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.


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

  1. Love this post Andy. I’ve just begun using Public Critique in ICT and I think it fits perfectly in this subject, with the amount of planning and storyboarding that students do. Great to see SOLO being used in ICT too – I had scoured the web in vain looking for ICT applications of SOLO. I have blogged about my own experiences of doing so & you have given me some ideas of where to go next with HOT maps (I had been scratching my head a bit with this!)
    Thanks for writing this.

    • Thanks Jon. None of this is rocket science, but I find the SOLO framework really useful for planning and sharing my learning intentions. The HOTS maps are handy to give pupils a structure for written answers – particularly at GCSE. I’ve taught 3 different specs in 4 years now, and most of them seem to focus around the describe and compare skills. Maps have helped me to show my students how they can construct answers to these questions, and then build on that to be able to answer the longer, less structured ones too.

      I’ve also got some ides about using SOLO for practical tasks – particularly programming, with extended abstract being the ‘apply and create new’ stage.

  2. This has given me some ideas Andy. I also struggle to get my classes to understand how to ‘explain’ at times and it is such a key part of the AQA GCSE ICT. I also find the blogging comments of my year 8s to be limited at times to things like ‘fab’ or ‘great’.

  3. I wonder if a more commercial, professional approach could light fires for students. Treat the evaluation as a test bed where the testers are given certain criteria to ‘test’ their peers work on. Empathy is the key here where the tester has to think the part of a particular audience member.This is the reality in instructional and higher level of educational design

  4. Pingback: Using Learning Placemats to Develop Independent Learning | talesfromthecastironshore

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