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.

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.



BuzzFeed Teacher Hacks

BuzzFeed published an article about teacher hacks that mostly pertain to behavior management.

Here are the hacks that I fond the most interesting:

  • stamp the papers of students’ who are working quietly/on task. Don’t even say anything. Just start stamping. Stamps might mean nothing or might be worth a special point or ticket towards a prize.
  • use table cloths as backdrops of bulletin boards

Oh, I guess that’s all that I thought was clever.

Not Classroom Economy

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the months about the practicality of implementing a successful classroom economy system, especially within my first few years of teaching. I think that the smarter decision would be to simplify greatly until I’m ready to take on more.

Here are some of my current ideas to reward behavior, citizenship, and schoolwork.

First, produce tickets that reward three different skills/behaviors:

1. grades (scholar dollars)
2. behavior and classroom chores (citizen dollar)
3. reading (reading dollar; given as kids finish books)

The teacher gives the tickets to students as the behaviors happen. There might also be a kiddo or two that are the teachers’ helpers who spot good behavior and students who are helping around the classroom. These kids can be compensated with extra citizen dollars.

Each ticket can be filled out by the student and put into a raffle.

At the end of each week, the teacher will draw two winners from each of the sections. One winner will be chosen randomly. The other winner will be pre-chosen and will be the teacher’s choice.

The prizes might be small school supplies trinkets.

At the end of each month, super prizes are given out in each category to reward students who worked exceptionally hard. These prizes might include fancy school supplies such as a nice pen or notebook, and books for the reading winners.

Every few months there may be an all or nothing challenge in one of the categories in which ALL students must have at least one ticket in the raffle or nobody gets anything. The prize for having everybody in the raffle might be an educational movie period, educational art project, the teacher dresses up in something funny, or something else educational and fun that rewards the whole class.

25 Attention-Grabbing Tips

Samer Rabadi from Edutopia published an article that will lead you to a google doc powerpoint (whatever the term for that is) about getting attention in the classroom. There are some excellent ideas, and members have added more ideas in the comments.

Grit and Growth Mindset

Edutopia published an article about teaching grit and growth mindset – two things I will most certainly teach (or at least start teaching) within the first few days of school.

At this point, I’m basically just re-blogging from the original source, but one of these days I’ll have actual lesson plans to post. I hope.

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