Some schools now have wonderful ICT, with immersion technology, green screens, podcasting and software for different forms of modelling, but we need to ensure that technology is used appropriately to enhance and support teaching and learning for our most able pupils. There is guidance on identifying pupils who have strengths in ICT as a subject in its own right (see box, below), but what about those who are a dab hand at art packages or PowerPoint, or are really good at developing story boarding and using Photo Story? Can we recognise and celebrate their achievements and find suitable challenges to stretch them?

Pupils who are gifted in ICT are likely to:

  • Demonstrate ICT capability significantly above that expected for their age. For example, Key Stage 2 pupils may be comfortable meeting the demands of the Key Stage 3 curriculum for ICT.
  • Learn and apply new ICT techniques quickly. For example, pupils use shortcut keys for routine tasks effectively and appropriately; they quickly apply techniques for integrating applications such as mail merge and databases.
  • Use initiative to exploit the potential of more advanced features of ICT tools. For example, pupils investigate the HTML source code of a website and apply features such as counters or frames to their own web designs.
  • Transfer and apply ICT skills and techniques confidently in new contexts. For example, having learned about spreadsheet modelling in a mathematical context, they recognise the potential of applying a similar model in a science investigation.
  • Explore independently beyond the given breadth of an ICT topic. For example, they decide independently to validate information they have found from a website; having learned control procedures for a simple traffic light model, they extend their procedure to include control of a pedestrian crossing.
  • Initiate ideas and solve problems, use ICT effectively and creatively, develop systems that meet personal needs and interests. For example, they create an interactive fan club website that sends out a monthly newsletter to electronic subscribers (either working on their own, or collaboratively with peers).

A ‘work-around’ approach

Pupils who are gifted users of ICT often exhibit what I call a ‘work around’ approach. We all know that technology does not always do what we want it to do. Sometimes this results from user error, but at other times there is a gremlin in the machine. There are some learners who have an almost instinctive knowledge of what to do to get round a problem, and an ability to try things out in a reasonably systematic way until they achieve their ‘work around’.

Sean O’Sullivan, headmaster of Frank Wise School for children with cognitive difficulties in Banbury, has a fine example of this. The children are immersed in Apple Mac technology from the nursery, and some of them are clearly gifted, with an ability to predict and test out what will work. ‘Although our pupils have learning disabilities, that does not necessarily mean they are slow learners,’ said Sean. ‘Sometimes they get stuff really quickly. One boy was editing a clip which showed him doing butterfly stroke in the school pool. He recorded his voice-over but it was a bit longer than the film clip. Whereas some of us might have rewritten the voice clip or edited it, he just took a segment of the butterfly stroke footage, used ‘copy and paste’ and made it longer. No one had told him to do it – no one had thought of it! It was so intuitive for him.’

Developing independence
So what should we look out for and encourage in pupils? The first quality to develop is independence. Pupils need to develop coping strategies for when things don’t work out, as early as possible. Instead of providing solutions, encourage them to use help files, go onto forums and generally become more independent. Enthusiasm for technology is evident in many learners, and an essential ingredient in developing advanced skills. Many pupils can use technology (their mobile phones, for example) in ways for which they have received no formal training but they are rarely encouraged to explore and satisfy their curiosity at school. Promote a ‘what if?’ approach and help them to find the confidence to transfer and apply ICT skills and techniques to new contexts.

In addition to providing specialist ICT classes, schools need to think about how technology can underpin generic skills across the curriculum: for planning, gathering and analysing data, discussing, hypothesising and testing, collaborating and presenting. The internet is a massive source of information but we need to remember that it is also a showcase for pupils’ work which will allow them to reach audiences worldwide (for example at Schools should also offer access to the professional packages which are used in the workplace, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, databases and design packages such as Adobe Photoshop. Part of the role of schools is to prepare young people for the world of tomorrow. Today’s pupils are going to have to develop first-rate ICT skills just to get to the starting line.

In future issues of Gifted and Talented Update, I shall be showing how ICT can:

  • improve motivation
  • help pupils to monitor and improve their performance
  • give support to learners with additional learning needs who may otherwise underachieve
  • measure and record data
  • present work in different ways
  • develop speaking and listening skills
  • enhance creativity

Sal McKeown is an educational consultant and freelance writer