After teaching for 14 years, you often see new ideas or ‘trends’ come into play, some a fleeting glance and some have the opportunity to ‘go the distance’ and become successfully embedded within your daily practice. Now I am not suggesting the diagnosis, therapy and testing is a new method (we all know that a good teacher does this already) but the structure and process has really changed the way I look at what I do on a daily basis. DTT has allowed me to streamline by practice and focus on what is important and that is the learning that takes place when I am there. I was recently approached by a colleague I used to work with who asked me to share with her school how I have embedded this in our department which has allowed me to reflect on what we did.
Schools have been given the freedom to design their own systems for formative and summative student assessment since the introduction of a new national curriculum in September 2014. These changes to the national curriculum and its assessment criteria signaled a fundamental shift in ideas about learning and assessment. It’s important to remember that this new approach to assessment goes well beyond changes to teaching content and materials – it triggers changes in the day-to-day nature of assessment, tracking and reporting.
“Assessment should focus on whether children have understood key concepts rather than achieved a particular level.” Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research & Development, Cambridge Assessment
DTT is a PiXL strategy and one that I feel has a significant impact in the classroom when done well. This technique resonated with me due to its cyclical approach and the ability to address misconceptions and difficulties in learning from an early point rather than leaving it until intervention, revision or when a child completes a test. It refocuses the teacher on quality first teaching which as we know has the greatest impact on student progress. Another advantage of the DTT method is that it can be used in many different ways and across any subject. This is how we have successfully embedded DTT across our science department…
Stage 1: Personal learning checklists
For all our KS3 topics we designed our PLC’s based on our schemes of work. This provided us with a clear overview and direction for learning. This could be reviewed as lesson content was taught by either the student or the teacher or in fact both. Students were encouraged to be honest and self reflective when completing the PLC’s- but this was only the starting point.
Stage 2: Teaching using the PLC’s
For each topic we ensured that the relevant PLC was stuck in at the beginning (we all know the joys of gluing in work sheets correctly!). The tasks on the PLC’s were then embedded into the scheme of work and made explicitly clear to both teacher and student when a particular point was being taught. More importantly where a PLC statement was in action this was always followed with an assessment point or as we call them ‘learning pit stop’. This provided the best opportunity to see if learning was happening and would usually determine the direction of the lesson.
Stage 3: Diagnosis
This was the easy part- assessing the learning. The PLC provided a great platform for this, but the variety of assessment opportunities are what has enabled this to really flourish. In some topics such as space or inheritance students were produced the most amazing and outstanding projects which were then assessed based on the PLC criteria. Some learning assessed through multiple choice questions, exam style questions, ‘badger’ style tasks, TV adverts, role play and group presentations. Students where possible are always encouraged to be self reflective- essentially diagnosing themselves as I believe this will build the independent skills needed for a GCSE and A level learning of today.
The worst scenario is one in which some pupils
who get low marks this time
also got low marks last time
and come to expect to get low marks next time.
This cycle of repeated failure
becomes part of a shared belief
between such students and their teacher.
Black and Wiliam, 1998
Stage 4: Therapy
Marking plays a central role in teachers’ work and is frequently the focus of lively debate. It can provide important feedback to pupils and help teachers identify
pupil misunderstanding. The PLC’s provide an easy way to do this, but more importantly it is what you expect the student to do once they have received the feedback and how they can act upon it. All of the feedback that we now give within the science department at my school is centered around D.I.R.T (Dedicated improvement reflection time). Teachers are clear in what the students need to do (task based) and more importantly time is built in to lessons to enable this to happen successfully. The methods that we have found most successful for us include:
- A question or bank of questions for students to answer based on what they don’t know alongside carefully scaffolded reading material.
- Guided learning – This was actually something I saw work really successfully in primary schools. The students would be grouped according to the content they need to develop. They are then given an activity based on that topic that will provide them with a lessons worth of independent work. Whilst this is happening the teacher (me) will then take each mini group and teach the content that the students were struggling with usually followed by an exam style question. I have found this works really well with smaller groups and also at KS5. This can be done at any time too so promotes flexibility.
- PLC spreadsheet and the Smith proforma. These provide a clear visual aid to show students how they are progressing.
- Carefully scaffolded tasks or worksheets.
- Students to create revision cards based on topics they need to develop
- Walking talking mocks or walking talking marks.
Stage 5: But do they get it?
This is possibly the most important stage of the cycle- seeing if the hard work has paid off! It is vital that once we have completed the ‘therapy’ part of the cycle that we ‘re-test’ the learning of our students. We need to know whether it has made an impact…Now this could be completed in many ways:
- Sitting the same assessment paper
- Sitting a different assessment paper
- Effective questioning
- An exam question
- Online testing system such as educake, show my homework or tassomai
- A practical
- Multiple choice questions
Stage 6: Non- negotiables
Once this cycle was trialed as a department we came together and looked at the pro’s and con’s of embedding this. We tweaked schemes of learning, amended PLC’s, devised assessments both within the lesson and after the topic that would test the content we had been teaching- we had done the hard bit! It was at this point, after the ‘hard slog’ that we decided as a team what our non negotiable’s were:
- Embedding of assessment opportunities throughout the schemes of learning that address the PLC statements
- Ensuring that the assessment links to the criteria you have set out on your PLC
- Students self assess- reflection is important!
- Teachers need to assess student progress and build in DIRT time and tasks bespoke to the learning needs of the student or group
- DIRT tasks need to be clear, structured and well scaffolded to allow students to access them
- Students need to complete them (yellow box from teacher toolkit has revolutionised our marking!)
- Testing needs to address the learning that has taken place through the therapy sessions
We have now been applying these strategies for the past 3 years with our KS3 students and it is working effectively. We have scrutinised our schemes and this rejuvenation has enabled us to really raise the engagement level (how can we not- science is just awesome!), develop practical skills in line with what is required at GCSE and really tackle assessing as accurately as possible. As a team (and wonderful they are!) we are now in the throws of replicating this structure at GCSE and hope this provides a smooth transition into the brave new world of science GCSE’s.
When a teacher teaches, no matter how well he or she might design a lesson, what a child learns is unpredictable. Children do not always learn what we teach. That is why the most important assessment does not happen at the end of learning – it happens during the learning, when there is still time to do something with the information.
Dylan Wiliam, 2011