What we do
For teachers of English the most significant thing about computers is that they let us use language in a dynamic way. We have never been able to do this before. Previously we have had to write on a board or an OHP transparency, erase text and rewrite it if we wished, for instance, to demonstrate vocabulary alternatives or alterations to audience and purpose. Now we have a myriad ways to show the fluidity of language, the many ways in which a text can be transformed and to help in the creation and reworking of different types of writing.
Only teachers of English appreciate the revolution in teaching and learning which a mere laptop connected to a projector offers! These possibilities are multiplied when students, too, have access to the technology.
Talking and sharing
ICT based English lends itself to pupils working pairs and small groups. ICT seems to encourage discussion and group decision-making. On-task talk is a positive thing and verbalising thought is a good way of testing hypotheses. Students also seem to take more readily to collaboration using this medium - and are less likely to be precious about making changes to writing they have done.
Access to computers is still patchy and many English Departments are still very poorly equipped. All English Departments should have access to a room where students can use computers, whether they are desktop or laptop machines. Each English teaching room should be equipped with a data projector for use with a laptop or a desktop computer and there should be at least one English room with an Interactive Whiteboard. Without such resources, the entitlement described in DfES documents cannot be provided for each child.
The key application for English teachers is the word processor. After this, there are a number of applications which are extremely useful: presentation software such as PowerPoint, image editing programs such as Photo Story and thought/writing organising software such as Inspiration and FrameWorks. There are many other useful programs but for many teachers the focus is on finding resources to use within open-ended software such as Word and PowerPoint.
The internet is much like a gigantic library. The trick is to be able to find what you're looking for and then know what to do with it. Students will find both interesting as well as irrelevant material on the web. Without the help of a teacher a student is no more likely to gain knowledge in this way than if he or she was left to wander around a library. It's a very useful resource for information and materials such as literature texts and images. It can also be an interesting tool if you are prepared to incorporate contributory websites (e.g. where students can publish their work) discussion areas and blogs.
Projectors and whiteboards
A projector to show a computer image on a screen or wall is a great help in any classroom. You do not need an interactive whiteboard to do this. Interactive whiteboards are a useful additional resource but not essential in order to demonstrate many key language activities.
Pictures and sound
The availability of economically priced digital cameras, still and video, opens up a huge range of possibilities, especially if used in conjunction with editing software. Even a simple microphone, used to capture children's voice-overs, commentaries can add a significant new dimension to basic activities and can easily be added to Powerpoint presentations.