Tricks of the Trade


15 July 2021

The importance of language, literacy and numeracy skills in Building and Construction

By Jim Finlayson

As Teachers and Trainers we often come across students who have poor language, literacy and numeracy skills. There is a whole range of complex issues which may cause their inability to spell correctly or have maths competency. For example, a student may have a disability; may not have had solid foundations of learning from primary school; come from a different cultural educational system; or be influenced by their home background.

We are also well aware of the different learning style of students, for example: Visual (spatial) - where the student learns better using pictures and images; Aural (auditory) – the student prefers to learn by sound, music; Verbal (linguistic) – when they learn more effectively with speech and writing; Physical (kinaesthetic) – learning through using their body, hands, and touch; and, Logical (maths) – where the student prefers to use logic, reasoning and systems. All students use a variety of these learning styles, and the students who study Building and Construction are no different as they work through an apprenticeship.

When a Building and Construction student operates in the real world, they may be asked to quote for a project. For example, a carpenter would need to know how to present images of what is to be done, talk to a client, listen to the client requests and instructions, write out a quote using correctly spelt words, calculate the exact amount of material and the cost of their labour and be able to build the structure. While they may learn predominately using one learning styles they are all interrelated. Not being competent in one of the above areas may mean the difference between getting a job or not, which can affect their livelihood.

The importance of teaching language, literacy and numeracy skills to Building and Construction students can’t be overlooked. Realistically, these students may need extra help as often there are common errors in spelling and maths. While many teachers and trainers do advise students to get extra help if they choose to go down this path, some do not take up the opportunity to get assistance from special education tutors. Other avenues may need to be used to support the learning of these students, and this is often the responsibility of the educators.

To assist in some of the above skill development, our department in Building and Construction have put up Literacy and Numeracy Posters with the correct spelling of the most common Australian words used in carpentry (ie: wood not lumber) in alphabetical order. Also included is the correct Mathematical formulas and conversion charts for working out area, perimeter, volume of many different shapes for such jobs as ordering concrete, quantity of material.We hope that students may read these posters and this will aid them in increasing their skills and rectifying their mistakes. The Visual Posters are used to reinforce the correct spelling and formula in the learning environment in the theory and practical classroom while they are being instructed in their projects.

These key words and maths formulas can all be found in their text book or online. Our students are also given a LLN Module Booklet of these words and formula in a separate working booklet so they can continue to build up a personal data base of new and correctly spelt words and maths as they study the different modules in building and construction. As they study they can add to this data base more technical language terms and words and maths used in specific building projects eg: birds mouth, truss station, dove tail, gang nail and other terminology.

Students should focus on cementing the correct spelling and maths into their brain to make life easier. As educators we should use all avenues available to reinforce, language, literacy and numeracy skills into our student’s mind. We should make use of all spaces in the practical and theory classrooms to reinforce correct spelling and correct formula. If we as teachers and trainers can achieve this objective we can feel proud that we are doing our job to the best of our ability and looking after the welfare or our students for their future careers.

Jim Finlayson is a TAFE teacher with over 30 years experience.

This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Autumn 2021