by the New Opportunities Training fund for teachers. The place of ICT is secured in the new slimmed down National Curriculum. The impression we receive from government strategies is that ICT does and will have a huge impact on teaching and learning.
If this is the case, where does ICT fit into the Literacy Hour?
The National Literacy Strategy (NLS) Framework and Distance Learning materials have few explicit references to ICT. There are no teaching examples of ICT use on the training videos and a quick straw poll of literacy consultants from different LEAs reveals patchy classroom use of ICT during the Literacy Hour.
Using ICT within the Literacy Hour can seem like an added burden to teachers with both Numeracy and Literacy Strategies to contend with.
Responses from teachers when asked about ICT and literacy vary from, ' I know I need to use ICT more but . . .' 'Don't talk to me about computers at the moment', 'I've no time,' or even quite frequently, 'It doesn't work!' However, there are increasing pressures for ICT to be used as an integral part of literacy learning and many schools are aware that ICT use is a particular weakness that needs addressing.
It is true that in the early stages of NLS implementation ICT had a low profile. Things are beginning to change and a publication to support teachers is in the pipeline sponsored by NAACE (The organisation for Advisers in computer education). However, in many schools ICT use continues to be problematic.

A number of issues need to be resolved before ICT can be used as an effective tool within the Literacy Hour structure. There is still vast under-resourcing.
Most primary schools have approximately one computer per classroom. They are often unreliable and inconveniently situated. New computers are arriving in classrooms as a result of the National Grid for Learning. However, there is a lack of teacher knowledge, skill and training. Some of this will be addressed by The New Opportunities Fund training. Yet, because the funding provides training but not equipment one detractor described the initiative as 'learning to drive without a car'. When every school is wired up to the Internet and to electronic mail systems, teachers will need to have the skills and knowledge to make imaginative use of these resources.

Guiding principles
Here are five guiding principles which should underpin any attempt to resolve these issues.
Firstly ICT should be used as a resource to teach the NLS objectives for literacy, not the objectives for IT capability. 
ICT should only be selected as a resource if it is more effective than alternatives.
Planning will need to take into account a broad range of ICT tools including portables, multimedia desktops, simple word processors, programmable toys and spellcheckers.
Activities with ICT need to be based on clear learning objectives from the Framework at word, sentence or text level.
Feedback and assessment should not be left out of the equation.

ICT use in the Literacy Hour
So how can we answer the practical question of what kind of ICT use can be sensibly managed in the Literacy Hour? These are some suggestions:
Printouts can be used so that pupils can work on a similar task at or away from the computer.
ICT activities can be differentiated by providing prepared texts to work on or by expecting pupils to add to a text; to develop their own version or to design and create texts for others to publish.
The computer can be used as an electronic whiteboard and interactions can take place in front of all the pupils.
A small number of open-ended programs can be used for creative and reinforcement activities.
These allow pupils to become familiar with the programs and therefore independent in their use.
Examples of programs would include a word-processor, a desktop publisher and programs like My World and Clicker.
The click and drop or cut, copy and paste facilities on word processors can be used to allow text to be sequenced, sorted or matched.
Short snappy tasks are the most effective. Examples of these might include producing captions, lists, poems, posters and recipes. Long text-entering activities are the least useful way of using computers in the Literacy Hour.
Modelling the development of extended writing by editing writing and then working on printouts at various stages is an excellent use of a word processor.
Tried and tested reinforcement activities can be used
There needs to be access to different types of texts including those with sound, moving images and non-linear structure.
Finally there is a need to explicitly teach searching strategies for electronic referencing systems.

ICT in each part of The Literacy Hour
In order to answer the question 'where does ICT fit in the Literacy Hour?' this article covers each element in turn.

Word-level work can be varied by using a computer in this way. Phonemes or rimes can be presented using different colours and, during independent work, lists of words can be used for independent investigations involving sorting and categorising.

Incorporating ICT into some guided writing sessions is ideal. The teacher can support pupils who are working round two or three desktops or who are using a set of portable computers. Composing, drafting, editing, proofreading and publishing can all be guided and supported. The guided sessions can support and develop the focus introduced during shared writing.

Independent working time provides an obvious opportunity for the use of ICT in the Literacy Hour.
Pupils can write collaboratively using word processors, use talking books, access a carefully controlled internet site, write and send an e-mail letter, use a multimedia text or interact with reinforcement and practice programs.
The plenary will be a chance for pupils who have been using ICT to receive feedback and reinforcement. It will be interesting to compare the advantages and disadvantages of using either ICT or pen and paper.

In Conclusion
Why should we use ICT and when is it more effective than other methods? ICT involves a change of approach. It is stimulating, motivating and challenging. It can provide support for the less able pupils or challenge at the top end of the class.
It encourages drafting and editing. This can be a real boon as often improving writing is little more than 'copying up neatly'. It can provide success for unmotivated boys. Research also shows that children concentrate longer with a screen in front of them than they do with a book. ICT leads to new skills and provides good opportunities to practise existing skills. It motivates and gives a fresh response to the skills of reading and writing.
Finally, computers have an underrated value as a whole-class or whole-group teaching aid.
Computers are powerful and effective tools. They become even more powerful when the teacher provides a learning interface between pupils and machines.

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