Getting Students’ Hands Dirty by @MrCampbellSHS

Making feedback work

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to take part in a professional development programme linking several schools in Yorkshire from both the state and independent sectors. It was a good example of how getting teachers together and letting them share ideas can make some of the best CPD.

I took a lot of ideas away from the programme (for example “snot” from my earlier blog) and one thing I remember really loving during the session at Horizon Community College was DIRT. I remember it as “Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time”, though I have since seen it referred to as “Directed Improvement and Reflection Time”. There is a subtle difference between the two, and actually, I think that including both the D-words is essential.

So we are talking about the hours we all spend marking work, and what good it actually does. As an NQT 8 years ago my head was full of Assessment for Learning and I carefully avoided awarding marks for homework, instead of spending a good deal of time writing individual comments which would allow my students to see how to improve. It took me a while to see the bigger picture, however: what was happening next? I knew enough to know that some lesson time should be given over to reading my comments but it had not occurred to me to assign time to do something about it.

This is where DIRT comes in. To me, what you do in this time might vary enormously according to your subject, the type of task, etc. But the essentials, to my mind, are:

Improvement and Reflection. This is a time in which all students are expected, and helped, to reflect on their work and consider both what makes it good and what can be improved. But they do not only consider it, they actively make those improvements.

Dedicated. Set aside, and ringfence, some of your lesson time for this process. In some instances, where work can be endlessly redrafted and improved upon, this might even be a whole lesson. But not a token 5 minutes.

Directed. Give the process some structure. This will vary with subject and task as well, just don’t leave students with 15 minutes to fill and only your written comments to go on.

Time. Um…

Quite apart from the benefits of students’ work, the fact that everyone is expected to use this time to improve strongly reinforces the idea of a positive mindset. If we return work and immediately follow with “right, now we’re all going to see how we can improve”, this sends all the right messages about effort and achievement, drawing attention away from the ego-involved “what mark did I get?

There are tons of great blogs and articles about DIRT out there.

Most recently I saw this one from Carol Stobbs (@littlestobbsy), in which she shares the poster below as well as her interpretation of DIRT as a History teacher (see the ppt within the blog).


I also saw this excellent post this week from Shaun Allison on the use of very carefully structured DIRT in the Maths department in his school. This looks like it would take a good deal of planning but the benefit to students is obvious.

So, when you are next marking work and carefully considering your feedback for each student, ask yourself “what is the point?”. Then either plan some dirty lesson time so that the effort you are going to will mean something or just get an early night instead.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Stuart Campbell, and published with kind permission. The original post can be found here.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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