Dylan Wiliam on assessment

On the 29th of May we had a professional development day with Dylan Wiliam. He spoke to us about what works and what doesn’t work in education.IMG_3291

Below are 6 key points about how to improve teaching and learning according to Dylan Wiliam:

  • Stop students putting their hands up to ask questions – it’s the same ones doing it all the time. Instead introduce a random method of choosing which pupil answers the question, such as lollipop sticks, and thus engage the whole class.
  • Use traffic-light cups in order to assess quickly and easily how much your students understand your lesson. If several desks are displaying a red cup, gather all those students around to help them at the same time.
  • Mini-whiteboards, on which the whole class simultaneously writes down the answer to a question, are a quick way of gauging whether the class as a whole is getting your lesson. This method also satisfies the high-achievers who would normally stick their hands up.
  • A short burst of physical exercise at the start of the school day will do wonders for students’ alertness and motivation. As any gym addict or jogger will tell you, it’s all about the chemicals released into the brain.
  • Ditch the obsession with grades, so that pupils can concentrate instead on the comments that the teacher has written on written classwork.
  • Allow students to assess the teachers’ teaching – they are the ones at the sharp end, after all. Letting pupils have a say is empowering and, if handled constructively, is highly enlightening. (Source)

Some of Dylan Wiliam’s slides below.


My notes:

  • Pedagogies of engagement: Teaching is stagecraft. Dylan uses pedagogies of engagement. Small things work: Use silences, use hand gestures –Silence is OK. Give students space to extend their answer. As an example, Dylan engaged with a group and rather than asking questions, he made statements, he waited for the answer.
  • Another point he made is about the strangeness of classroom interactions. Normal interaction: What time is it? 11:00. Thank you. Classroom interaction: What time is it? 11:00 Correct. (Only a teacher talks like that).
  • The person who explains gains the most. Look into research for peer tutoring.
  • Sometimes its good to choose a vague question, just to get people to think and talk. A statement can be an invitation to talk.
  • How do better educated parents prep their kids to thrive in schools? For instance: Parents ask their kid in the supermarket: “Which of these two products is best value?” Versus “Do you want a smack?” Negative reinforcement in lower socio-eco classes is far higher than in Middle class families with higher education. environment creates intelligence. Basically the richer the environment, the smarter the kids grow up to be. But intelligence also creates environment.
  • The only good learning is that which is generalizable. (I like this statement. It ties in with concept based learning, and it just makes sense.)
  • Situated learning: Some knowledge is accessible at some situations. Students get higher results in the same classroom as where they’ve been taught. All we care about is transfer
    Distributed, situated cognition.
  • Short term memory has a very limited capacity.  Learning is transforming short term memory into long term memory. Memory is about storage and retrieval. Retrieval is vital.
  • Learning timetables is key to progression in Maths
  • As students get older, we should be using the language of the discipline more and more.
    “a nose for quality”
  • Gravity = Weighty. That’s why Newton choose that word.
  • Dylan gets stuck into rubrics and says they are not very effective. A rubric needs to be clear to students, must help them to achieve.
  • Let students write their own test questions and answers. This is very effective. In classroom: More thinking questions are needed, because only then will thinking occur. You must give students time to answer! On average teachers give only 0.9 seconds thinking time. You must plan your questions! Questions should be short and clear.
  • Pace is not speed! Cognition is impossible at speed. Pace is as often obtained by slowing things down, rather than speeding up.
  • You don’t know what you think, until you say what you think. If you can’t speak it, you can’t write it it.
  • Nice, if people are pointing, they are probably thinking.
  • IRE Initiation, response, evaluation. This is the standard classroom model everywhere. Better to pan the question around, Don’t let student raise their hand. Pick students at random. Dylan is good at asking questions. Rather than asking “What is the right answer” he asked: Which one is harder.
    Classrooms can also be dominated by students who are quick, rather than being thoughtful or “correct”.
    Don’t always ask questions that put people on the spot.
    Can have pass cards, or exit tickets.
    Kids might resist if you start with “No hands up” A kid will say” Dunno”, don’t let  them get away with that. Get some different answers, then ask the Dunno student: which one of those answers did you think was best? Why? Don’t accept “Dunno”. Lower the bar until the student falls over it. “Yes, but if you did know, what would you say?”
  • Teachers do not create learning, learners create learning.
  • Engaging in high quality talk makes you smarter. Kids who don’t engage, miss out.
    The really important thing is that you create challenging learning environments—“high nutrition” environments to make students smarter, but if we look at the typical classroom it is clear some students participate and some students don’t.  Some students are trying to answer every single question the teacher asks. They’re thinking all the time, and those students are getting smarter and smarter and smarter.
  • The kids don’t like ”no hands up”. Every 20 minutes or so, you should try to have a low stakes, low-tech all response system. Mini-whiteboards are a good way-to see if all understand. Create a classroom where it is OK to make mistakes. Use voting. Ask questions. Use stoplight systems.
  • Hyper correction effect: it is better to make a mistake because you’ll learn more. (e.g. people who falsely believe that Einstein had poor grades in high school, will—once corrected—better remember the truth that Einstein was an A-student, than people who held no previous notions about Einstein’s grades) (Source)
  • Don’t let the classroom be dominated by kids who always have their hands up, it really limits you and the students.
  • A teacher must pose diagnostic questions. If students with the right thinking and students with the wrong thinking give you the same answer, the question is wrong!!
  • Our students are addicted to grades. It’s all they know. “What’d you get?” “How did I go?” Parent: What grade did you get?
  • So, what is assessment for learning?  The five key strategies are:
      – clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success
      – engineering effective classroom discussions, questions and tasks that elicit evidence of learning
      – providing feedback that moves learners forward
      – activating students as instructional resources for each other, and
      – activating students as owners of their own learning
  • If you’re serious about raising student achievement you have to improve teachers’ use of assessment for learning.
  • Distributed practice is very effective. See the forgetting curve:





My conclusion about the day:

I did get quite a bit out of this day. It made me think about some of the habits I have in the classroom, like picking students who always have their hand up, or not giving them not enough time to think before they answer. Dylan shared some simple strategies and good questioning techniques. I did think that the day lasted quite long, and Dylan did talk A LOT. I would have liked it if we had had some time to discuss the techniques with eachother, or make a list of ‘key take aways’ or things to try in the classroom tomorrow.

In his Keynote to Cambridge Assessment for Learning Keynote, Dylan says:

“There are many small-scale studies that show that when you give teachers time, and appropriate kinds of foci on which to reflect, you can make teachers more effective.  And by more effective I always mean in terms of student results”

That is so true. I often feel bogged down in marking, administrivia, curriculum-rewrites, frameworks and school priorities that it is hard to find the head space to make big changes to my practice. About that, Dylan has the following to say:

“… The other point I want to make is that small changes are better than big changes because when you make big changes things go wrong, classroom discipline falls apart and you go back to doing what you know how to do, so you have to make very small incremental changes and not change more than one or two things.  I would say that for most teachers, changing two or three things in a year is about all you could manage because otherwise you’d dart from one thing to the other.  What you need to do is develop these things and make them so much of your practice that you don’t need to think about them any more. Then, you’re ready to take something else on.” (From Cambridge Assessment for Learning Keynote,)

So, my two small changes will be this:

I will plan my questions out before class and I will give my students some time to think before expecting an answer.

I’ll let you know how I went with it….