Every year since becoming a teacher I have looked forward to the 6 weeks summer holiday. The only true holiday a teacher gets as the rest are taken up with marking and planning, filing and reorganising. The summer holiday is the only one where I truly get to relax and completely switch off from work. As the last week approaches I start to wind up towards the new term and think about my approach to the coming year. Every year I resolve to be a better teacher, to plan more extensively, to mark exactly as the department dictates and meet every deadline I am set. It rarely lasts beyond half term.
I always approach the new term with a sense of dread, a childlike excitement at the thought of receiving new stationery and planner (sad, I know) but an impending sense of dread and overwhelming feeling that my best won’t be good enough. That there will be a class, no matter how hard I try, that will (unknowingly) reduce me to tears of frustration.
Not this year. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. I was so excited to be going back. I could not wait to get into the classroom and start teaching. What had caused this change in feeling I hear you ask. Twitter! I accidentally fell into twitter when I discovered the #5MinLessonPlan by @teachertoolkit. I soon became hooked reading the different threads about CPD, conferences, lesson observations and marking. I was searching for SOLO taxonomy tweets to support the write-up of my masters, when I opened a blog by Mr Benney. I was reading his blog post “New adventures in SOLO…” when #RAG123 marking caught my eye in his list of top posts. It was the link to research that really caught my eye. I began to read his blog post titled “My RAG123 experiment” It caught my attention. A marking system that was quick, encouraged student reflection and put marking firmly in the planning of a lesson rather than an insignificant after thought. Damian Benney’s post lead me to @listerkev who combined a RAG marking system which involved coloured stickers, with his current department homework marking policy and #RAG123 marking was born. I decided immediately that is was something I wanted to trial from September.
From that point onwards I became glued to twitter and reading blog posts. My usual summer would be spent in a state of denial about the approaching 1st September D day. Not this year, I read everyday and started to construct a new set of classroom strategies that I was going to implement from September. From my summer of twitter, and combined with my year of SOLO research, I decided that I would implement the following:-
- Replace the lesson title with my learning intention (SOLO taxonomy)
- Replace my lesson objectives with success criteria constructed using SOLO taxonomy
- Mark every book every lesson using #RAG123 marking system
- Ensure the start of each lesson provides opportunity for DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time). This allows students to reflect on their previous learning, respond to your feedback and try to move their learning on.
- Set homework via google classrooms, using #Takeaway Homework. Students won’t have access to their exercise books so providing an alternative medium for them to create and hand in their work seemed the best alternative.
It is now the end of the first full week back at work. All of my books have been marked after every lesson since the start of this term. Every lesson has started with DIRT which students complete in green pen to distinguish from normal lesson work, and every lesson has had a learning intention and related success criteria structured according to SOLO. The initial verdict: I love it! I am entering my first weekend (outside of a summer holiday) where I am not stressing that I have left the exercise books I had every intention of marking at school. I know my new classes better at this point than I would by half term usually. I am confident that I have helped to move them on in their learning using the DIRT activities to target specific students. I can even provide a tailored DIRT activity to students who were absent.
What about the people that truly matter, the students. They think I am mad! The ones that have had me teach them before can’t believe I have marked there books every day. They love the new system as they can see the immediate impact of my marking. They get instant feedback on their work and love checking whether I have agreed with their own marking. Some students have commented that they really appreciate the fact that I am reading their work every day, even if all I write on their book is 2 characters. Before they felt like some of their classwork was a waste of time as I never read it. Not any more!
Takeaway homework is a big hit. They think it is amazing that I am letting them pick their homework task. We are trialling this at first as I am not sure about how homework marking is going to happen with them all choosing different tasks. The first homework deadline is next Friday and I have already had 5 pieces handed in early, and not by the students you would assume.
It has only been a week, however I know already this is a system that I will continue with. How do I know? This warm, fuzzy feeling I still have over a week after returning to school after the summer holidays. I can’t wait to go back to school on Monday and mark my books in preparation for my next lesson. I know this is going to have a profound impact on student progress. What more could I ask for?