Development of IT skills within the ESOL classroom

Darlington College

This project centred on developing IT skills among low-level ESOL students enabling them to access aspects of IT to enhance their learning.

Full time ESOL students were taught IT skills which they cascaded to other ESOL students. We intended to build a ‘community of practice’ where students could actively participate, learning from and supporting each other’s development (Vygotsky,1978; Lave and Wenger, 1991).

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Embedding IT skills in the ESOL classroom is very beneficial (One Stop English, date unknown; ETF, 2021). Lack of IT knowledge and skills presents barriers for many of our ESOL students. Lockdown further exposed the lack of IT skills with ESOL students unable to access online learning, resulting in several students being unable to complete their courses, hindering their progression in English. Additionally, some students struggled to understand and follow tutor instructions. To support our students, we developed a project where full-time ESOL students passed on their IT skills to those in the adult pre-entry and entry one classes.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place at Darlington College, a medium sized general further education college in the North East of England. The college provides a wide range of courses and has a thriving ESOL Department with four permanent and three temporary staff. The classes range from part-time pre-entry to Level 2 (English and maths) classes, as well as a full-time programme for the 16-18-year-olds.

We worked with two groups of students: full-time 16-18 and pre-entry and Level 1 ESOL.


We adopted an action planning process, involving the following stages:

Planning Stage:

  • After initial team meetings at the beginning of the project, we recognised full-time ESOL students lacked confidence in their IT and communication skills and so we needed to build up their skills and confidence.
  • Students were invited to be part of the project and informed what it would involve. Although initially apprehensive, they were reassured they would be supported, guided and given time to prepare by the IT tutor.
  • We discussed and agreed topics they would prepare and how they could present them to their peers. The following topics were chosen: turning the computer on and off, accessing Google Chat and using Google Meet. Students would present using PowerPoint.

How the planning was put into practice:

  • A chronological order of lessons was decided by the students.
  • The project lead liaised with the IT tutor ensuring time was secured for the delivery of the lessons.
  • Once they were prepared and confident, full-time students delivered to the pre-entry class with the support of the IT tutor.


  • Both full-time and pre-entry students were given reflection activities (Exit Tickets) to complete. These were adapted to the level of the students to gain insights into the effectiveness of the presentations.
  • The tutors met to ascertain what went well and what could be improved going forward. The feedback was mainly positive; however, it was felt the full-time students should be better prepared for the next round. They needed to be confident about the topic, prepare more informative slides and avoid simply reading from them to enable them to connect more effectively with the group being taught.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

By the end of the sessions, the pre-entry students could turn a Chromebook off and on. They could also access Google chat which greatly increased their confidence.

The full-time students gained confidence in their ability to communicate as well as improving their IT skills. The experience has ensured their learning experiences have been broadened, made more interesting and engaging and relevant to the ‘real’ world. CN for example, told me he felt “delighted” (his favourite adjective!) after his teaching experience. He told me it had helped his pronunciation (an area he needed to develop).

Furthermore, the skill of ‘risk-taking’ was evident and students could see that mistakes are to learn from. Self-management was also developed, students were empowered and encouraged to use their initiative and autonomy. AH felt very uneasy during the presentation because he had not prepared well. He recognised that but kept going. He completed the lesson but felt he could do better and asked if he could take another in the future so he could improve.

In addition, communication skills were developed resulting in increased confidence when speaking to others, particularly to those they did not know. This is a life skill that will help students in their future job search or progression to higher levels of study. For example, MG stated he was very nervous and found it difficult but has since presented in other classes and said he felt much better.

The pre-entry students benefited from being taught by students who could empathise with exit ticket example with smiley facestheir difficulty in understanding the English language. In addition, they learned skills which will enable them to access learning online. See exit ticket example to the right.

They also were exposed to technology which will be built on to support them in learning English through different channels. This will lead to improvements in confidence which will empower students to integrate more into society.

The ESOL team also benefitted, and learned from, a student-led approach. For some this was a new approach and ‘letting go’ was a concept not always easy to adopt. Having seen the benefits, it is hoped this will become a consistent approach within the ESOL classroom. For example, two members of the team stated they thought the project was a new and exciting idea, whilst one teacher, whose class was taught by the 16-19 years old, stated her students really enjoyed the sessions and learned some basic IT skills following the experience and she is keen to repeat the activity. In addition, it is hoped the collaboration across the team will also be embedded into the wider curriculum.

On my part, I learned to cascade knowledge gained from teaching an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in a creative manner. This involved sharing good practice around skills development as opposed to just supporting language development.
There was a great deal of emphasis on collaboration within this project. This came to fruition via students from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and languages, working together. Tutors also collaborated much more than previously.

Organisational Development

The project created an opportunity for staff from different curriculum areas to meet, share ideas and teaching and learning and assessment approaches. In the busy world of FE, these opportunities do not occur as frequently as we would like. It was, therefore, fortuitous to have the privilege to work so closely with colleagues. Working on the project additionally helped to raise the profile of the ESOL department. For example, more regular and productive meetings with managers, more colleagues involved and more recently, the introduction of peer teaching into maths sessions.

Attending the Tees Valley English and Maths conference gave us the opportunity to share our work with other centres in the area. The chair of this meeting said she would share all I had imparted in a document which would be cascaded to all participants. This raised the profile of the project and our team whilst enabling us to get useful feedback from other ESOL practitioners. In addition, the project was shared at the Bell Foundation meeting where it was met with enthusiasm and interest.

Learning from this project

What went well:

All those involved found the project to be both a rewarding and positive experience. After some initial trepidation, people readily joined in and did their very best to ensure the project was a success. Feedback was extremely positive and the majority of those involved would like the activities to continue. One of the most pleasing aspects is seeing students grow in confidence and begin to take responsibility for their own learning. This student-led approach to teaching and learning has informed the ESOL team and demonstrated an approach that can be deployed elsewhere in the college. For example, this practice is currently being used within maths sessions. CN and MA (the higher-level maths students) are teaching the Entry 2/3 group for the last two session of the academic year. Because of their previous experience, they “jumped” at the opportunity and according to their IT teacher, are developing some wonderful resources.

Even better if:

The full-time students had been better prepared for their lessons. Several of them were a little shocked at the reality of teaching and one even asked if he could do it again because he felt he did not deliver well which shows his commitment to the project.

The tutors were also taken by surprise, and we all agreed that we had overestimated the ability and confidence of the students. Based on this, more support was given to ensure the students were better prepared.

The full-time students need to practise more, ensuring they know the topic well prior to delivering topics. They also need to understand the importance of communicating clearly and ensuring their presentations are ‘lessons’ and not simple modes of displaying a collection of information.

All colleagues need to be on board. One was reluctant from the outset. This colleague teaches the higher groups so did not participate in the project although she was party to all the meetings and many of the discussions surrounding it. Without doubt she was very interested in knowing how the project progressed and expressed her pleasure at its success.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of students.

    The approaches used were new to many of the team who initially struggled with students having control of the learning. Through meeting regularly, gathering feedback from students, and discussing progress with them, we were able to constructively and honestly reflect on what worked best in our teaching and support each other to make improvements. Regular reflection enabled us to appreciate the benefits of the approach used, enhancing our teaching practice whilst additionally encouraging effective relationships with each other and our students.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and students

    The project’s success hinged on effective collaboration on many different levels. Initially, full-time students and teachers worked together to decide on topic delivery, needing to build up trust and confidence in each other. In classroom teaching sessions students increasingly relied on each other to help with communication and the execution of practical activities. Collaboration was further needed to provide honest feedback on activities so their usefulness could be effectively assessed and any improvements made.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    This project developed IT skills for ESOL students who struggled with the concept. Being taught by other ESOL students helped to lessen language barriers enabling them to express their difficulties more readily. Those teaching the sessions were able to recognise difficulties other students had in using IT and, with the teacher’s help, support them appropriately to understand and use IT more effectively.

    As a result of the project, most students have grown in confidence in using IT. In addition, the project helped teachers better appreciate students’ difficulties and find more effective means of working to enable them to meet challenges and overcome barriers to learning.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Feedback Forms

Appendix 4: Student Prepared Teaching Materials

Appendix 5: Students working in classrooms

Appendix 6: Examples of Students’ Work


Education Training Foundation (2021) Effective digital skills teaching in the context of digital exclusion: ESOL and non- formal learning, available on: Essential Digital Skills CPD programme – The Education and Training Foundation (

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University

One Stop English (date unknown) ESOL Support: IT in ESOL, available on:, Date accessed: 11.02.2022

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.