What is DIRT?
Directed Improvement and Reflective Time
We often give detailed and effective feedback for it to go unnoticed and sadly for the student to make the same mistake!
Similarly, with a draft of their work they give the feedback a cursory glance, but they hurry on with supposed improvements and make the same mistakes once more. DIRT is about redressing that issue.
Ron Berger’s excellent book, ‘An Ethic of Excellence‘. describes it as this: “Most discussions of assessment start in the wrong place. The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he works on something he looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do I feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort” (P103, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’)
Essentially, DIRT is about having the highest expectations of students and them having the highest expectations of themselves.
Getting a student to reflect on their learning and how to improve it is simple at Archbishop Sentamu Academy we use DIRT. The green and purple pens help make it clear. It may be as simple as asking a question at the end of your marking or it may be setting them a learning target. At the start of the next lesson simply get them to respond to the comments in their books. It’s a fantastic easy starter but more importantly it helps them focus on what they need to do to improve.
1. Keep it focused. If you simply hand back work to students and tell them to improve it all then the response will invariably less than successful! Other than the few students whose work was lazily hashed together at the last minute, most students’ work is faulty because they don’t know how to make it better. They need specific support and to avoid overloading students we need to focus in upon specific improvements to sir work. In English, this often includes drafting and proof reading their extended writing. To ensure students can best manage their improvements, we would often narrow down the focus, such as reflecting upon spelling strategies and/or punctuation usage, then ask students to make improvements in these specific areas. Given this learning focus, students then need a really clear focus in terms of time. With clear task instructions, including timing and outlining exact expectations, students can be more focused in their DIRT time and considerably more effective.
2. Model and scaffold. Once more, letting students loose for twenty minutes to overhaul their work to reach new heights doesn’t simply happen. Chatter and disruption is more likely! A range of models and resources to scaffold their understanding are required. In English, our focus is mostly concentrated upon literacy standards. That requires the obvious scaffolded support of the teacher, but it can be supplemented by tools, such as a dictionary and thesaurus, literacy mats, their school planner etc. Models of work, with specific strengths or weaknesses, are crucially effective in determining what Berger describes as the assessment going on inside the head of students. Seeing an outstanding exemplar of a particular genre of writing, for example, helps lessen the load and gives students a high standard to reach for with their work. Reviewing a faulty example, picking apart its flaws with the teacher, or improving upon a weak example of work also helps scaffold their understanding about what is required to improve their own work. DIRT time may seemly be about independent work, but in actuality there is a great of reliance upon scaffolded teacher expertise.
3. Targeted feedback. If students are receiving regular quality feedback that is targeted and precise in each of their subject areas then cumulatively they should learn clear patterns regarding how they need to improve in specific subject areas as well as recognising common patterns. Marking is therefore crucial – it determines teacher planning and it can be a defining factor for successful DIRT. The evidence about the importance of quality feedback is well founded. Put simply, feedback and DIRT are essential bedfellows. If we give great feedback, with specific targets to improve, then DIRT is the crucial next step to deal with that feedback. As a rule of thumb, we can expect students to spend twice their time reflecting on their feedback as we devoted to giving feedback. Otherwise, really, what is the point of marking work and giving oral feedback?
4. Make oral feedback matter. Oral feedback matters just as much as written feedback; however, we shouldn’t neglect using it. It is simply a staple of good teaching. If we establish a really clear focus for DIRT, with quality models, scaffolds and targets for improvement, then students should be sufficiently focused to allow the teacher to undertake quality ‘one to one feedback’ whilst DIRT is taking place. We have moved to recording oral feedback sessions, such as using stickers with targets on or stamps, with students noting their feedback around the stamp, or using an A5 pro forma, to ensure that such feedback is recorded so that students can respond to it fully and to ensure no advice is simply lost because they have forgotten.
5. Exploit the power of peers. Peer assessment is often derided or done badly, by both students and teachers. For students it can be a poor substitute for teacher feedback. What we can do is use peers as a positive support tool during DIRT time. If my year 8 group are working on spelling and punctuation, then working in pairs is often an effective strategy to lighten their load and help them make minor improvements. Once more, any peer work needs real focus. If we have peers analysing the work of one another for spelling, punctuation and grammar improvements, then guidelines and expectations need to be explicit. Small details, like getting pairs to sign their feedback can be a small, but powerful way to get students to fully engage in the task. Any pairings of students needs to be carefully considered of course, like any good seating plan.
This is a DIRT mat I use in English. It just gives then a clear focus on ways in which to improve.