A new way to DIRT?

This week I tried a new way of doing DIRT.

My year 12 group did an assessment and I wanted to overcome two obstacles when giving feedback to an entire group:

a) How do you provide purposeful and individualised feedback to an entire group but in a way that is an efficient use of marking time for the teacher? This question was inspired by a recent INSET day on efficient marking where our Head of English ran a session where the emphasis was clear; marking must be manageable – so how can we do that? It was so practical and I left with renewed determination to get creative with my marking.

b) How can we foster a sense of ownership over their own improvement among our A-level students? I completed a Masters in Education that explored ways to facilitate independent learning among A-level geographers two years ago, but I’m still exploring new ways to achieve this!

I think this new method addresses both of these obstacles.

How does it work?

1. I marked their essays and they received only a mark out of 10.

2. I collated all of the opportunities for improvement on to this DIRT feedback ranking activity sheet, which looks like this:

DIRT feedback ranking activity 2

3. The concept is very similar to using marking codes, except I didn’t put any codes on to the students’ work. Instead, when they received their essay back, they also got this sheet with it. They then had to decide, by ticking or crossing, if they felt they had met each criteria within their essay.

4. Since many of them could have ticked quite a few of the boxes, they were then asked to rank which of these improvement activities they felt was the biggest priority for improving their writing.

5. They then used their DIRT time to specifically target their self-chosen biggest priorities.


Why did this work?

  1. This really encouraged students to be reflective about what had gone well and what they needed to improve, which really encouraged deeper engagement with the ways to improve, rather than simply the mark that they got.
  2. It saved me lots of time writing individualised comments, which the students were mostly able to work out for themselves!
  3. When I came back to revisit their improvements, I could see what they had ranked as ‘1’ or ‘2’ as their improvement priority, and then I could assess their writing for evidence of that skill. It meant that the renewed marking wasn’t simply marking their work again, but focused upon exactly what it was they needed to improve. If you look at this example below, the student stated that they wanted their biggest focus to be on ‘questioning the question’ and focusing on the command word ‘assess’. As you can see within their writing, not only has their assessment improved, but my marking needed only to monitor that specific element of their improvement.DIRT 2 ADIRT 2
  4. The balance between me having found specific areas for them to focus on but them having the autonomy to choose which of those most applied for them meant that students felt supported but not spoon-fed, which is, in my books, a really positive outcome for very time-efficient teacher input.

If you do try this method, I’d love to hear about it! Please tweet me @EduCaiti


Introducing this blog’s purpose

Welcome to my blog!  Sustainable Teaching

Having taught geography for four years in secondary state schools, one theme continually resurfaces: sustainability. I try to focus a) all of the content I teach and b) my life more broadly around the principles of sustainability.

The definition of sustainability is ‘understanding how to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs’. This is a central concept within geography and there are few (if any) topics that I teach that don’t return to this idea in some way.

However, more broadly, sustainability can be defined as ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level’. When considering teaching more widely, there is disagreement about how sustainable our profession is. ‘Teacher retention’ is a phrase that has featured increasingly within the media since I trained to teach in 2013, to the point that the House of Commons published a detailed briefing paper in June 2018 outlining, among other things, the 26 government initiatives that have been introduced to try and increase recruitment and retention since 2015. And yet, the problem is far from resolved.

While this blog cannot fix the endemic and complex issue of teacher recruitment and retention, I hope that aspiring, new or simply tired teachers might find that material here offers a more positive narrative from a supportive teaching community. I was once told in my PGCE year, “Don’t sit with the moaners in the staff room, find the ‘yes’ people”. This blog aims to be that ‘yes’ person, not by patronising and pretending that all in teaching is rosy, but by simply highlighting the useful, inspirational, creative and funny outputs of a life in teaching.

Put simply, sustainable teaching should extend beyond the geography classroom.