The talk then went to focus on where clarifications were needed:

Describing the key points on the spectrum between teaching subjects discretely or merging subjects in topics or themes

Here we think that it will be important to use intent as a lens as well as to consider the possibility of the learning in one subject being used to inform and enhance the learning in another. In discreet subjects taught in isolation from one another intent is very clear. When subjects are taught taking into account previous learning in other subjects then the intent is also clear but there is the possibility of added value compared with subjects being taught in isolation. When subjects are merged into topics or themes then the learning may be planned and structured in terms of “What can we learn about the topic or theme through the learning in subjects X and Y?” In such a case the subject learning in the topic or theme is made explicit and indeed is often the rationale for the theme; for example, it being a good way to teach these aspects of specific subjects.

One of the features of design & technology teaching is the use of short ‘resource tasks’ which are tackled to learn knowledge, understanding, skills and values that are likely to be of use in a larger task, usually a designing and making task, sometimes called a ‘capability task’ (or a ‘Contextual Challenge’ in the new GCSE specifications). It is easy to see how a resource task + capability task model could be used to make prior learning in individual subjects explicitly useful in a specific theme or topic and support learning requirements of a theme or topic. However, it is possible to set up a topic or a theme where individual subject contribution is not made explicit even though there is a contribution from individual subjects. Here the intent is likely to become less clear. And it is possible to set up a topic or theme in which the learning from individual subjects is not a major consideration, such cases being justified on the grounds of the intrinsic worth of the experience itself. In such cases the intent is much less clear about individual subject learning intentions. So, a
spectrum might appear as follows:

One factor that often plays out in topic or theme based work is that time from different individual subjects is combined to give the topic or theme a large uninterrupted span of time. We wonder if the way in which time is organised for learning should be considered in studying school’s curricula, for example timetabling of days when the curriculum is suspended so that teachers and pupils can work together in ways that differ from the norm.

Topics or themes require cooperative or collaborative teaching involving teams of teachers working together in both the planning, teaching and assessemnt of a specific topic. In design & technology this is a common approach due to the breadth of the subject. So, as with time, we wonder if the way in which teams of teachers are deployed should be considered when studying schools’ curricula.

Common patterns of variation or repetition of content

We discussed the role of repetition of content in design & technology above and we suggest that this might be different for different subjects. In terms of variation of content at a high level of generality this might be considered in terms of the time allocation given to specific subjects and how this changes across the key stages. At a lower level of generality, i.e. within any subject, there will be variation in terms of content covered, the order in which it is covered and how it is covered. For design & technology there is considerable scope for variation in the use of designing-without-making tasks and designing-and-making tasks; designing is context dependent and the teacher can choose and use a wide variety of different contexts based on their appeal to students.

The types of formative assessment and the impact they have on the curriculum and vice versa

The work of Kluger & DeNisi (1996) revealed that whilst on average feedback increases achievement, effect sizes can be highly variable and in some cases negative. In broad sweep terms if feedback indicates that a student is falling short of a goal then we want the feedback to provoke the student to increase effort. If feedback indicates that the student has exceeded the goal then we want the feedback to provoke an increase in aspiration. In many cases, however, there isn’t an appropriate response. Sometimes students reduce aspiration, sometimes they exert less effort, sometimes they abandon the learning goal, and sometimes they simply ignore the feedback. Hence it is important that feedback is framed either to increase effort or aspiration. To provide useful feedback to a student it is essential that the teacher is clear as to the learning intentions of the activity, has made observations and has evidence that indicates the extent to which the student has achieved the required learning and can communicate this quickly to the student with specific guidance as to how any shortcomings may be overcome. Without the initial clarity of learning intentions useful feedback cannot take place.

A criticism of many schools’ design & technology curricula is that they consist of a sequence of designing and making assignments which whilst individually of worth do not in total give variety, allow for the learning of different and important aspects of the subject or drive progression. We have identified the following four important and different types of task that can be orchestrated into sequences that provide variety, progression and broad learning across the subject:

  • Making without designing
  • Designing without making
  • Designing and making
  • Considering the consequences of technology

In summary, any “grand plan” for a design & technology curriculum will need to give each of these four activities appropriate significance. Depending on the age and stage of the pupils’ design & technology experience the relative significance of these components may vary within each year of the course. But there is a strong case that each should be present, to some degree, within each year.

We have considered the role of formative assessment through feedback in design & technology from two perspectives. The first is ‘in the moment’ feedback in which through verbal conversation teachers provide comments which the student can take notice of and respond to. Such feedback, usually in the form of questions, can put the onus on the student to increase effort (try harder) or increase aspiration (go further) in immediate response within the lesson in which the learning is taking place. The second is feedback at the end of specific design & technology tasks in which the aim of the feedback is more long term, providing information about a student’s learning performance and requiring the student to reflect on this to identify what she or he might do to maintain or improve progress. We note that whilst it will often be appropriate to praise a student for effort it is important that this does not deflect attention from or undermine the feedback about the success or otherwise in the learning. There will be interplay between these two sorts of formative assessment and their impact on student learning. How this interplay and impact can be orchestrated from a curriculum perspective both within and across subjects will be an important area for research. Different subjects often employ different learning strategies and require different approaches to assessment, so finding out what is effective in any specific subject will be important to avoid one size fits all solutions whilst at the same time enabling a coherent approach to assessment across the curriculum.

The Nuffield Design & Technology project developed a three-stage review process that students could use themselves and in conjunction with their teachers in monitoring their progress through a designing and making assignment.

Review 1

This takes place once a student has produced a preliminary design proposal either on paper or as a quick mock-up. It is important that she or he reviews this against the brief or the specification. In this way, the teacher can ensure that she spots wildly inappropriate or impractical designs and deliberately intervenes to ensure that the student reconsiders.

Review 2

Further into the task the student will have a much more detailed idea of the design proposal in the form of clearly annotated sketches and a more developed mock-up. At this stage, the student should review progress so far in two ways: (i) the developed design against the specification to ensure that it will meet the requirements; (ii) the design in terms of its production as a working prototype. This will involve thinking about the availability of time, materials, tools and equipment.

Review 3

Once the design has been manufactured, the student should review her or his product to check performance against specification, user reaction and overall appropriateness.

A review must not take up too much time as this could lead to its becoming an end in itself, rather than informing the designing and making activity and supporting the student’s learning. For example, the teacher may use content of the reviews to decide on extra learning the students might need to improve their performance in the activity.

Describing the interplay between repetition, progression and formative assessment to capture how these might be appropriately or inappropriately aligned

We wonder if repetition might be viewed as revisiting. In design & technology it is often necessary to revisit specific areas of knowledge, understanding and skill in the act of designing. In each case the context for the designing will be different; those students who have achieved some mastery will be able to use their knowledge, understanding and skill to immediately good effect and in so doing enhance this; those students who do not have such mastery can revisit, apply and enhance this knowledge skill and understanding albeit at a less sophisticated level, providing they are taking steps towards mastery. Identifying user needs and wants through a consideration of physical, intellectual, emotional and social needs is a good example of a task that will be revisited. Progression is achieved by all students and can be acknowledged through appropriate feedback. In this case, there will be progression in the ability to design through a consideration of user needs and wants. Other subjects may have similar learning situations.

The principal approaches to varying the pace of progression through the curriculum for pupils with different starting points and aptitudes

For pupils who have different starting points and aptitudes in design & technology it is important that teachers structure their teaching so that students can tackle different sorts of tasks used for learning in design & technology in ways that are appropriate to them as individuals. The teacher can maintain pace through feedback and modifying the requirements of the tasks on an individual basis.


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