Well, sort of. I don’t manage to get to my exit ticket point and so can’t use my class tracker spreadsheet; I lose my DIRT routine as a result and the start of lesson four seems unfocused; behaviour slips from the positive learning environment that it was at the start of the week.

I do still have some work to mark, a Tempest storyboard, but it’s not quite the same as having something to get immediate feedback about their understanding from.

Still, I suppose it was a Friday.

Already it’s interesting to see how different the classroom feels with those routines in place, and what it reverts to when they’re lost. I suppose that’s down to more time spent planning and ensuring they understand concepts, but it’s definitely paying off so far.
I’ve also watched the recent Twitter discussion between David Didau and Kris Bolton with interest, given that it relates to just this (the post is here). David’s perspective, expressed rather forcefully in conversation with the wonderful Mr Benney below, is that if only 86.4% of your class understand your LO then you’ve already failed at addressing their misconceptions, and why didn’t you teach it better in the first place? (I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the gist).


Although I see David’s point, and his observations about learning being something that can’t always be simply measured are profoundly valuable, I think the practical reality of teaching is that misconceptions will creep in, and given time constraints it’s not always possible to address those issues in a way that will allow all students to understand fully during a single lesson. Exit tickets, coupled with DIRT time at the start of the next lesson, are a simple way of ensuring that students don’t go for a long period of time without having those misconceptions addressed – an efficient, meaningful piece of differentiation.

I’m with Kris and Mr Benney on this one.


Day two: in praise of exit tickets

Day two, and the acid test – some language analysis. We read Act 1, Scene 2 of The Tempest.

LO: TBAT draw inferences from Prospero’s relationships in 1.2 of The Tempest

The exit tickets have made DIRT time effective, for probably the first time ever with 8X3. As there are only three possible questions, it’s much easier for me to address people who don’t understand what they’re being asked, rather than having to deal with twenty potential questions (and people who can’t read my handwriting). I get some good answers and definitely some good thought.

We annotate an extract together using targeted questioning and a visualiser, and then I ask them some questions based around this. Then it’s exit ticket time again, this time with a language question. They respond wonderfully – the clear questions helping structure their thoughts and allowing them to produce some insightful answers. I introduce the progress tracker at the same time as the exit ticket, and it gets a good reaction, with people being suitably competitive, although distressingly the two “reds” from yesterday don’t buck up their attitude significantly.

In fact, they work with such focus and effort that I am able to fill out the first block on their class reward chart (or as it is now known, “the road to cake”.)

Exit ticket looks like this. I put the quotation up on the board.:

NAME   __________________________________________

 1. What does this quotation tell you about Prospero’s relationship with his daughter?

This quotation suggests that __________________________



2. How does this quotation tell you this (ie. which words/phrases)?

The word/phrase  _________________________________

suggests that _____________________________________

3. What do we think or feel towards Prospero or Miranda in this scene?

We would probably feel _____________________________

because _________________________________________



I have some reservations about over-scaffolding, and have to remind myself that I’m going to pull this scaffolding away in weeks to come – that I’m just building up knowledge and understanding.

Exit tickets take me less than five minutes to mark, DIRT questions five minutes to write.

I’m enjoying this so far, but I’m curious to see what effect it has on retention… will they remember any of what they’ve written down when it comes to their longer task at the end of the week?

Day two: in praise of exit tickets


This term 8X3 are studying The Tempest, which is not the easiest play to teach a noisy middle-set, but fortunately I am an eternal optimist. After a starter, to which a third of the class are late and enter noisily, we have a quick preamble, when I reiterate behaviour expectations and they vote for cake as a class reward.

Lesson objective is as follows:

AIM: TBAT comment on how and why Shakespeare creates effects in Act 1.1 of The Tempest (RAF6)

We start off with some activities trying to get them thinking about life at sea – clips from Pirates of the Caribbean and The Perfect Storm, respectively trying to get them reflecting on how sailors were probably quite drunk, rude and uneducated and how being in a boat in the middle of a thunderstorm is very frightening indeed. This involves a small drama activity, which inevitably ends with a number of my energetic boys in a heap on the floor.

Still, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

I give them an exit ticket with three questions on, and it is brilliant. Two of them don’t complete it, and I am able to see this immediately and ask them about the Lesson Objective before they leave, checking that they understand; four of them complete it only partially, and I am able to send them back to finish. I have a PPA period straight after I see 8X3 today, and so mark them using coloured dots and it takes me less than five minutes. It also allows me to monitor and target specific students next lesson to check they are on-task and that they understand.

Writing up appropriate DIRT questions for next lesson, however, takes me substantially longer (25 minutes maybe?). I’ve always found this with English, and it’s the ‘Matthew effect’ in action again. Most of the time they don’t understand how to answer the questions that will bump up their level and so DIRT time is almost useless for them. Here’s what I’ve got:

  • RED – Summarise what happens in the first scene of the Tempest and predict how the audience could feel watching it.
    • In the first scene of the Tempest…
  • YELLOW – We find out in scene two that the storm has been caused by Prospero, to get revenge on the sailors. How does starting the play in this way make us feel sympathy for the people on the ship?
    • Starting the scene in this way…
  • GREEN – Antonio calls another sailor a “whoreson” (son of a whore) and an “insolent noisemaker”. What does this tell you about what these men are like and what does Shakespeare want us to think/feel towards them?
    • We learn from what the men say that they are…

I’d be lying if I say I’m entirely happy with them, though.

Visual tracker is filled out, and this will go up on the board tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

All in all, a good start. That said, it is only the first day back, and it was a relatively easy activity. The acid test will come when we get to language analysis.


Some specifics

A few more specifics about how this is going to work might be helpful.

Firstly, marking every book, every day. Two key motivators behind this one:

  • If I mark their books every lesson, they will know that their work is being closely monitored
  • If their work is being closely monitored by me, I can more appropriately adapt lessons to help them in the areas where they need help

Although it sounds great, there aren’t many teachers who wouldn’t do that given the time. The issue is that nobody has the time, me included. So I’m simplifying this a little bit by using exit tickets.

I’ve set out some clear lesson objectives for each lesson and then at the end of each lesson they’ll fill out a question on a named slip that will check their understanding of that lesson objective. If they’ve not grasped it or finished it, they get a red dot; if they’re almost there but lack something crucial, a yellow dot; if they’ve shown mastery of that objective, a green dot.

Then, at the start of their next lesson they’ll get 5-10 minutes of DIRT time to answer another question on the board, which will hopefully fill in the gaps on what they didn’t grasp first time round.

Having tried this so far, it means you can mark a set of books in about fifteen minutes. Admittedly, though, it’s not the same as extended writing, so I’ll set them one piece of extended writing a week where they can hopefully bring their newly-acquired knowledge to bear. This is a development on what I’ve done previously, where every lesson would involve a PEE – however, at present this just isn’t working with 8X3. I don’t think this will radically increase my marking load either; it’s just marking better, and will hopefully allow them to get some better feedback too.

Secondly, tracking progress using a visual tracker. Again, a few key motivators here:

  • They can see explicitly where they’re slipping and then can address this
  • They will hopefully take pride in beating their classmates or excelling at a task
  • I can tell where they need to improve and can make sure that lessons or homework tasks are tailored accordingly

I’ve toyed with a couple of ways of doing it but I think the best one is to measure it per lesson. Get a green dot, your spreadsheet mark is green; likewise if you get a red one. There’s an intrinsic danger in this, either in that getting a string of reds will become a badge of pride or something that cripples people’s self-esteem. I don’t have an answer to this one, so I just have to see how it works, but hopefully the class reward sheet will help a little.

Finally, class rewards.

I expect my students to work for the satisfaction of working. So they get qualifications, so they get satisfaction and pride in their attitude, and because learning is exciting. 8X3 don’t always agree with me on that, and it’s taken quite a while for me to swallow my pride and realise that they need greater incentives than just “you have to do it” or “if you don’t get an English GCSE you’ll starve”.

This is straightforward. The chart goes up on the board, and if during a silent task they all remain silent, they get a mark on it. Joshua comes into the room and sits down to his work immediately, they get a mark on it. Ten marks equals a class reward, either of being able to sit where you want, or possibly some cake… whatever. It goes against my principles, but my principles aren’t working for me here, and the best thing I’ve found that works for them is a suggestion from my colleague of giving them raffle tickets that might allow them to win a sweet at the end of the lesson, so go figure. I’ll still give out small rewards, but I want to get them all working together in service of something they want – so they know that they can do it.

I’ll try and write a little more about my expectations of how they’ll react next time.

Any insights from people who have tried this and know the pitfalls, get in touch!

You can also follow me on Twitter at @northerntopcat.

Some specifics

How do you solve a problem like 8X3?

8X3 are the archetypal middle-set English class. They have ability, but are disengaged; they find English challenging, and often dull; they enjoy socialising much more than listening. There are under twenty of them, but a number of them have diagnoses of ADHD or ASD and others have home circumstances or backgrounds that cause them to find school understandably difficult. They feel like a much larger class, mostly because it would probably be possible to count on one hand the number of days when at least four of them haven’t been bickering, sulking or flirting with (or as a result of) one another over the course of the past year.

I had a class like them last year, although admittedly with some distinct differences of ability and temperament. I didn’t do an especially good job teaching them – I was an NQT, which shouldn’t be an excuse, but which does explain why I was quite so clueless – so I was resolved to put right this year what I’d got wrong first time round. In a lot of ways, they are now better than my class last year were, but there are still fundamental issues that need addressing.

Such as: Their unwillingness to work in silence. Their failure to act upon feedback. Their lack of focus in class discussions. Their half-hearted answers, which do not address the given success criteria.

These things are not eternal, though; they can be fixed. Hence the title of this blog.

Year 8 is a crucial time for 8X3. If they don’t start mastering the skills that they need for GCSE now, then my understanding of cognitive load theory and the ‘Matthew effect’ suggest that by the time they get to Year 10, it will be too late. They will not have a solid knowledge base of techniques or themes or symbols or key words to look out for; they will not know how to take good notes; they will not be able to write using a variety of sentence types or construct effective descriptions. All of these things take time, of which we have very little, and if they have to be re-taught these things at the start of GCSE then, honestly, it will be a serious challenge to get them a ‘pass’ grade.

So I’m taking action. I’ve identified three things that I think will make a major difference, and I’m going to focus on these over the next term with 8X3, charting my efforts on this blog.

These three things are:

  • Marking every book, every lesson (see Joe Kirby and Harry Fletcher-Wood)
  • Allowing students and parents to track progress online (like this)
  • Instituting a system of whole class rewards coupled with my existing behaviour management system – ten successes equals a class reward

I’ll try and give an unvarnished account of how I get on, daily if possible (and assuming that I don’t get worn down by the whole endeavour).

I’m also aware that reading this people might be tempted to say that my lessons need to be more engaging, or simpler, or my behaviour management more consistent. Please trust me when I say that I’ve reflected on these things, and that my behaviour management is pretty good and I’m happy with the level that my lessons are pitched at. If you want to see how this experiment is going, though, please feel free to comment – especially if you’ve done something similar in your own setting.

We will invariably end up touching on a whole range of other teaching related things in time, too, but I’ll tackle those as we go.

Wish me luck.

How do you solve a problem like 8X3?