Together in perfect harmony;Technology

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Suzanne Hearld explains how literacy and Damp;T go handin hand The end of last term was notable for two events. First, my traumatic experience with a self-assembly shelving unit ("Attach cross piece Z to shelf H with bolt A"). Twenty minutes' confusion would have been avoided by an extra minute's study of the instructions. Second, and in complete contrast, my visit to a local school to see the impressive results of a design and technology day.

"And," said a typically enthusiastic member of staff, "it was a fantastic context for our literacy hour on instructional writing the following morning."

These two events brought home to me the vital link between literacy skills and Damp;T, affirmed by the positive way that teachers spoke about how the subjects enhance each other.

For those of you who might need a little more persuasion, just consider Ben and Sarah. Their class has been using construction kits to build a simple crane, using their knowledge of pulley mechanisms, introduced in a previous lesson. They have written down instructions, including words and labelled diagrams, describing how to build their crane. Then comes the real test - they exchange instructions and each attempts to build the other's model.

All is going well until Sarah finishes the model and says, "It looks good, your crane. How do I make it work?" "Just turn the handle," says Ben. "Handle? What handle?" asks Sarah.

Now, there could be two ways in which this particular piece of classroom communication has broken down. Either Ben didn't mention the handle or Sarah didn't notice it. Maybe it was a little bit of both - the instruction not quite clear enough, the reader not quite careful enough. It doesn't really matter for our example. What does matter is that the two of them will find the answer to the problem by re-reading the instructions together.

By the end of the activity Ben and Sarah have written new instructions, including labelled diagrams, organised them sequentially, numbered each step to show the sequence, used commas in lists where necessary, read and followed instructions written by others, considered the organisation of the test and evaluated its clarity and usefulness. Not only have they done all this, but they have also evaluated and improved their own writing skills.

Suzanne Hearld is education adviser for art, design and technology in Kirklees

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