Watch three of these case studies in the classroom in this
Teachers' TV video.

Making hard topics easier to teach with ICT

Why dig up a project from the past, blow the dust off, and apply it to today? Well, the Hard To Teach project, and the rich materials it generated, deserves to be revisited. The aspects of English identified as 'hard to teach' are still hard to teach! Nothing has changed. And using ICT to tackle these difficult areas is just as relevant now as it was then.

We had a look at the resources and the case studies – highly inspirational when they were created – and realised we had a duty to give contemporary teachers access to this little treasure trove of ideas, experience and practical advice.

The key thing is that the project grew out of classroom practice, reflected the real efforts of real teachers to tackle problematic parts of the curriculum – and as such it has an unmistakable authenticity.

How would we respond to the same challenges today, given the advances in technology, the ubiquity of mobile devices, and the looming advent of AI? What's happening in your classroom? NATE would be interested to hear how you are tackling challenging topics.

The ‘hard to teach’ project: overview

The project was commissioned by Becta and carried out by NATE during 2008 to 2009. Teachers from around the country contributed to the project. Details of the way the project was organised can be found here.

What is hard to teach in English?

Generally, a hard-to-teach topic is one that:
  • is inherently repetitive or tedious;
  • is conceptually complex for the developmental stage of the class or individual pupil;
  • uses language that alienates or confuses (for instance subject specific vocabulary, jargon, psychology, etc);
  • stretches learners or takes them into unfamiliar territory.

Two areas of the curriculum which students find hard seem to be GCSE poetry - especially poetry from different cultures - and the 'literary heritage'.

Skills which students find hard to learn include 'reading between the lines', humour and irony, metaphorical language, alternative readings of texts and authorial intent. They also find it difficult to understand ‘themes’ and to compare, contrast and cross reference. Understanding and writing about the structure of a text and the writer’s language choice is also hard for many students.

Other skills which they find difficult to master are structuring and planning their writing, translating the oral to the written, developing critical thinking and refining their research skills (especially with regard to the Internet). Many students have difficulty mastering 'exam speak' and academic language, together with academic referencing or noting of sources.

See the following sections for the Case studies and Key outcomes and organisation of the project

British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), which was abolished by the incoming Coalition Government in 2010. NATE ICT Committee members, Trevor Millum, Tom Rank and Chris Warren managed the Hard to Teach project on behalf of NATE and Becta.