Teaching and Learning ICT Skills Incidentally

Last night I was reading Edna Sackson’s latest post which focusses on subjects that are still often taught in a separate way in schools rather than in an integrated manner. One of these subjects is technology.

At most primary schools in Australia, children go off with a specialist teacher to a computer lab one hour a week for their ICT lesson.

In the past, many teachers have felt satisfied that ICT was being “covered” by this weekly specialist class.

In 2010, is this attitude acceptable?

While we may not see the demise of the ICT specialist class anytime soon due to many classroom teachers’ lack of skills and confidence, I believe all teachers have a responsibility to teach ICT skills in an incidental manner every day in their classroom.DSC05939

By incidental, I mean rather than making it a separate lesson, explicitly discuss the ICT skills that you or the students are using while completing other tasks.

This year, I have become very focussed on making my use of ICT explicit to my grade two students. As a result, after three terms I have found my students’ ICT skills have improved dramatically.

While teaching incidental skills, rather than simply instructing, I like to ask the students what they think we should do. I believe that confident users of ICT use their intuition a lot and this is something I want to develop in my students.

Here is a list of ten things I’ve been teaching incidentally in my classroom (please add your ideas to it!)

  1. Links – at the start of the year I was so surprised that very few students knew what a link was, how to recognise one (the mouse changes to a hand when hovered over, usually underlined and a different colour). I also show the students how to “open the link in a new tab” for easier browsing of websites.
  2. Shortcuts – keyboard shortcuts can make the lives of computer users much easier! Through explicit and incidental teaching my students have become familiar with the shortcuts for copy, paste, cut, select all, undo, refresh etc.
  3. Troubleshooting when a website isn’t working properly what can you do? My students have learnt to refresh (F5) and close other programs or tabs if they have too much open as a start. When the computer isn’t working what can you do? My students are learning to check that the cords are plugged in, jiggle the mouse, check the monitor is on etc. When the computer freezes? Wait and then press control-alt-delete.
  4. Tab for cell entry – another keyboard skill that many students are unfamiliar with is using the tab key on the keyboard to move between cells or boxes on websites.
  5. The best program for the task – in ICT, the students have learnt about program such as MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel however having them develop a feel for the “best program for the job” is something we can discuss incidentally. Eg. we want to type up a letter – what program should we open?
  6. Google search skills– this is something we have the opportunity to work on regularly. When we’re not sure of something, I ask the students how can we find out? They usually suggest Google and then we can discuss what key words would be best to type in and how will we choose which websites from the list might be the most reliable.
  7. Cyber safety and netiquette – this is discussed in an incidental way almost every day in my classroom. Eg. If we’re writing a comment on a blog together we can talk about what name we should put and what information would be appropriate to post on the internet. This makes learning so much more authentic.
  8. Help – using the help feature of a program or website when you get stuck is a good habit for all computer users to develop. This can be modelled and investigated in an incidental way as the need arises.
  9. Vocabulary – what is URL, www, search engine etc? When these terms come up, it is a good chance to discuss their meaning.
  10. What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me what you think or what else you could add to this list.

Please Leave a Comment

Will the ICT specialist class have a future?

What do you think of the concept of incidental teaching of ICT?

What else could be on the list of skills to teach incidentally?

18 Replies to “Teaching and Learning ICT Skills Incidentally”

  1. Hi Kathleen,

    I also read Edna’s post and it got me thinking about the importance of the ICT lesson. I have always worked in schools where I have been responsible for teaching the structured one hour ICT lesson. It would disappoint me greatly to ‘hand it over’ to someone else!
    In my classroom we are always integrating ICT and this is made easier with net books. But I still use each week’s session in the computer lab to explicitly teach ICT. As with reading or maths the kids know the main objective of the learning will be technology. I integrate technology into my reading and maths lessons just as I integrate reading and maths into my technology lessons.

    I completely agree that we must never stop looking for that opportunity to teach a new skill. This week I noticed one of my kids using the caps key rather than shift. She had never been told what the shift key’s function was. I stopped the class and went over this, just as I would if I came over a spelling pattern that needed addressing or a maths strategy. ICT should be seamless just as reading and writing is!

    Thanks for another great post


    1. @ Mel,

      I’d love to be in charge of the one hour ICT lesson that my children have so we could really hone in on some skills in a 1:1 setting. It is difficult to hand this over to another teacher where the lessons are disconnected from what we are doing in class. You would hope that the skills being learnt in the IT room could be transferable to the everyday work the children are doing in (and out of) the classroom.

      As someone pointed out on Edna’s post another good strategy would be to have the classroom teacher go to the ICT class. This could be an especially good stepping stone for classroom teachers who are less confident with ICT.

      Excellent example of the shift V caps lock function as this is something I’ve noticed myself.

      I think a major point in all this is that we can’t take for granted that children know these basic skills. Hence the need to make things so explicit!

      Thanks so much for your excellent comment. 🙂

      1. Love the post – great list. I think classroom teachers should always collaborate with ICT teachers. I am an ICT specialist, but I always confer with the class teacher before an ICT lesson to see what they are up to in their classroom. The class teacher team teaches with me – they know what they want content wise, and I teach the ICT skills that are related. Class teachers incorporate ICT into the curriculum throughout the week, and come to me for support any time when needed.

        As far as your list goes, its hard to add any – all have come up. I agree with the comment about ‘best program for the task’. Excel is fairly clear, but we’ve had many incidental discussions about whether Word, Publisher or Powerpoint is the best for a particular task. Also cybersafety – not identifying themselves on the web. This is mentioned every time the students register on a web 2.0 site, or post/comment on a blog or wiki.

        1. @ Linda, team teaching with the classroom teachers sounds like a fantastic approach! I also love the way you area available for support throughout the week. Having structured ICT support for teachers in schools is so important. Are all of your teachers happy with the team teaching approach? Unfortunately, I think I know some teachers who would prefer to “leave it to the specialist” and have their planning time.

          1. @lindawollan says:

            You’re right – this varies from teacher to teacher. A few still ask what I have planned, but I always counter by asking what they are up to with their students – we then plan the ICT lesson together. Our Admin has been supportive. Teachers are expected to attend ICT and Library specialist lessons, but they dont have to be at Art, Music or Phys Ed, so they have those times for their own work. The library specialist and I go to all unit of inquiry planning sessions, so we are involved from the beginning and make sure ICT and library skills are an integral part of each unit.

            Most of our teachers now see the value in integrating ICT into their curriculum. We’re drip feeding by offering them optional ICT PD before school every week or two – many attend, so staff skills are improving – we’ve come a long way over the last year or so.

            The value of team teaching is seen not only in our general classes, but in our second language classes. I dont speak the school’s second language, but I often work with those teachers. They have great ideas for teaching language via ICT but dont know how to go about it. I show the kids how to record their voices, suggest websites and show them how to use them (eg Voicethread) or how to download from the Flip cameras we have.

            So, other incidental learning examples – checking audio settings for the microphones and confirming Flash settings on the web. Also – finding different drives on the network – user drives, shared drives, USB, camera and other devices.

          2. @ Linda, you really do work at a fantastic school and it is just terrific that you get so much support from your admin team. Keep up your excellent work – you are a great role model for others 🙂

  2. What a great list! I have really enjoyed teaching my students many ICT skills this year and those teaching moments pop up all the time. It is so important for teachers to take advantage of these opportunities.

    Here’s a couple of incidental ICT teaching moments I recall from last term…

    Spelling – When students are typing in Word or leaving a blog comment and are unsure of how to spell a word, teaching them to use Word to determine the correct spelling is a useful strategy. Demonstrating how to right click on the underlined incorrect word and locating the correct spelling is an effective spelling technique for all students to learn.

    Word definition – While it is important for students to be able to use dictionaries correctly, using Google to find word definitions is a skill that can easily be taught incidentally. Instructing students to type “define:” and then the word they are unsure of is a great way for them to improve their word knowledge.


    1. @ Kelly, great points and they did go through my head when I was writing the list. We could probably go on and on with the things that have been popping up in our teaching throughout the last few terms. It’s fantastic to see the progress the students are making with these skills and I feel like they have got so much out of the effort we’ve put into explicit incidental teaching.

  3. I’m not working in a classroom as present but when I was I was very much in favour of the incidental teaching you have described. But I used to take it a bit further by having classroom “experts” and a class “yellow pages” – a directory of experts – stuck up on the classroom fridge. I would teach one little skill to one student – something like re-sizing a photo or making text wrap around an image. Then that student would be the designated “expert” and the other knew they called call upon them when they needed to know how to do a certain thing. This extended beyond the realms of ICT into Maths and English and all sorts of things and I found that is was a wonderful way to boost the self-esteem of individual students.

    1. @ Teresa, firstly – I did a double take when I saw you have a classroom fridge! How cool.
      I love the idea of the Yellow Pages. This is something I do in a less structured way but it makes the life of a teacher so much easier if the children can help our with a little peer-peer tutoring. Also, as you mentioned it really does wonders for the students’ self esteem.
      Thanks so much for your comment.

      1. @Kathleen re: the classroom fridge. It was Brisbane in a rather affluent area. I’m sure it isn’t the norm!

  4. Really nice list. Some incidentals that I taught: how to open multiple tabs in a web browser. How to format text. How to log out quickly.

    1. @ Kelly, thanks for your contributions! Now that some of my students have blogs – remembering to log out is becoming so much more important! It is so easy for kids to forget that they need to log out and not just close the browser.

  5. What a brilliant idea Kathleen. Using ‘incidentals’ makes such sense and provides contextual relevance for each learning episode. I think you’ve hit on a rich seam. The ten you chose are excellent and other friends are expanding the list; surely you’ve hit on a theme ripe for crowd-sourcing? This could be done via hashtagging in Twitter, a Google doc or any one of a number of ways. For whom? Well *I’d* be really interested to see the incidentals other folks think would be useful … but I’m sure that there would be plenty of eye-openers for less tech-savvy colleagues, let alone the pupils we support. Worth a try?

    1. @ Ian, sounds like a terrific idea! I’m thinking a public Google Doc might be the way to go. I might start this in the next few days and post about it. I agree that a list would be useful to many people. I’d called myself somewhat tech-savvy however it only really occurred to me this year that I need to focus on explicitly covering these ‘incidentals’. I think it’s really easy to think that the pupils will pick things up but in my experience, nothing beats being explicit!
      Thanks again for your support and idea 🙂

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Skip Zalneraitis, Jen Deyenberg, Ian Guest, Kathleen McGeady, Edna Sackson and others. Edna Sackson said: RT @kathmcgeady: New blog post – Teaching ICT Skills Incidentally http://bit.ly/bK5jpK […]

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