Getting DIRTy

What it is…
DIRT means Directed Improvement and Reflection Time (a term coined by @jackiebeere); which basically means setting aside some time for learners to act on the feedback you have given them. If you were told to improve without receiving time to do it you would consider it unrealistic, the same applies to the learners in our care. They need time to grow. This is the y (why); because DIRT time is where students are focused on gaps in their learning to help them improve or on stretching their current understanding. With my DIRT tasks I’m normally trying to cover one of the 4c’s.

4 C’s
Corrections: Sometimes something is plain old wrong; it might be spellings or complete misunderstanding of a concept. You might want them to find the answer or you might give them the information and ask them to apply it to show they now understand.
Clarification: If you want more detail or you think they’re confused or vague ask them to go into detail or point them in the right direction.
Comparisons: Making them look at similar and different pieces of information to either provide opportunities for analysis or to intentionally create cognitive conflict (purposefully confusing them to force them to consider the issue in depth.)
Challenge: If they’ve got the idea it’s an opportunity to stretch them in either their thinking or their knowledge.

Why the green pen?
We get students to do their DIRT work in green pen so that we can immediately see where their improvements are. It’s also good for students to be able to quickly identify that their additional efforts in DIRT time make a difference to their performance. An added bonus is that if anyone external were to look at the books there’s immediate evidence of learners acting on feedback.

Some ways to get DIRTy
1-DIRT Mats

These are templates you can use to give specific instructions regarding common mistakes. This saves marking time by telling a student exactly what they need to do in DIRT time with a pre-written instruction.

The step by step process was…
1) Identify 8 common errors.
2) Put them on a template, such as the one’s available from @grahamandre
3) Write “DIRT Mat No.1-8″ in student book

Specific instructions given to improve in 13 characters; Twitter would be proud.


2-Tick & Target
We give feedback for each major assessment and for at least one mini-assessment for each topic using this method. The feedback sheet is a list of success criteria for the task; we highlight success criteria as appropriate, for some tasks it means highlighting what they did, for more formal tests we highlight next steps. (I know this could be confusing, but they come with instructions.)
They also get a tick and a target at the bottom of the criteria checklist, the tick is something they did well and the target is their focus to improve their learning.

3-Ask Questions
Most simply done you just write a question in their book based on what they’ve written to extend their ideas, challenge their thinking or encourage them to reflect on a different aspect of the concept. It’s just like asking questions normally, but you write it down, simple.

You can also write questions in their books as you’re walking around the class; or use a verbal feedback stamp, ask them the question and make them write it themselves for speed (and to conserve the world’s red ink supply.)

4-Peer Assess
Peer assessment is a great way to get students reflecting on what makes good work, study success criteria, share ideas and engage in peer support. This should be used carefully though; it isn’t a way to avoid doing marking, it’s an alternative marking strategy which has its own value if done well.

My advice to making it work…
1) Always use criteria.
2) Make them refer to the criteria.
3) Make sure they know you are available to adjudicate
4) Check it. (It’s still quicker than marking it all yourself.)

If it’s really good feedback that a student gives comment on that too, reinforce your expectations.

5-Close the Cycle
There’s no point asking them to do improvements if you’re not going to look at them. This may just be a tick or a few words to acknowledge the DIRT has been done. It’s much better when they’ve made real improvements and you can tell them to reinforce the value of that extra effort. If they think the DIRT doesn’t get checked some students may select not to do it; closing the cycle by letting them know they’ve done as you asked no matter how simply is important….
If it isn’t enough add another DIRT task…

Now go get DIRTy…
Barry Dunn – @SeahamRE


I also really recommend having a look at what @PeteJackson32 has to say about Self Assessment on @pedagoo …

More recommended (essential) reading on DIRT (via @dan_brinton) which I heartily agree with:




And finally, out of humility, Dan didn’t recommend his own, but I do: Dan’s Blog


One comment

  1. gwenelope · November 29, 2014

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


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