Directed Improvement and Reflection Time – DIRT Mats, by Barry Dunn

The following is a guest post by Barry Dunn.

“The Computer is my friend.” – Paranoia

Having grown up reading the dystopian masterpieces of Philip. K. Dick and watching films like The Terminator I can understand why people might be a bit suspicious of technology. If we couple that with promises of flying cars, personal jetpacks and days of leisure while our robotic servants do the work from Tomorrow’s World I can sympathise with the cynicism of many when they hear that a new piece of technology will provide a wonderful solution to their problems. The reality is that I as a teacher want easy to use technology that does one of two things, save me time or make my classroom practice look a little bit more flash. The second is mainly because I want the students to have a great classroom experience and I do feel that production values can be easily added, even by me, with modern technology.


One idea that I’ve used in my classroom that does both is DIRT Mats. The DIRT idea (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) comes from Jackie Beere and basically means giving students some time to think about and respond to the feedback given. Given the amount of time teachers spend marking it is nice to imagine that we could use it to improve students learning. Like a lot of people I know that there are common mistakes that students make in my subject and in terms of literacy, to save me having to write the same thing over and over I compiled a short list of eight bits of advice I often give in Religious Studies (called Beliefs and Values in our school) and sourced a list of literacy advice from #PedagooFriday on Twitter. Rather than just put these on a PowerPoint during DIRT time I wanted to make them regularly accessible so decided to make DIRT Mats, laminated sheets with the advice on that students could get when they needed to.

DIRT Mat 1

In order to make them look flash I asked Andrew Rousell from our technician team to make Marvel and Star Wars themed versions. The guy is an artistic and technological genius and delivered things far beyond my capability using Publisher and the joy of internet search engines. I used them as follows:

1) If a student needed to use one of the common instructions I wrote “Literacy/B&V DIRT No.x” on their book. Sometimes as I’m walking round the class too for immediate feedback.

2) The student gets the relevant sheet and does the improvements.

3) I check it to see if they have improved. I often do this in class, with the student, cutting down on marking and clarifying any misconceptions immediately.

This has allowed me to give the same purposeful advice, but save time doing it and the students have responded really well to the production values making the task of redrafting and correcting errors seem a bit more special. We’re planning on making an 80 Days Around The World one for Geography and a Doctor Who one for History in the future.

DIRT Mat 2

Adding Production Values

The work Andrew does is superb and inspires me, but there are simple ways to add production values using some simple techniques for the rest of us. It’s easy to create things like this by using PowerPoint and dropping a few images from an internet search in. If you play around with Publisher you can really add some sparkle to your resources. I’ll admit it’s a time investment, but it pays off in the long run once you start to have a stockpile of reusable materials that engage students.

One person on twitter who hugely impresses me is Graham Andre who has a huge number of templates on his website, mostly made on Publisher and free to use. There’s also Amjad Ali who hosts a sharing site for free teacher made resources which is also full of advice and tips. Pedagoo publishes a huge number of blogs from anyone who wants to share their best practice. The reality is it’s very easy to access a huge number of resources for free on the internet and add that little extra magic to your lessons.

Websites Mentioned:

Graham Andre:

Amjad Ali:


Easy Technology and Skilling Up

If you want to make your own stuff you can just play around with the programs mentioned above or even get one of many easy to use apps that allow you to create great looking materials quickly and easily, many of them costing less than a coffee at my favourite café. There’s also the option of informal CPD; basically asking people you know in school who are tech experts. If I’m stuck I either go to my expert colleagues to help me; there’s “technology champions” (or tech-geeks) in every school that are willing to share their expertise just because they care about education. If I want something really, really high tech… then I ask my students; you’d be surprised how far ahead of many of us they are in terms of technology.

Sharing and Collaboration

I mentioned using twitter as a tool to get ideas and materials and I can’t stress how valuable it’s been to me to have access to so many educators willing to share their best practice for free. We’re living in an age where you can ask the experts about things and get a speedy response; why not do it?

There’s also so much technology making it easy to share with each other; the new Office 365 (students and teachers can claim a complimentary copy thanks to Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus Benefit) means that you can quickly share resources with other teachers and with your students. One Note allows you to create a virtual scrapbook where you can drop files, video clips, images and ideas to share with a selected group, get it downloaded to your desktop, trust me. Or, if you just want to do it the easy way, it’s still ok to e-mail things to each other. The important thing to remember is that we all want the same thing, the best learning opportunities for young people. If that’s the case for you, share your good ideas and find great stuff other people are doing so that you can put your time and energy into your lessons instead of reinventing the wheel for the sake of it.

Barry Dunn - @SeahamRE

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