Improving the basics: Inspired by Austin

Here’s a very short post to report on some fabulous work my Year 8s did this week.   I marked their first few pieces of work and then devoted a double lesson this week to redrafting: a slice of Directed Improvement and Reflection Time.

We started the lesson by watching the Ron Berger Austin’s Butterfly video:

Austin's Butterfly.  The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.
Austin’s Butterfly. The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.

The students immediately got the message: the boy who made the first and final drafts was the same boy.  He just needed to know what the standards were and how to reach them.

Then I gave out their books and asked them to redraft as much of their work as they could in the time focusing on two main themes:

Presentation: pencil and ruler, underlining, diagrams, handwriting.

Science content:  adding explanations, correct use of terminology, adding ideas about forces between molecules.

The examples that stood out the most were from two boys who I thought had serious difficulties with writing.  Turns out, they just needed to aim a bit higher.  Through the redrafting process and the praise they received for their improvements, their attitudes shifted significantly; their self-believe grew and they left the lessons beaming.  I didn’t expect quite such a big effect.  Here’s a sample of what they did:

Student 1.

This student engaged in a fantastic discussion with me about molecules and forces. He came up with this idea (illustrated with his fingers) about molecules in ice being like balls with sticks giving the solid structure. Still plenty of room to improve but even he couldn’t believe he could do work like this.

Student 2

This student responded superbly.  Once he realised that excellence was in his grasp, he just made a decision to produce something really good – instead of the slap-dash effort he’d defaulted to first time around. That applied to his presentation and his thinking.

I’ll be doing this again.


  1. This article is proving really useful to share with my classes. Ron Berger strikes again. If you haven’t yet read “An ethic of Excellence” its a must and he really delves into his critique.


  2. Good afternoon Tom,

    I recently stumbled onto your blog and as an NQT with big ideas I just wanted to thank you for the inspiration.

    I have ideas which I sometimes feel I cannot execute or as an NQT I would get the usual “what do you know” form other more experienced staff members.

    I’ve been trying to find a way of introducing the (joys) of re-drafting and you have made this process less intimidating.

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We’ve watched Austin Butterfly as teachers, but I never considered showing it to students. Seems obvious now!! Will share with colleagues.


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