Most of the teaching diplomas contain some element of written work. The DipABRSM includes a written submission; the ALCM(TD) includes an essay; the LLCM(TD) requires a portfolio of written work; and the ATCL requires several pieces of written work including case studies and observations.
It’s therefore generally the case that we focus on the content of these submissions. That’s where most of our effort is placed, and perhaps rightly so.
That said, virtually all the teaching diplomas also contain marks for presentation and there is often a danger that this is left to the last minute. Good presentation, in my view, demonstrates your professionalism as a teacher, even if it doesn’t attract specific marks. It can also make an examiner’s job easier. There’s little to be gained by making it hard for an examiner to navigate your submission.
With that in mind, drawing on my experience as a mentor for teaching diplomas, here are a few tips to help you achieve the most from your presentation of written work.
1. Consistent layout
I’ve put this one first as I think it’s one of the most important things, and that’s ensuring that you use a consistent presentation throughout. This can include many things such as fonts, font sizes, margins etc., but can also be applied to most of the tips below. This really does make such a difference to the visual presentation of your work. Fancy fonts are rarely needed, and add little to your submission. In my opinion, one of the best ways to check for a consistency in presentation is to print out your work to check, or at the very least, save it as a PDF and read through it full screen. Don’t underestimate the impact your presentation has. It’s not just about the content.
2. Clear images and diagrams
One of the biggest problems candidates face when it comes to presentation is the inclusion of musical examples. Sometimes, extracts of music can be typeset and inserted as images. Indeed, there are a number of free and paid-for software programs which allow you to do that. That said, sometimes it’s necessary to include a scan of the piece itself. In this instance, do try and use a scanner or scanner app. Photographs of musical extracts rarely look good and because of the lines of the stave, it’s always very obvious if the book isn’t flat (scanner apps can correct this). This is something which I think lets a lot of work down. It might take a bit of work to get right, but it rarely has to cost anything and does make a big difference to your presentation.
3. Labelled figures
If you are including images, musical extracts, diagrams and tables, do remember to label these. Again, no set format is necessarily required, but as ever, aim for consistency. If you label these insertions within your written work, it also makes it easier to refer to them within the body of the text. For example, ‘Figure 2 shows…’. This again makes an examiner’s job easier and it’s always clear what it is you’re referring to.
4. Numbered pages
In many ways, this is obvious, but it’s worth remembering that page numbers really can make an examiner’s job easier. It makes it easier for them to refer to specific pages and specific points in your work. Examiners don’t want to have to flick through and count the pages until they find the right one. In most software programs, only a click of a button is needed to switch page numbers on.
If your diploma requires a substantial submission of written work (especially the ATCL and LLCM(TD)) then including a contents page is also worthwhile.
5. Titles and subtitles
Do use titles and subtitles within your written work. Subtitles in particular can really help signpost your reader through the text. Use effective titles too, so for example, rather than heading your work ‘DipABRSM essay’, give the title of the essay you’re writing. Don’t leave it up to the examiner to guess. Indeed, some teaching diplomas such as the DipABRSM have a set format for title pages which you need to adhere to. Always check specific guidance in the syllabus.
6. Spelling and grammar
It goes without saying that you should check your spelling and grammar carefully. A computer spell-check isn’t a substitute. It may well correct something, but it might not be the word you intended. I won’t tell you what ‘slur’ was autocorrected to in my lesson notes the other day!
Also, be consistent with spelling. ‘Practice’ and ‘practise’ are good examples of this. Whilst in the UK we generally recognise the two words independently, other countries do not. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, but I do encourage you to be consistent in their use.
Once you think your written submission is complete, do proofread it, and if possible, get someone independent to proofread it too. It actually pays to see if you can find someone to run their eyes over your work who has no knowledge of the subject matter as they see it with independent and fresh eyes.
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