37 features of outstanding ICT and Computing lessons

Nearly four years ago I published an article called 25 Features of Outstanding ICT Lessons. I thought it was time to update that for the new Computing curriculum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the original 25 have only needed minor modification, where they have needed modifying at all. Good teaching is, after all, good teaching.

By ‘outstanding’ I do not mean the Ofsted definition of that word, which I feel is somewhat narrow. Nevertheless, I have included Ofsted’s criteria in the list below, with a few comments of my own.

Ofsted guidance states that their list of criteria should not be used as a checklist, and in their guidance to inspectors it states that inspectors should adopt a ‘best fi’ approach to lesson observation. (The School Inspection Handbook states:

“Note: These descriptors should not be used as a checklist. They must be applied adopting a ‘best fit’ approach, which relies on the professional judgement of the inspection team. The exception is that teaching must be outstanding for overall effectiveness to be outstanding.”

I suggest that the same applies to my list below. I hope you find it useful, and please feel free to suggest others.

  1. “The lesson forms part of a unit which forms part of a scheme of work.
  2. Where appropriate, the lesson that has been planned or which fits into the current unit of work is shelved in favour of a more topical one. For example, if there is a news item relating to ICT or Computing, the teacher takes the opportunity to lead a class discussion about it.
  3. The subject matter of the lesson is interesting and useful, not chosen solely for examination or other assessment purposes.
  4. The teacher is not always the only one in charge of the lesson’s subject matter. I personally don’t agree with the practice of some schools of allowing pupils to decide what they want to learn on a particular day, but I think there is scope for setting up a procedure whereby once a week or once every two weeks a group of pupils has to lead the lesson in accordance with agreed criteria. For example, they may have to do some research on a topic or issue of their choice relating to ICT or Computing, and then lead a lesson on it. See 7 Outlandish ideas for ICT for further suggestions.
  5. There is a good starter activity, one that gets the pupils settled down and in the right frame of mind to do the work the teacher has planned for them. (Read Why Are ICT Lessons Boring? The Start of the Lesson.)
  6. The teacher spends time at the start letting pupils into the “secret” of what the objectives (intended learning outcomes) of the lesson are, ie what is intended to be achieved by the end, and how this lesson fits in with the preceding and following lessons.
  7. Ample time is allowed for the plenary, thereby allowing it to be somewhat more useful than the POLO model: Print Out and Log Off. The plenary is an essential part of the lesson, used to check what learning has taken place, consolidate learning, and prepare pupils for the next stage. In fact, a lesson might have two or three plenaries rather than just one at the end.
  8. Lessons are planned, but flexibility is key. For example, there may be no need for points 3, 4 or 5 in some circumstances. Also, they can be varied. I heard of a school recently in which all teachers are instructed to spend no more than 5 minutes talking to the class at the start of thelesson, after which the pupils have to be allowed to get on with teaching themselves and each other. That’s a ridiculously inflexible rule, based on no research evidence whatsoever as far as I know. One of the reasons I gave for ICT lessons being boring, in Go on, Bore ‘em: how to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull, was too much talking by the teacher. But it’s just plain daft to go to the other extreme as a blanket rule, whatever the circumstances. It’s also worth pointing out that Ofsted inspectors have been instructed to not expect any particular style of teaching when doing their lesson observations.
  9. There is a good pace to the lesson, even where pupils are working on projects and not being “taught from the front”.
  10. Pupils are given open‑ended tasks (as far as possible), or at least not tasks with a glass ceiling. (Even lessons designed to impart a set of skills can still be more interesting than “drill & practice”).
  11. There are plenty of resources for the pupils to use, enabling the teacher to give quality guidance, ie not confined to mundane tasks such as explaining how to save the document. Such resources will include “how to” guides and posters, on‑screen help (which the pupils will have been taught how to use), and each other.
  12. Homework is set in order to consolidate and extend the pupils’ understanding of the work they have been doing in lessons. (See The Case For Homework in ICT.) Where appropriate, the model of the flipped classroom may be employed in this context, ie pupils may be asked to watch a video or read an article in their own time, so as to be able to discuss it or work on it in the lesson, where they can be given help if needed. If you are running a project-based learning approach, it can be useful, even essential, to expect the pupils to do whetver they need to do in their own time in order to make best use of lesson time. (See the final point in 9 Challenges of Project-Based Learning.)
  13. A range of technology is available, and pupils are able to use it when they need to.
  14. Pupils are given plenty of time with the technology, with the teacher helping individuals and small groups.
  15. The teacher makes great use of the technology, including Learning Platforms, visualisers, interactive whiteboards and digital cameras.
  16. The teacher is brimming with enthusiasm!
  17. The teacher is flexible, able to go with the flow of what’s happening right here and now in the classroom, not slavishly following the lesson plan – but not get side-tracked into a time-wasting discussion.
  18. Work is set at an appropriate standard, taking into account the pupils’ prior learning and attainment, and what is expected of their age group in terms of national standards.
  19. There is a lot of questioning – probing questioning – and assessment for learning techniques are in evidence.
  20. There is a good range of material to provide for differentiation (higher attainers and children with special educational needs) and personalised learning.
  21. The teacher is aware of individual pupils’ needs, and makes use of the assessment and other data she has – remember: data only becomes information if you do something with it!
  22. Furthermore, the teacher is aware of understandings and misconceptions in “real time”, using assessment for learning techniques as appropriate. See 5 Assessment for Learning techniques for ICT or Computing for some suggestions, and details of a free resource called “31 Assessment for Learning Techniques”.
  23. Not all work takes place at a computer: there is ample opportunity for discussion and reflection. What is important is not the use of technology per se, but the appropriate use of technology.
  24. Pupils respect the equipment and the room. For example, they do not leave discarded print‑outs on the floor.
  25. Pupils respect the ethos and the expectations of their conduct. For example, they don’t deliberately seek out porn sites, or check their social media when they are meant to be working.
  26. Pupils are happy and confident enough to try out things which the teacher has not actually shown them: they ask help from each other or look at the posters and manuals that are available for them.
  27. Pupils keep looking at the clock on the wall, because they want to get to a certain point in their work before the end of the lesson. They have a sense of urgency.
  28. Pupils want to continue working at lunchtime and other non-lesson times.
  29. Pupils want to show off little tricks they have discovered, such as keyboard shortcuts.
  30. “Teaching is informed by excellent subject knowledge and understanding of continuing developments in teaching and learning in ICT.” [Ofsted] In my opinion, “excellent subject knowledge” is not a synonym for “facilitating”: see We need ICT teachers, not facilitators
  31. “Learning is effectively secured though a high level of teacher competence and expertise, both in terms of their specialist knowledge and technical skills, and in their understanding of active learning in ICT.” [Ofsted] Note that this means an understanding of the pedagogy of teaching ICT (and Computing), not just the subject knowledge.
  32. “Pupils are able to make connections between individual topics and in seeing the ‘big picture’. Pupils’ understanding of important concepts and progression within the lesson and over time is central to teaching.” [Ofsted]
  33. “Lessons address pupils’ misconceptions very effectively. Teachers’ responses to pupils’ questions are accurate and highly effective in stimulating further thought.” [Ofsted] In my opinion, that sentence about stimulating further thought means that answers which effectively close down the discussion instead of opening up are not to be encouraged.
  34. “Pupils secure outstanding progress due to carefully planned, imaginative lessons.” [Ofsted] Note that these days Ofsted inspectors need to see evidence of planning, but not necessarily lesson plans. How does this fit in with point #2, where I suggest that the teacher might ditch the planned lesson in favour of a more topical one? My way of squaring this apparent contradiction is that a skilled teacher can effectively plan a lesson in just a few minutes. Even if you are put on the spot by a pupil in the lesson, eg if a pupil relates something he or she just heard about and it seems like a good topic for discussion, you will, hopefully, have a “toolkit” of techniques you can draw on to ensure that the lesson is still methodical and purposeful, even though it had not been planned for.
  35. “Teachers communicate high expectations, enthusiasm and passion about ICT to pupils. They challenge and inspire pupils to produce the best work they can.” [Ofsted]
  36. “Pupils’ active participation in learning and their outstanding progress across all aspects of the subject are stimulated through the use of a very wide range of innovative and imaginative resources and teaching.” [Ofsted]
  37. Finally, I still believe that this is crucial: pupils ask questions that the teacher is unable to answer.

cross-posted at www.ictineducation.org

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Digital Education."