Are we going on the computers today? Explaining in ICT lessons.

“Are we going on the computers today sir?”

Here’s the problem.  Pupils often see ICT as a purely practical subject. They don’t transfer the need for understanding or explanation required in English, Science, History etc into the ICT classroom.  I’ve seen examples of learners’ written work from other subjects that have made my socks roll up and down, but this just wasn’t happening in my classroom.  Why not?

I kept noticing that my students’ marks for practical skills were a lot higher than their ‘theory’ (evaluation, annotation and generally written work).  They knew how to do, but had difficulty articulating process or giving reasons why.  Another area of concern was the quality of feedback given to one another. It was superficial at best and non existent in some cases. More along the lines of ‘I like the colours’ than anything helpful.

This year I’ve been making a real effort to focus on improving my students’ explaining skills. I want them to be able to confidently discuss and write about their learning using subject specific vocabulary. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

The Banned List and Deeper Questioning

OK, maybe not quite banned, but I have a list of words and phrases on my board that I won’t accept in student answers without further development.  They are (so far)

  • It
  • Things
  • Quicker
  • Easier
  • Better
  • Hassle
  • Stuff
  • Something
  • In many ways

This is less of a learning technique for for my students to use than a shift in my expectations. I won’t let them off the hook using these cop out phrases in their answers. I’m more confident in taking the time to probe with my questioning.  It’s fun watching learners stop halfway through a sentence, as they realise that the will have to rephrase their answer, or pausing to glance over my shoulder at the list to check if they can use a particular phrase.  You can see the thinking happening.

Also, adopting  techniques like think pair share and pose pause pounce bounce mean that I can spread the question to the whole class and get lots of brains working at once. Previously when whole class questioning I’d always get that itchy, uncomfortable feeling that I should be moving on. Now I can be a lot more agile when picking up on misconceptions and I have strategies to get everyone involved.


Let’s face it, one of the secrets of doing well at school is explaining yourself well in writing.  I have yet to come up with a practical solution to background noise when recording screencasts, and my experiments with entire classes using this method for evaluating/annotating their work have proved awkward to manage.  Even the best behaved students dissolve into fits of giggles when listening back to themselves and the noise levels soon become unsustainable.  As I mentioned above, the majority have difficulty transferring their writing skills to ICT, so I need to teach them techniques with which to improve the quality of their explanations.

Discovering the SOLO taxonomy has transformed the way I plan my objectives.  Now, using the framework, I find it much easier to share clear stages for progression with students. It also helps me to make sure that I’m increasing the difficulty in measured steps rather than jumping straight from shallow to deep learning.  Here’s an example of a SOLO leveled overview for our Y9 Future Technology unit that is based on a great SOW from Teach-ICT.

I’ve also made extensive use of the SOLO HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) maps to show learners how to write about ICT.  Using the describe and define maps in particular has dramatically improved the quality of written response from students. It also links in nicely with the Identify Amplify Exemplify (IAE) framework that I use when teaching exam technique.  I am looking forward to evaluating the impact that using HOTS frameworks at KS3 has on my pupils GCSE exam answers.

SOLO describe map

SOLO describe map


An example of a simple describe framework for features of interactive TV.


Feedback is useless unless there is time to act on it.  I’ve found it easy to forget this and move from topic to topic without giving proper time for pupils to reflect and improve.  I’ve made a real effort to plan Designated Improvement & Reflection Time (DIRT) into my SOWs this year.

Sticking with SOLO, I went through Ron Berger’s public critique rules with my Y9 class.  We were examining this future tech Prezi that I had chosen from the public gallery. I felt that it was important that they had an opportunity to practise on some work that was not made by someone in the class.

I gave them a sheet based on my SOLO overview of the topic with space for feed back and feed forward.  We clarified our expectations for how we would use each section:

Feed back was where pupils would spot places in the presentation where there were clear examples of it hitting the SOLO levels.  They would have to be very specific about where in the presentation this was.

Feed forward was where students would give helpful and specific advice about how the work could be improved. This would require them to really involve themselves with the success criteria.

I don’t think that I explained this bit as well as I could have, as I had to re-clarify this part with several students.  They also got a bit confused as to whether they should fill in all sections of the sheet.  I decided to let them choose whether to fill in every section, or to focus on the areas where they felt that the presentation needed feed back & feed forward.  Most chose to focus but some wanted to complete the whole sheet .

My initial feelings about this activity were that it would take about 10 -15 minutes and I may have some trouble getting pupils to stick to it.  However, 25 minutes in, the majority of the class were still focused and really engaging with the task.  Of those who had finished, most of them had moved on to their own presentations and were improving them based on some of the advice that they had given in feed forward.  I was then able to challenge those who had tried to take the minimum effort path.  We looked at their feedback in detail and referred back to the rules.  Taking it a step further, I asked them to critique the feedback. Others sat nearby joined in, giving helpful suggestions and being tough on content but soft on people.  I’d love to take the credit for this, but it was the way that the pupils responded to each other that really helped.

SOLO feedback2 SOLO feedback3

Of course, the quality of the feedback/forward given varied across the group, but I was happy that the level of thinking had been much deeper than previously.  It took more time, but the effects are starting to show in their work.  Next week, they will be using the same technique with their peers.

So, that’s where I’m at.  These techniques need some refinement, but they are starting to build good habits with my students, provide opportunities to take learning deeper and have an impact on results as well.

Compulsory Computing at KS4?

From the Consultation – draft National Curriculum programmes of study published by the DfE on 7th Feb 2013:



All pupils must have the opportunity to study aspects of information technology and
computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or
to a professional career.

No doubt you’ll be asked (as I have) whether this means compulsory computing at KS4. I’ve looked at it several times and it’s very cleverly worded.  My reading of it is that sitting a GCSE/qualification isn’t compulsory, but some form of study is. It also doesn’t limit it to computing.  Perhaps more companies will start offering accredited units as part of courses. I just hope that whatever happens, it doesn’t become a box ticking, death by screenshot,’let’s all just get through this hour a week and hopefully some of you will get something done’ style grind.

We can only wait and see. At the moment, the only thing I’m certain of is that the goalposts will move again at some point.  I’m stil not sure if I’ve read it right either. What do you think, have they made computing compulsory at KS4?