Unplugged ICT

It occurred to me today that one of the reasons the learners in my ESOL & ICT class struggle with the functional ICT stuff is that they don’t get the analogy. Like Word is a piece of paper, PowerPoint a series of posters or slides, and Excel is the work of the devil. So I thought I would re emphasise the analogy a bit with the class this morning, and we did an ICT lesson without the students making use of digital technology.

The first stage was to make the link clear in the form of the learning outcomes. This was indeed one of those lessons where I wanted to be absolutely explicit about why we were doing things and what we were going to achieve. This was not least because the label on the lesson said “ESOL and ICT” and I was worried the students would complain.

So we opened with an activity that my colleague Cathy thought up for a workshop we delivered on Twitter for teacher CPD many many moons ago. I had the students write a question (about English) on a sticky note, then pin it to the nearest large flat surface This, with wonderful irony, was the interactive whiteboard, initially showing nothing, although I later switched it on to display questions as a prompt for discussion. They then had to respond to or comment on one other person’s question, then check for responses to their question, then comment again, and so on. I let it run for a bit until it started to sag, and then elicited the parallel between the activity and social media. I then got all the students to discuss how their interactions were different in our toy social network.


There were some good insights:

“There is more time to think.”
“I have two faces.”
“We are more comfortable.”
“We use special language.”
“We are more harsh, more honest.”

Based on these reflections, each group then brainstormed some social media advice. This advice then formed the basis of a poster, but her the instruction was simple: make the poster but you must not write directly on the main sheet of paper. All writing must be done on coloured paper which you can cut out any way you like. The point being, of course, that this would get them to focus on layout, on moving and manipulating text, literally cutting and pasting.

The results of the poster task were terrific – students thinking hard about layout, just as I had hoped. The plenary question, then, was to identify how these ideas applied to using Word and PowerPoint, and structuring a page, where we raised issues like clarity, text size, and not obscuring images, all of which are part of the assessment for functional ICT.

I think this was probably my favourite lesson so far for ESOL & ICT: more satisfying, somehow. Not because it was “unplugged”, although I think everyone enjoyed the novelty and got a lot from it. No, I think it was more because I think it was the first time I’ve really focussed on specific ICT skills, with focused, pre-specified ICT outcomes, rather than on a more task-based approach, where the class are working towards an end product like a leaflet or a poster. I don’t think there’s anything terribly wrong with that approach, mind you, because it allows lots of differentiation to happen quite easily, and in each of those lessons I’ve been able to show everybody something new. One of the reasons for the task-based lessons, I think, is my own confidence in the subject. I’m a new ICT teacher, after all, with no formal training or qualifications in the subject, so I find it easier to identify what learning outcomes arise as part of a task than to attempt to be prescriptive about what will be learned in a given session, with all the implications there for differentiation. But this worked out, so I think I shall have to try this prescription on for a bit, and see how we get on. God help me, but I may even have to start writing out formal lesson plans…


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