Setting students up for a period of correction

17th June 2016 at 00:00
This approach to tuition has had an impact at one school – and it’s replicable, too

At Bryanston School in Dorset, we like to offer an individual a number of different ways of engaging with teachers. One that has proved particularly popular is the correction period.

Rather than a session to modify behaviour, it is instead more like the Yoda-Luke Skywalker relationship in Star Wars – a regular scheduled one-to-one tutorial to shape students’ skills.

The thinking behind it comes from the Dalton Plan, originally the design of Helen Parkhurst, a US educationalist keen to work with her pupils outside the remit of normal timetabled classes. (see the 3 June issue of TES for a more detailed description of the system). ​We operate a modified version of the plan and correction periods are central to it.

The concept is similar to that of a university subject tutorial. With such a ratio between teacher and pupils, it allows for differentiation at a personal, and meaningful, level.

The session is flexible and allows for pupils to take their learning into new, sometimes unplanned areas.

One of the most attractive elements of the correction period system is that they are individual and personal by their very nature. They represent the synthesis of a particular student’s enquiry and that teacher’s guidance. No two correction periods will look the same.

The content of a session is often fluid and will be determined by the contour of the discussion between the pupil and teacher. Sometimes an essay will be corrected. Sometimes a challenging piece of work will be extended or revisited with a fresh angle. In a group correction period, a pupil might teach another pupil (under the watchful eye of the subject expert teacher) or a pupil might mark another’s work, opening up a discussion of enormous value and of sharable currency. The key is not to use them for spoonfeeding, but to genuinely extend the work at hand.

Marking the difference

I frequently mark a student’s work with them in the correction period. No longer do I suffer the frustration of spending valuable time annotating a pupil’s work only to witness them glance at the grade you have given them and then return the work to their file, oblivious to the real feedback you have painstakingly given. Within a correction period, I can be sure that the pupil in question has noted the advice, and, furthermore, I can check the understanding of any new knowledge, so they can use that advice in the future. I often ask pupils to read their essays out loud to me as we are marking, as I believe this has a cognitive benefit.

I asked some current sixth-form pupils whether they thought correction periods were beneficial to them and why. The responses were unanimously positive, and one telling comment was the following: correction periods “create a supportive teacher and pupil relationship, which can inspire the student.”

The building up of a respectful partnership between teacher and pupil in this manner, especially in an environment where subject knowledge is so important (and persuasive) has further knock-on benefits that go into the classroom.

One A-level pupil also commented: “It means that lesson time is not wasted going over one’s work or other people’s, providing more time to cover topics within the lesson itself. I did not get this at either of the other two schools I attended, and I truly value having it at Bryanston.”

Finding a space

Indeed, I have often thought, should I ever find myself going to teach in another school, I would attempt to use some form of regular correction period with my pupils regardless of whether it is commonplace in the rest of the school, such is my belief in the real value of the mechanism.

Where would you find the time in a busy timetable to do this? With George Osborne’s latest Budget indicating that the school day may be extended for schools in the future, perhaps this is worth considering as a valuable way to use some of that time, especially for older pupils – Years 11-13 being arguably the best suited to such a platform.

It is worth remembering that, should you use a correction period to mark a student’s work, that time for that particular marking does not need to be found elsewhere. Granted, it perhaps extends the marking process, but this approach adds such a valuable dynamic by ensuring that the feedback has been properly registered and taken forward.

If a longer school day meant that teachers were to take less marking home with them, and students would end up having to do less homework, who knows, perhaps it won’t be too unpopular an initiative.

William Ings is head of teaching and learning​ at Bryanston School, Dorset

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