For the majority of tasks in ICT, there is more than one way of completing a task. Teachers need to recognise the opportunity for students to complete a task using their strengths but, on occasions, to develop their weaknesses through self-differentiation.

A look at how ICT differentiate including:

  • Why we differentiate in ICT?
  • Through knowledge of student attainment
  • By not teaching to the whole class
  • Students know more at the end than they did at the beginning
  • As students progress through the school, ability broadens
  • Minimise the time for formative feedback
  • All students must have the opportunity to gain success
  • Adaptive teaching
  • A need to continually learn new skills

Why we differentiate in ICT?

ICT is an evolving subject that continues to broaden both the breadth of content studied and the depth that software tools allow students to investigate.

How we differentiate in ICT – through knowledge of student attainment:

When setting learning objectives for a lesson, teachers need to know exactly where students are and then aim to move them on to the next level. The first half of the approach sets challenges in themselves.

Teachers need to know where students are. Within an ICT lesson, there is ample opportunity for a teacher to walk around the class and reflect on where students are as individuals and as a class as a whole. Comments and suggestions are made on common mistakes in approach to a task (“Listen class, I’ve just looked at three students work and they’ve all done x wrong – make sure you don’t”) and also give praise to those completing the task successfully or in a different way (“Listen class, Paul has just completed task x through approach y – the outcome really works well”). This approach allows the teacher to make suggestions that the class can follow and also to begin building knowledge of student ability.

Students need to know where they are at level wise. Every lesson has clear indication of the level of challenge and the grades that are attainable through completion of task to a successful level. When they complete the task, and receive confirmation thereof – either through peer or teacher feedback – they can understand the level attained and whether or not they have progressed.

How we differentiate in ICT – by not teaching to the whole class:

When setting an open challenge, for this example, photo editing in Year 13 ICT, teachers explain the task and the mark scheme for assessment. Generic skills will be shown to the class, but never on the actual piece of work. (If relating to, say, Maths and drawing a pie chart of class heights, a pie chart would be drawn of car colour. This removes the temptation for students to simply copy the work on show).

Once the task and assessment approaches have been shared (the challenge, the reward and how to get there) students are then free to adopt, manipulate or find their own route to completing. ICT is a lucky subject in that there is seldom one path to take – one route to complete the work. One could even argue that an essay could be written in Excel or a logo created in Word.

The skill in this approach relies on the teacher knowing the similarities and allowing for differences within the students that they teach.

How we differentiate in ICT – students know more at the end than they did at the beginning:

Many students, through one reason or another, often think they know the program off by heart and that they can’t learn anything more. The teachers’ role is to insure that every student leaves the class knowing more when they left than when they arrived.

One approach is to, within the first five minutes of the task being set, to head to the students who struggle the most with the software (these students may change from unit to unit, lesson to lesson). Questioning the students to ensure they fully understand the task and the required detail allows progress to be made. After questioning the least able, discuss with the most able to ensure that they are differentiating the task to an appropriate level. After talking to these two groups of students, the teacher should be in a good position to highlight to the class common mistakes and possible approaches to differentiate their learning.

How we differentiate in ICT – as students progress through the school, ability broadens:

It is said that, for every year in secondary school, ability gaps between the least and most able broadens by one year. This means that, by year 11, you might be dealing with a 5 year ability gap. The skill of the teacher is to find commonality in diversity and pairing students appropriately. Great care is taken when setting a seating plan at the beginning of the year and teachers are not reluctant to change seating plans to best accommodate the breadth in ability and try to pair students up accordingly.

How we differentiate in ICT – minimise the time for formative feedback:

This is real challenge for teachers across the Key Stages and one that poses the greatest investment of time. Teachers need to realise the immense impact that quick formative feedback on work can make in both understanding the levels that students are at (see points above) and planning to accommodate thereof.  However, the teacher needs to mark at a level that they are comfortable with (turnaround time) and to share this clearly with students. One must remember however, that the closer teachers can get the feedback back to the students in relation to the hand in time, the greater the impact the feedback will have. The underlying principle of formative feedback remains to inform students of what they need to do to improve and teachers need to remember this when comments on work are made.

How we differentiate in ICT – all students must have the opportunity to gain success:

Tasks are often stepped at KS3 with easier-loaded tasks at the beginning of the lesson and harder tasks towards the end. Students are therefore given the opportunity to gain and recognise achievement very early on in the lesson. At KS5 where tasks can span lessons and weeks, the teachers needs to appropriate break down the task in to manageable chunks and, if needed, to spend time with the least able student to ensure they understand.

How we differentiate in ICT – adaptive teaching:

When planning a lesson, teachers know:

  • Their learners abilities and challenges
  • The target – where they want to be at the end of the lesson
  • The approaches – how to make the learners progress to meet the target

However, the path is not always so clear or straightforward. Teachers need to be willing to adapt their approach to delivery to help differentiate the lesson for students to allow all to make progress.

Teachers can no longer give one prescriptive route to completion and lead all on that path. They cannot, either, ignore the different paths that students chose to complete the task. The careful teacher will ensure that all students are equipped to make the best choice for the best outcome.

How we differentiate in ICT – a need to continually learn new skills:

Teachers of ICT are in an ever changing software world where it is common to learn 2 to 3 programs per year. A balance remains between displaying expert characteristics (to the sceptical learner questioning the teachers’ ability) and creating a class that helps each other to learn and support each other (to help students who find the work challenging). Teachers of ICT therefore need to be willing to learn new tools and software to continue interest for students across a wide ability range. I’d estimate that, in any ICT lesson, teachers are challenged by students to display their knowledge through a one-to-one question at least five, if not ten, occasions per lesson.