DIRTy SOLO and marking every lesson.

When the going gets tough…. The year 10 GCSE science students in my recently acquired group are stuck on D grade – they give very simplistic answers with unconnected reasoning, and they have poor metalanguage skills.  So in order to help this challenging class become better learners I am trialling three strategies, ideas shamelessly stolen from much better and generous practitioners…. Firstly SOLO taxonomy, from the marvellous work by Pam Hook @arti_choke,  I found Pam by reading SOLO heaven on Stephen Tierney’s blog @leadinglearner . A few teachers at school have dabbled with SOLO but it is not widely used. The more complex SOLO terminology of pre-structural and relational etc. will be drip-fed into the lessons over time as more students become receptive to working with me to improve their knowledge. I took the SOLO diagrams which perfectly illustrate what students need to do to move further forwards in their thinking and writing.  I did use some other words that I saw being associated with each SOLO level, to help the students see the processes that could extend their thinking and writing. And I also linked each stage to a grade (expected at our school) – which is not so cleverly disguised as a word. My adaptation of the SOLO model now looks like this…


Secondly DIRT (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) this strategy is widely used across the school – so students actually took to this quite quickly.  However much nagging was needed, as they would try to write as little as possible to answer the directed activity. The aim was for students to spend more time responding than I took marking.

Thirdly “What if I marked every lesson” from @joe_kirby’s blog “what if you marked every book every lesson?”  Instead of colour coding achievement, I marked only the starting point knowledge and the final plenary paragraph. To provide a ‘before’ and ‘after’ grade (talk about progress in lesson!) With this group I simply could not wait three or four lessons to mark their work. By then the first two lessons would have been lost completely from their minds. Except for their proudly exhibited skill of randomly shouting out various key-words, which may or may not be related to the actual topic.

I am really fortunate to have 100 min lessons – so it is possible to plan for and deliver these three strategies in each lesson.  Lessons start with me patrolling and encouraging / enforcing DIRT for 10-15 minutes. The lesson objectives (yes they do copy these down – so I can remind them they do know what they were!) and a vocabulary sheet to stick in for today’s lesson (usually 8-10 words and definitions). Under the objectives they have to write…. “What I already know about this topic is…..”  Again I circulate to encourage / enforce so the students can more quietly suggest random words that may or may not be related to the actual topic. I can also prompt for meanings of the proffered words to get a better understanding of the starting point for the class.  My more cooperative students use this time to browse through their revision guides to get ahead of the game (I love them). The teaching bit comes next I try to use images, and multi-media as much as possible, using dialogic questioning to engage students to use the new vocabulary.  Then there is an activity of some sort to allow discussion around the task and consolidation.  This all sounds blissfully organised, but you need to imagine a backdrop of “bash-the-rat” from me, to curtail all manner of deflection techniques from the more reluctant learners.  In the plenary we go back to the L.O. and the new vocabulary.  Finally (and to preserve my sanity) students move to “test positions” and I give them 15 mins to write about what they have learnt.  There is a structure to support this which allows demonstration of both knowledge aquisition and vocabulary usage. Marking every lesson – To preserve my sanity I mark only… 1. The response they made to complete (or not) the DIRT activity. 2. They get a “starting point grade” for what was written at the start of the lesson. 3. They get a “Progress made today” grade for their free writing at the end. 4. I provide new DIRT questions for next lesson.

That sounds like a lot, it IS a lot – but it takes just under 4 mins per book (and happily I’m getting faster) so that’s about one and a half hours.  If I’ve done it well, the students have to take longer than this responding to the questions I asked them. My success criteria will be 1. reduced disruption to lesson (as measured by total number of consequences given) 2. Increased number of students operating at C grade or above. Both criteria can be easily measured and will help me gauge the success of “DIRTy SOLO marking.”

Next blog will report back on the success of the strategies. Firstly behaviour to see if that did improve and also if student’s ability to express their scientific understanding has improved.


4 thoughts on “DIRTy SOLO and marking every lesson.

  1. This sounds very impressive and the thought you have put into it will surely benefit your students. I like the way you have a before and after section so pupils can “see” the progress they’re making in a concrete way. This can be great for further motivation with students. If they feel they are making progress they will work harder (the brilliant virtuous circle ). My only reservation. Is the time it takes to mark all the books. Is it sustainable, particularly with other commitments which can compete. Could you mark the dirt tasks as you circulate during the lesson? Could pupils self/peer assess against criteria for the “what I already know” part? Could you then only mark the final part and give dirt tasks in the form of symbols perhaps?
    I think what you are trying is ambitious but will have a hugely positive outcome. I too mark my classes books after every lesson and the insight I get is hugely important to my planning. Good luck. I look forward to reading part 2,

    • Hi Damian, great advice about starting the marking in lesson which would easily be accomplished both for the DIRT responses and starting points. I will definitely start doing that. Also you are right about the time commitment, I was fortunate that when I would have found it difficult to dedicate the time, Y10 mock exam season arrived (with a whole new marking workload!) – but it still gave me and them a break from the cycle. Thank you for your very helpful comments.

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