Using ICT to impact on basic skills

Our ICT skills curriculum is being used fantastically well. We have the ICT Mark and regularly use software to support Literacy such as Windows Movie Maker and packages such as Prezi to support the wider curriculum and I don’t want this to change.

However, we have not been using ICT to regularly impact on basic skills beyond the occasional use of etc. There is good use of matching an objective to class computer use but the 3 computers in each class often lie dormant (including mine). The cold hard fact is that in general, we as teachers still believe that if are doing whole class sessions, then children are ‘missing out’ when they doing something else and would need our support coming back to independent learning without teacher input. We set up activities to support independent learning on class computers (not forgetting the interactive whiteboard) when we find something appropriate and more effective than what is possible without computers, so when we don’t, computers are not used. The extent we look for those little specks of gold dust will depend on individual teachers and the structures (their ‘go to’ sites) that they have been built in to their planning process over time.

In my opinion, this needs to change if we are to make a significant impact on basic skills. I’m talking phonics and spelling in Literacy, number facts and basic understanding of number in Maths. With the right software will the children really ‘miss out’ by using a class computer for 10 minutes each? Can their table partners not go through the modelling process with them? (Helping them check their own understanding at the same time) If this is the case you could set up class computers all day to focus on basic skills with the occasional switching to a well chosen objective focused learning activity. Personally, I’d have the focus being on Literacy as standard practice and switch it to Maths during a Maths lesson before switching back to Literacy for other lessons. Really all I am saying is just as with a teaching assistant, do we use them to support a learning objective with a specific group during a specific lesson or do we get them to support specific skills whatever the lesson, aka intervention groups etc. I’d love to hear from schools who already do something like this and whether it makes an impact, i don’t think what I am proposing is new or innovative, it just makes sense if a focus needs to be on basic skills.

Which brings me to the second part of this post. Hardware. With the finical constraints schools are now facing, as an ICT Leader I have a responsibility to ensure that every penny counts. We currently have no fixed ICT suite, instead we have 2 laptop suites with RM Mobile 1’s. These are used extremely well but inevitably, with PE, swimming or other lessons where laptops would not make a difference to learning, they are not used at full capacity. One of these trolley’s have laptops that are 4 years old and starting to creak. Which leaves me with 3 choices to put forward to our Head Teacher. Firstly, replace like for like as they die. This will ensure continuity of ICT Skills but be very expensive. Secondly, downgrade over time to 1 laptop suite. This will still allow ICT Skills to be taught (it would mean KS2 have laptops for half a day a week rather than a full day) but inevitably some of the cross curricular uses that were mentioned at the start of the post would suffer. It would also keep costs down. Thirdly, disband the older trolley, put 6 laptops in 2 year groups (2 classes in each) and as they die, replace with netbooks or as the hardware matures, tablets. This would be cost effective in terms of turnover of hardware at that stage but could end up being as expensive as 2 full laptop suites if it was then rolled out across all year groups to have 6 machines each. These machines could then be split between classes or each class could have the full 6 for particular lessons or days. It would also enable the basic skills provision outlined above to occur on more computers and therefore have a higher impact on learning. Either that or the 6 mobile devices would not be used along with the 3 class computers not proving good value for money! Of course, it is my job as an ICT Leader to ensure that does not occur and the use of the mobile devices sparks use class computers into life. It’s pretty clear which of the 3 I favour. I love the flexibility of mini mobile suites and am sure ICT skills would still be taught well with the one ‘high performing’ set of laptops in the mobile suite. I’m imagining a future with good value tablets, probably Android or Chrome OS based (Flash support all the way for me — sorry IPad lovers) and therefore primarily used for internet based free and well chosen cost effective sites such as Zondle and Sumdog as well as classics such as I’d love to add something like The Bug Club which would turn the tablets into an engaging, structured independent reading device.Of course use of these devices would not be limited to basic skills support but to make a fast and large impact, this has to be the primary concern.

So what do you think? Have your school been supporting basic skills like this for years already? Do you think there are any significant reasons not to follow this path? All comments and views welcome!

Image Courtesy of robynlou8

Originally published at on March 26, 2011.