Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam

embedded formative assessment

Elie Hartman
American College of Education
March 30, 2016

When I was hired about one year ago, I was given a stack of dreadful-looking professional development books during orientation. This was one of those books. Upon further inspection, it didn’t look so bad. As it turns out, it actually revolutionized the way I teach, especially how I teach writing and how I give feedback. Some aspects of this book were not new to me, because they were part of my recent teacher-training program, but some parts were critical to forming my teaching practice.

The book starts off with research that shows that the greatest factor in predicting student achievement is teacher quality. Actually measuring teacher quality is essentially impossible (hear that, reformers and politicians?), but Wiliam has taken some of the guesswork out of the equation by compiling a handful of strategies that have been proven to have the largest impact on student learning, all centered around formative assessment.

What I liked best was Wiliam’s writing style. He doesn’t talk down to teachers or pretend that he knows what’s best. He knows teaching is incredibly difficult, and his book is simply the research behind the most powerful, proven methods in education and some strategies for teachers to try as we see fit.

The idea I found most interesting was centered around feedback. There were studies which found that if students can work with teacher feedback to achieve a product of higher-quality, learning will improve more than if comments are written and students do nothing with them. Also, giving grades along with feedback, when we want students to use the feedback, absolutely negates the feedback; students won’t use it. So, bottom line: don’t grade formative assessments but do give feedback and ensure students act on that feedback in class.

What I have been doing is give students comments using Google Docs or Google Classroom with no grade attached to the assignment. The feedback happens instantly or very quickly, and students are receptive to improving their work because they know they’re working towards a better grade and receiving the help they need. I have also started to check in with students more in the middle of large projects rather than at the end when it’s time to assign a grade.The natural next step when giving feedback but not giving a grade is to create workshops to help students who have similar problems. I have restructured my entire class around giving and dealing with feedback, and my students are much more successful than they were last year before I had read this book.

I would recommend this book in particular to teachers who were trained in the era before learning targets and formative assessments were commonplace. These ideas were drilled into my brain in my teacher education program, so a lot of the big ideas in this book were just reminders of what I already knew (but could improve upon still), but I see how older generations of teachers could be impacted heavily and positively. Wiliam explains how using learning targets helps students know what they need to be focusing on and achieving during that class, and the formative assessment helps students get there rather than just having the teacher keep moving forward without knowing how students are doing and who need help with which skills.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

a great and terrible beautyReading level: 5.9
Lexile: 760
Series: Gemma Doyle, #1
Genre: Historical fiction, paranormal
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.

Mmmm. Libba Bray. Mmmm. That book cover. She is just so good.

Much like Beauty Queens, A Great and Terrible Beauty is a reflection on how society treats and views women. This time, there’s a Victorian spin where we get a taste of how women were expected to live back in the day. But if you stop and think for…two seconds you’ll see how some of those expectations carry over to today. Oh, but Gemma and her friends try to swim against the current, which is very refreshing.

Victorian English stories are interesting. Victorian English stories with paranormal monsters and other worlds is fantastic. I felt that some of the plot moved on too slowly, but in retrospect it was just building a complex world with complex characters that will continue for two more books (hooray!). I liked how we are set up to dislike Pippa and her crew, but we grow to like them. Watching them all pull together and grow stronger from each other was empowering. I didn’t expect them to become so tight. Honestly, I still don’t trust any of them except Gemma and Anne, but I am open to changing my mind.

It’s not ELL friendly (this is Victorian England, remember) but not too complex for higher ELLs to understand. My fear was that it just wouldn’t be appropriate for various reasons. I’ll put a PG-14 sticker on it for a brief but vivid dreamed…romantic encounter, but other than that one instance, I see no issues with it.

I might start a book talk by telling students what life was like in Victorian times: women expected to do whatever their father/brother/husband said, cook and clean and not have a career, to not speak unless spoken to, to marry whomever their parents chose… Imagine how hard it would be to rebel or be happy at all under these conditions. Gemma finds a way to escape these constraints, briefly, by escaping into the Realms, a magical place where there is anything and everything you could wish for but which holds dark magic and great dangers. Would you still go there to escape no matter the risks?

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderReading level: 5.0
Lexile: 790
Genre: realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes (mostly)
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

Wonder was one of the books that all kids wanted to read when I student taught 6th grade. One student in particular read it over and over. It was a natural choice to buy when I was looking for popular middle level books to add to my library.

I can’t say I was blown away, but it was a solid, memorable book. I was expecting it to be all from Auggie’s point of view, but I really enjoyed all the different viewpoints from his sister Olivia to her ex-best friend to Auggie’s friends. When someone you know and love has a disability or physical abnormality, those people’s lives are affected too.

I am a big fan of kids being nice to teach other. After the suicide of a friend due to bullying, I have zero tolerance for kids being mean. This story is a powerful message of the difference friends and bullies make. I would recommend Wonder to kids who feel different and need to know that their feelings are justified. I might also recommend it to kids who aren’t always nice to others to help them see the negative impact they make and the positive impact they could make if they made better choices. I’d also recommend it as an “easy” read for struggling readers because the story of straight-forward and easy to understand.

I’m a little surprised at the high lexile because it seemed pretty low level to me. That said, it’s ELL-friendly except for one chapter told from the viewpoint of Olivia’s boyfriend. I don’t have the book in front of me, but I don’t think there were capitals or correct punctuation.

For doing a book talk, I might ask students if they’ve seen kids being mean to each other or bullied. I might ask them to think about how awesome it felt when someone was nice to them when they needed support. I’d talk about how scary it is to start at a new school and how hard it would be if you’d never been to public school and had severe facial abnormalities. It’d be hard for that kid but also for the people who were nice to him as well as his family. A book talk may not be necessary because of its reputation, though.

21st Century Tool of the Month for August: Thinglink

teacher stuff

Thinglink is one of my new favorite 21st Century tools! I’ve been finding new ideas for how to use it in the classroom, and the more I use it, the more versatile I find it to be!

What is Thinglink?

Click here to see a Thinglink which explains what Thinglink is!

Here are some of my favorite ways to use it:

Task Library:

Collect resources for a project or unit of study using thinglink. This shows a task library for a teacher, and a student task library is embedded (a backward plan is also embedded in this thinglink). Students and Teachers can collaboratively add to it.

  Click here to see a post I made about the essential question, “How are people transformed by their relationships with others?” using thinglink to create a task library.

Gameboards: I have used a few “game boards” for classes that I have taught for teachers this summer…

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In This Class, We Are…

At the time that I am writing this, I STILL HAVEN’T SEEN MY CLASSROOM. It’s August 3rd, guys. I’m getting antsy. Anyway, if I have room, I want to have a display that says: “In P?, We Are…” (p? = portable whatever). Still don’t know my portable number.

Then I want to have these words written individually with colored background:

creative (will use imagination in writing)

responsible (will take responsibility for actions, both academic and behaviorally)

successful (WILL get good grades and succeed as a student)

brave (will take risks and not be afraid to make mistakes)

resilient (will make mistakes but will recover)

hard-working (will work hard to overcome any and all barriers)

supportive (will help other classmates)

kind (will make all efforts to be nice – always)

exceptional (will not accept mediocrity)

Rather than telling kids that this is how they’re going to be, I want them to take ownership of it. I’ll have mini lessons and anecdotes throughout the first few weeks to teach these expectations, but here is an idea:

1. Pass out slips of paper that have these words and their definitions. All parts are separate, so words and definitions are all mixed together. Give each group of students an envelope with a complete set.

2. Have students match words and definitions (so they know what the words mean). Check that all words are matched correctly.

3. On a small piece of paper, have them draw a line down the middle and write the words in one of two columns: “I already am…” or “I struggle to be…” This paper will be turned in.

4.  Assign one word per student. Give each student a small-ish piece of paper for them to write a synonym and draw a picture. (They learn “synonym” and get to represent the idea in a creative way.) Finished mini-posters will be hung up around the room.

Behavior Management Strategy for 7th Grade

Here are my pre-school thoughts on the behavior management system I wish to implement with my 7th graders. It’s a mix of an idea I got from a veteran teacher and the program used at a summer camp I worked at. I want to post these expectations so that the process is clear with the understanding that I can change it up as I see fit.

1. verbal warning

2. name on board

3. yellow card (like in soccer)

-a yellow card means the student has until the end of the class period (preferably about 3 minutes) fill out a small form detailing what happened and what the student will do better next time. If the student refuses to fill it out or does not finish, I will write MY side of the story, which I’m sure students don’t want. These yellow cards will be kept in a file with other cards for that class period. Students might receive an automatic yellow card without warning if the behavior warrants.

4. red card

-a student would receive a red card for getting more than 1 yellow card in a period or more than 3 yellow cards per week. It’s for repeat-offenders or when behavior warrants. Like a yellow card, a student fills out the red card detailing what happened and agrees to have a conference with the teacher on his or her own time (before/after school, during break) or parents are called.

5. blue card (maybe I’ll make it grey depending on the colors I find in the copy room)

-A blue card is a form that the teacher fills out detailing what happened. Parents and/or administrators are contacted. It’s a last resort.

I like this system because the progression is clear, and students are given chances but are forced to think about their actions so they don’t get off without a consequence. Of course, parents can be called at any of these stages. I also like this system because the teacher doesn’t even have to stop talking or teaching. I can just give the student a card and they’ll know what it means. If they don’t fill it out, they’ll know that I will write my version. Let’s see how it works…

A logistical thing: to keep track of who I gave yellow/red cards to (especially when they’re not turned in by the end of the class period), I will put a colored check (yellow, red, blue) next to the names since they should already be written on the board by that point.



Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the ExilesReading level: ~5.4
Lexile: ~820
Series: Lumatere Chronicles book 2
Genre: Fantasy
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home… Or so he believes…

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t like Froi as much as Finnikin because I was so mad at Froi the character that I didn’t see how I could love a book centered around him – a book much longer than Finnikin. It took just a few pages for me to change my mind completely. Froi is transformed from a thief with no values to an honorable young man. Froi’s character is beautifully constructed from his dedication to Lumatere to his caring for innocent human life. I am a fan.

I will never forget how Froi tried to rape Evanjeline. And neither will she. And neither will he. In fact, we learn that it is a constant source of shame and guilt for him. When he is presented with the opportunity to “lay with a woman” he refuses over and over because the girl in question does not do so willingly.

That said, this book is not exactly appropriate for middle school because a huge chunk of the book is about getting the princess of Charyn pregnant with Froi being the man for the job whether he likes it or not. There’s nothing terribly explicit but it is certainly at the forefront of the plot.

The plot twist in Finnikin really got me. It was one of those where I told my husband about how amazed I was even though he had no idea what I was talking about. With Froi, though, I wasn’t as blown away. Not sure why. It wasn’t like I saw it coming, but when it did, I wasn’t surprised. But that twist is one that caused me to really think about the story. Vague, I know, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

There isn’t much else to say about Froi that hasn’t been said about Finnikin. The world building continues to amaze me, and the characters are rich in ways few writers can achieve. It hasn’t been leveled through Scholastic, so the reading level and lexile are taken from what was provided for Finnikin. My only complaint is that the plot is a little stagnant at times, making it perhaps a bit longer than necessary. And boy, it is long. But worth it.

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