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Janet Murray

Janet Murray suggests planning and monitoring techniques that can lead to coursework of distinction

With coursework worth up to 60 per cent of the final GCSE mark, DT teachers have to be on the ball. Keeping students focused on a project that can take months to complete is a huge challenge that requires careful planning and attention to detail.

Getting started

Many teachers recommend starting coursework in Year 10. Students can be given research tasks to complete during the summer holiday. Some start even earlier.

"Try not to kill the course with theory in Year 10," advises Charles Denscombe, head of design and technology at the Belvidere School, a DT school in Shropshire. "Get students making things as soon as possible. You can feed in the theory, the 'whys' and 'why nots', as you go along. Then get going on the coursework."

Planning and preparation

Monitoring students' progress with coursework can be one of the biggest challenges, says Louis O'Hara, head of DT at the Bennett Memorial School in Tunbridge Wells. He suggests giving students a small number of topic choices, which gives students more opportunities to share ideas and helps teachers monitor progress. "Make sure the choices are achievable for each student," adds Charles Denscombe. "If it's not, the student will soon become demotivated."

Simon Smith, head of DT at the Colfe School in south London thinks many students find it difficult to pace themselves over long periods of time. "I break down the deadlines into easy, manageable stages of just one week," he says. His students get a guide at the beginning of the course to help them take responsibility for their own projects. It contains detailed information which they can refer to at each stage and also gives an overview, so the list of tasks doesn't appear too daunting.

At Bexleyheath School, food technology teacher Maria Guest-Naharnowicz has devised weekly and monthly checklists to help GCSE students keep on top of their work. They also get a page-by-page guide to what must be included in their final project (see box), a technique she believes works well with lower ability students or those who find it difficult to motivate themselves. Weekly deadlines are displayed in the classroom.

Managing progress

With classes of up to 30, keeping track of students' progress and giving quality feedback - especially when they are all at different stages of their project - can seem like an overwhelming task.

Louis O'Hara has A3 monitor sheets on display in his classroom containing a breakdown of deadlines and course components and a list of students' names. As each task is completed, it can be ticked off on the monitor sheet, giving both teacher and student an at-a-glance progress update.

Simon Smith tries to spend a few minutes with each student at least every second lesson, ticking off the names in his register when he has done so.

Every four to five weeks, he marks their folders in line with the exam board's mark scheme, so they can become more familiar with assessment terminology and consider how they can improve.

Managing a long-term design project is a big learning curve for students.

Having the classroom well stocked with books, magazines, catalogues, CD-Roms, multimedia packages and other research material will ensure they stay busy.

Louis O'Hara insists students keep their design folders at school and only take home the page they are working on. This prevents work being lost or damaged. If ICT provision allows, projects can also be stored in a common area on the school network. Students can copy all their work on a floppy disk or pen drive, allowing them to work on their project at home. Having an "open classroom" at least once a week, at lunchtime or after school, allows students to seek one-to-one advice when necessary.

Content and presentation

The design folder that accompanies the artefact or product is a record of a thinking process, almost like a diary, says Charles Denscombe.

The emphasis should, however, be pictorial. A series of photos and rough sketches can reflect the progression of an idea to a well presented, working prototype very effectively. Digital cameras are an excellent tool for this purpose.

Students should print out standard pages for their folders, which should include their name, project title, space for page numbers, simple margins or borders. Page numbers should be added at the end of the project when all the pages are in order. While storing folders work in a plastic file is a good idea, exams boards aren't so keen, so projects should be held together with treasury tags when they reach the marking stage.


Monitoring progress

* Weeklymonthly checklists

* Take folders in at regular intervals and mark to the exam board's criteria

* Display deadline reminders in classrooms

* Keep folders in school or store work on school network

* Try to spend five minutes with each student at least once a week

* Have an 'open classroom' at least once a week at lunchtime or after school


* Copy of exam board specifications

* List of project ideas

* List of deadlines

* Mark scheme

* Outline of folder format

* Copy of exam board's coursework booklet

* Reading list

* List of recommended websites

* List of homework tasks

* Suggestions for self-directed trips

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Janet Murray

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