How do students perceive DIRT? Directed or Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time

liz blog 1I asked Rebecca Frost, a young NQT who trained at York last year, to write a guest post. She wrote an extremely interesting assignment on the importance of giving students time to respond to and act upon feedback. Here are some of her thoughts. Paragraph three is interesting, a reflective practitioner…
liz blog 2

As part of the PGCE at York University we were required to complete three Master’s level assignments. The first one was based on our observations of wider school issues, then we progressed to the reflection of our own teaching of a sequence of five lessons, before culminating in a small-scale project that required gaining data from students or teachers. All three were incredibly thought-provoking, but it was the opportunity to research something for assignment three that I was passionate about that really got me thinking. I focused on DIRT (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) and how students themselves perceive its usefulness and effectiveness. Current thinking is that students need time in lessons to reflect on feedback teachers give them, which is often in the form of strengths and targets.
I based the questions I asked students on my own experiences as a teacher. I had two Year 8 classes, one a Set 1 and one a Set 4. Having given both classes similar-style feedback and seen it dealt with in two very different ways by the students, I thought it would be particularly interesting to compare the answers given by the two classes. Given the fact that levels have now been abandoned (although not in all cases), there were some very interesting results indeed.
Both sets of students agreed that comments are important because they get guidance on how to improve – rather than a number just telling them that they are at a specific level. They also both felt that it was very beneficial when the teacher gives them specific tasks to do during their DIRT time, which help them to actively engage with feedback on how to improve. Rather than giving them target comments such as, ‘use the past tense accurately’, for example, this could be a set of translations to do into the past tense with support where they needed it. Students from the lower-ability class commented in the questionnaire that they found this much more helpful. Indeed, many stated that they find comments difficult to understand, and that the level is much more meaningful to them when it comes to knowing where they are. This suggests that while comments are very important for progress, a level-like system helps students to understand where they are at. I am very interested to see how this pans out as we search for a new system!
My research provoked a lot of interesting questions. Firstly, as I say, comes the question of how to replace levels, if indeed we should. This will be an interesting challenge, particularly in MFL, with all the different skills to assess. Secondly, comes the question of whether and how to differentiate feedback to suit the class it is being given to. And lastly, it is interesting to consider how peer and self assessment feed into DIRT, and how they can be best used to help students reflect on and make progress in their learning.
There are many, many reflective practitioners across our country and in other countries (young and slightly older!) who are trialling new things and continually reflecting on classroom practice. The hard work that is put in hourly, daily and weekly will pay off and our learners will benefit.