Keeping an eye on the outcome

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Plan practical tasks with ends in mind, says Robert Bowen

Planning for teaching: how much, in what depth, who for? Despite the national scheme of work and the many good publications produced by DATA and others, primary teachers often struggle to plan effectively for design and technology. The national schemes of work have had considerable influence on the approaches to teaching and the content of the Damp;T curriculum in primary schools, but teachers can still feel dissatisfied with how well these activities work in the classroom. Help lies in the national curriculum documentation and applying some reverse logic.

Designing and making activities are often planned from the designing stage through making to evaluation. I would suggest that the activity is planned from the end back to the beginning. This idea is not new. In other curriculum areas we often ask "what do we want pupils to know at the end?" and plan input to achieve this new learning. Somehow this idea gets lost when we think about Damp;T, perhaps because we are too often focused on the product the pupils will make rather than on the process they will go through. Yet the national curriculum contains all the ingredients to implement this idea.

The Breadth of Study section describes three kinds of activity: Designing and Making Assignments (DMAs), Focused Practical Tasks (FPTs) and Product Analysis (PA). We can take the learning outcome, be it from the school's scheme of work, national scheme of work, a commercial scheme or primary Nuffield (soon to be available from DATA www.data.org.uk), and plan in specific teaching inputs (FPTs) to cover the subject knowledge that you know your pupils have not covered yet. Some of these FPTs could be looking at products to help pupils with their design ideas: in this sense the practical task is also a PA. Some of these FPTs may come from the scheme but some will need to come from you or your subject leader.

A potential problem, recognised by OFSTED, is teacher subject knowledge. If you do not know what the pupils need to know, how can you plan? The schemes help; they identify some of the necessary FPTs, certainly enough to avoid chaos.

Just have a go - as there are no SATs for Damp;T there should be time for some fun, so why not enjoy some old-fashioned learning together with the pupils.

Try this analogy: if the design process is a winding causeway with a tempestuous sea either side that runs from the initial ideas of the child to the finished product, the ideal track is down its centre. In reality the child tacks from side to side often getting off track, and ending up in the sea. The teacher is trying to pilot the child down the most effective route but often ends up as the rescue service. Do you intervene to stop the child falling into the sea of failure? How do you know which turn leads to the sea and not to a better, faster track? You do not. Damp;T requires both teacher and pupil to choose between various courses of action and make evaluations at every stage.

Teachers have to make decisions and live with their consequences, just as their pupils are doing. Planning practical tasks within a designing and making assignment that give children the skills and knowledge to progress can be a lifesaver.

Robert Bowen is BA(Hons) Primary Education course leader at Nottingham Trent University.E-mail: robert.bowen@ntu.ac.uk

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