Embedding Formative Assessment: my review of Dylan Wiliam’s webinar (8pm, 25 February 2015)
“The best teachers benefit students for years after they stop teaching them” Dylan Wiliam, February 2015.
I am, of course, familiar with the work of Dylan Wiliam from back in my PGCE days in the early 2000s and then more recently during my MEd studies, where inter alia my research is looking at whether Wiliam’s ideas on formative assessment and comments-only feedback for students can be applied to the context of feedback for teachers. In a previous school, I led a Teaching and Learning Community (TLC) group of teachers from a range of subjects, using the 2011 edition of “Embedded Formative Assessment” to shape the sessions. I have recommended the book to numerous trainee teachers, NQTs and others more established in their teaching careers. As Dylan Wiliam himself says, “teachers need to be the best they can be”.
As many of you know, I am a prolific Twitterer and one of my Twitter highlights was when I received a direct reply from @dylanwiliam himself back in November 2014. So, when I saw a webinar advertised on Twitter on the not-yet-released new edition of “Embedding Formative Assessment” delivered by Dylan Wiliam, I just knew I needed to sign up! Early evening on 25 February I logged on to my laptop, signed in and sat waiting eagerly with headphones on and my phone close by so I could live-tweet throughout.
I am familiar with many of the techniques advocated by Wiliam, and this book will no doubt be equally successful in highlighting techniques teachers can use to communicate with their students on how they are doing and where they can improve further; the title indicates that it is full of “practical techniques”. Lots of Wiliam’s techniques are now truly embedded in my teaching practice, for example traffic lights, wait time and no-hands-up. Wiliam himself during the webinar: “Hands up gives us a distorted view of what’s going on in the classroom – don’t let the quickest dominate”; we can all benefit from allowing students some wait time; the best answer in the room might otherwise go unheard. Further, “Red-Amber-Green can work well in pair- or small group work as a signal to the teacher, and allows the teacher to manage their time more effectively.” The success of this technique lies, in my opinion, in the fact that it is all about the students communicating and signalling to the teacher, thus enabling the teacher to make appropriate adjustments to their teaching, if need be in real time. Flexibility within our lesson plans is key!
One very important message coming out of this webinar was, however, that “techniques (like these) are less important than the process of how to change as a teacher. Teachers are not clones but need to be the best they can be.” I guess this means it is important to understand the why and the how of teaching as well as the what; as I have said numerous times before, it’s more about the “nuts and bolts” of teaching than whichever “bells and whistles” we choose to employ. Importantly, Wiliam emphasises the need to focus on a few small changes in teacher behaviour, possibly even just one element of our teaching practice which we want to improve, allowing it to become truly embedded in our practice before moving on to improving the next thing; Wiliam speaks of the need for things to become “second nature” and for teachers to be allowed to choose what “to focus on that will make the biggest impact on their students”. As lifelong learners ourselves, we need to be mindful that whilst “teaching happens in time, learning happens over time”. There is no quick fix!
Forty minutes on and I felt truly invigorated having listened to the wise words of the man himself and with an endorsement from our principal, that I could buy a copy of this book for the staff library. I think we might actually need more than one copy!
The webinar was recorded and the audio file and accompanying slides can be found at:
I’m quickly becoming a bit of a webinar junkie (if you can say that after just two “hits”?) and in the next few days I’ll be writing up a review of a webinar from earlier this week (Monday 23 March, 4.00-4.30pm), delivered by Stephen Tierney:
“Assessment without levels: key principles”
What is assessment for? What matters most, and what should you focus on?