DIRT for boys, active learning and differentiation

Good Practice

Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time (DIRT) Resources by Mrs Johns

English Dirt

My Year 11 did a ‘Lego Movie’ ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ DIRT response today. Students then ‘Build upon their work’ with the Lego builder Emmit! (See the PDF below- It is still a work in progress!)
Above is a students work as an example, as he is a classic borderline C/D student.
Mrs Johns

Formal Letter DIRT (1) (1)

Click on the links below to see other DIRT resources created by Mrs Johns:

DIRT self assessment

DIRT Peer assessment

DIRT self assessment KS3

Brain Food
Poster by Nana Adwoa Sey. Contest winner.


Differentiation – Making it Happen:

Five steps to improve teaching   Explore -> Experiment -> Improve -> Celebrate -> Embed

Explore:Explore the context: Given our course and our students etc, what are the key issues and problems in ensuring success for all? Explore present practice: How do we differentiate at present? Explore the pedagogy :What other learning and teaching strategies could we use to differentiate better?

Experiment:Plan Experimentation and implementation: Decide as a team and as individuals how you will differentiate better.

Improve:Improve and ‘coach-in’ strategies: teachers develop strategies for themselves and the team, while receiving support and coaching from the team and others.

Celebrate:Celebrate Success: Teachers report on their experiments and share their strategies.

Embed:Embed practice: Schemes of work, assignments, worksheets, lesson plans etc are changed to embed the changes


  • Only teachers can change teaching
  • Changing teaching is itself a learning process
  • Learning requires support, practice, and feedback

Article of the week: 

Active Learning Works: the evidence by Geoff Petty

“Active Learning? You must be joking, there’s no time for entertainment – I’ve too much content to cover.”

We have all heard such views in staff rooms, yet in official circles active learning remains the orthodoxy. Professors queue up to insist upon it, inspectors require it, and conference speakers chant its praises. Many of us also remember long lectures about its effectiveness during our teacher training! Yes, we all know the theory — but does it actually work in practice? 

Many researchers have asked this question, and have tried a ‘let’s suck it and see’ approach to answer it. These are rigorous control group studies with real teachers in real schools and colleges.

Hundreds, or even thousands of students are divided between:

  • an ‘experimental group’ which is taught with active methods and
  • a ‘control group’: which is taught the same material without active methods.

The control and experimental groups are carefully composed to be identical in their mix of ability, social background, and so on. The control and experimental groups are taught for the same length of time, by the same teachers, or by teachers of the same ability, and the students are tested to see which group has learned best. In study after study of this type, active learning produced much better learning.

Never mind the theory – does it work in practice?

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Active Learning adds a grade and a half to achievement.

Professors John Hattie and Robert Marzano have independently used careful statistical methods to average the findings of many thousands of the most rigorous studies on active learning. Their findings show that, for the best active methods, if you put a student in the experimental group, then on average, they will do more than a grade and a half better than if they had been placed in the control group.

The time the teacher has to teach the topic is not a factor here. Remember that the groups taught with active learning methods were taught for the same amount of time as the control group. While the experimental group was engaged in the active learning methods, the control group was receiving more content and fuller explanations from their teacher. But the control group learned less.

Many teachers say active learning would be great ‘if they had the time’. But the research shows that if you make the time for effective active learning by doing less didactic teaching, then your students will do better. It may seem strange not to be able to say everything you know about the topic you are teaching, but it won’t help if you do. You know too much!

Active learning works best at every academic level. Peter Westwood, summarizing research on how best to teach students with learning difficulties argued for highly structured, intensive, well directed, active learning methods.

What active methods work best?

Any activity will not do. We need to set activities that require students to make their own meanings of the concepts you are teaching, and that get them to practice important skills. Ideally the activity is highly relevant to your goals, is an open task, and is challenging. Lets look at some examples of methods that have done particularly well in these rigorous trials.

‘Same and different’: Tasks that require the learner to identify similarities and differences between two or more topics or concepts, often one they are familiar with, and one they are presently studying: ‘Compare and contrast viral and bacterial infections’

 Graphic organisers: The student creates their own diagrammatic representation of what they are learning, for example in a mind-map, flow diagram or comparison table. They get out of their place to look at other students work, to help them improve their own. Then they self-assess their own diagram using a model diagram provided by you.

 Decisions-Decisions: Students are given a set of cards to match, group, rank, or sequence. For example: ‘rank these advantages of stock taking in order of importance, then sort them by who benefits, customer, business, supplier, or investor. Students are asked to reject your ‘spurious’ cards that do not describe an advantage of stock taking.

Feedback: There are many feedback methods including self assessment and peer assessment. Ask students to decide on what was done well, and what they could improve.

 Hypothesis testing: You give students a statement that is partly true, but partly false: “The more advertising the better”. “Cromwell was religiously motivated”. Then you ask them to work in groups to evaluate the statement. When the groups are finished you get one reason in favour of the hypothesis from each group in turn, continuing until all their reasons have been given. You nominate the member of the group to give the reason and to justify it: ‘why did your group think that?’. When a reason has been given say ‘thank you’ but don’t agree or disagree with it. Repeat for reasons against. When all the reasons are in, ask the class as a whole to try and agree reasons for and against. Then give your thoughts on their ideas.

I expect you can guess why these methods work: they force students to think, and into making sense of what you are teaching them.

Let’s not confuse good explaining with good learning. The delivery of content does not guarantee its arrival. In the end it is perhaps no surprise that students only get good at doing it — by doing it!


Hattie, J.A. (2009) ‘Visible Learning a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement’. London: Routledge

Marzano R. Pickering, D. Pollock, J. (2001) “Classroom Instruction that works” Alexandria: ASCD

Petty, G. (2009) ‘Evidence Based Teaching’ 2nd Edition. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes See also www.geoffpetty.com

Westwood, P. (2003) Commonsense Methods for children with Special Educational Needs. 4th Ed. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Recommended Reads

secrets of teenage brain

1. Secrets of the Teenage Brain: Research-Based Strategies for Reaching & Teaching Today’s Adolescents  by Sheryl G. Feinstein

“Teachers will relate well to the many observations and vignettes about teenagers and will see many of their own students in these descriptions. The science and research-based evidence is explained simply and in easy-to-understand terms with connections to teen behavior clearly established. Readers can easily appreciate how the strategies described in the book link to the neuroscientific findings and research. The newer research, ideas, and supplementary material greatly enhance the book—particularly the new stories, vignettes, and other teaching strategies.” (Barry Corbin, Professor of Education, Acadia University 2009-01-23)

9781408504154 2. Teaching Today by Geoff Petty

This is the best selling teacher training text in the UK because it is so practical. Lots of detail on all the common teaching methods, classroom management etc. Lots of ideas for established teachers not just NQTs.

3. Make it stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown

make it stick

Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines, the author offers concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners. Memory plays a central role in our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, such as applying knowledge to problems never before encountered and drawing inferences from facts already known. New insights into how memory is encoded, consolidated, and later retrieved have led to a better understanding of how we learn. Grappling with the impediments that make learning challenging leads both to more complex mastery and better retention of what was learned. Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another.

Useful links

1. 5 minute lesson plan


2. Blogging for teachers


3. 101 great teachers to follow on twitter



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