Should you use powerpoints?

I’ve recently moved to a school where I don’t have a projector, from a school where I did have one.  What follows is a discussion of what seem to me the pros and cons of powerpoint.  (Incidentally, I prefer not having one).

What are the advantages of powerpoints over a whiteboard?

You can look things up online.

This week I have been reading Dahl’s ‘Boy’ with year eight. I wanted to show them how far Roald Dahl travelled when his family moved from northern Europe to Wales. This is easy if you have a projector, but I didn’t have one. However, this wasn’t a big deal. ‘Understand the relative positions of Norway and Wales’ was not my Learning Objective. Looking stuff up on online like this is generally an interesting bit of icing on the cake of the lesson. If it was integral to the lesson, I could have printed the material for the students.

YouTube videos, of course, cannot be simply printed for students. And YouTube videos may be a popular resource for some teachers. I think being forced by circumstances not to use them is a good thing. Replace what you were going to watch with some written resource that says the same thing. Then they can practice their reading, instead of their YouTube-watching, skills. The latter are already pretty well-honed.

 

You can show lots of information at once.

This is the single biggest advantage of powerpoints, and it is still only a fairly minor advantage. I recently had students doing some peer-assessment. To give them some guidance I put a list of things they could write on the board (is it good or bad? What band is it? Is it better than yours? How good is the SPaG? What is the best sentence in it?). I had to write these on the whiteboard, but it would have been nice not to have had to. This kind of things occurs maybe twice a week. Often it means I simply resort to printing, which then involves a small amount of faff as I print, a couple of minutes worth of lesson time sticking stuff into books, and the environmental cost if the whole school are doing the same thing. At other times, it forces me to simplify, and say less, which I think is a good thing.

 

You don’t have to repeat things.

If everything’s on the powerpoint, then students can just check the screen and everything is there. That’s the theory, but in practice I think most teachers who use powerpoints acknowledge that they still do a lot of talking. How many of us are so prepared that basically everything is on the powerpoint? I mean, it would be great if we barely spoke because everything was clearly and concisely explained on the slides, but I think most of us do not have enough time to plan lessons to this level of detail. In short, if you can put 95% of what you’re going to say in a lesson on a powerpoint, great. If you can’t then probably the loss of a powerpoint here is no big deal.

 

Why no projector/powerpoint might be a good thing:

  1. No technology to break down.
  2. When you’re planning lessons, you focus on what you want students to learn. There are fewer questions/distractions like what colour font, what colour background, what font, what picture, what animation, you will use. This is the main one for me. If I plan a lesson on a powerpoint in five minutes, one minute of that time will be spent making it look presentable or, on a good day, pretty. That’s 20% of the time I spent planning that lesson.
  3. The school can spend the money on something else.
  4. Once you’ve got rid of the projector in some lessons, bring it back in for maybe one day a week or a month. This will make those lessons special and perhaps therefore aid retention.

 

 

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