Signs for the times
Two new texts should ease technology teachers' fears of wandering aimlessly through GSCE, says Patricia Tarrant Brown
Many teachers of design and technology textiles and graphics will readily admit to wandering in the wilderness when it comes to interpreting the national curriculum and writing up programmes of study for GCSE work. This is not an excuse on their part. The subjects have emerged from other more familiar ones and in-service training has not always matched their speed of change.
The arrival of the Nuffield design and technology textbooks and teacher's guides should make them feel more secure. These publications do not just update existing information, they define the subject and set out clearly the nature of both graphics and textiles in the design and technology context.
For the more confident, the authoritative text, lively graphics and stimulating detail will provide further scope to establish their subject.
Each of the three books - the teacher's guide, the resource task file and student's book - is inter-related and you cannot have one without the other. But several sections can be photocopied, and if students use a resource task worksheet with a case study in the textbook, they will see the wider context of their making activity.
The authors offer a range of product applications from simple pop-up books to Polaroid cameras, and from hold-alls to hang-gliding. Students are constantly asked to analyse and specify in terms of customer need, but the text is simple enough to be used sensitively with less able students.
The teacher's guide provides a useful synopsis of the exam boards' requirements at GCSE and offers an approach for its delivery. Some will find this advice on how to structure their course useful, but the authors warn that the books alone are "no substitute for clear skill instruction, (demonstration) and the opportunity to practise".
Capability tasks are detailed in the teacher's guide. Technical knowledge and the understanding required are listed - as well as the specialist tools and equipment needed to carry out each task. This allows teachers to see easily if the work can be realistically done within their own resources.
It is in this section that the two subject areas differ in their approach. The graphics capability tasks remain open-ended with several solutions offered. In the textile tasks, a single solution is developed in a way which might restrict the students' interpretation of the brief. That aside, this section is very useful for teachers when it comes to setting design briefs for GCSE coursework.
This publication encourages diversity in teaching strategies and therefore in the way students learn. They are encouraged to review their designing in three stages until a final proposal is reached.
A wise teacher will encourage his or her students to continue this process throughout the making activity, especially when prototyping. Some prompts on this would be welcome in the text. And the next edition should include something on the understanding of visual language. A mere three pages is dedicated to this fundamental aspect of graphics and the surface decoration section in Textiles makes no connection between technique and effect. The result could be a desensitised student for whom the design and make activity is largely one of reproducing in material form what has been generated on paper.
Just as the authors warn of the need to include plenty of "hands-on" skill work, teachers will need to identify process-driven design and the importance of aesthetics as well as style.
Patricia Tarrant Brown is a teacher of design and technology textiles at Brownhills Community School, Walsall. She works as an INSET provider of the NEAB Design and Technology GCSE syllabus and is involved in developing the new A-level syllabus. She is currently researching the training and INSET needs of textiles teachers and would be pleased to hear from teachers who would like to make a contribution. She can be contacted at Brownhills Community School, Deakin Avenue, Brownhills, Walsall, West Midlands WS8 7QG