Raising Educational Achievement: Why it Matters, What Has Been Tried, and Why It Hasn’t Worked

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Raising Educational Achievement: Why it Matters, What Has Been Tried, and Why It Hasn’t Worked

  • Dylan Wiliam
  • Ohio Innovative Learning Environments Conference
  • August 2011
  • www.dylanwiliam.net

Raising achievement matters

  • For individuals
    • Increased lifetime salary
    • Improved health
    • Longer life
  • For society
    • Lower criminal justice costs
    • Lower health-care costs
    • Increased economic growth
      • Net present value to the US of a 25 point increase on PISA: $40 trn
      • Net present value to the US of getting all students to 400 on PISA: $70 trn

Impact of education on health

  • Proportion of adults reporting good health, by level of education (OECD, 2010)
  • Which of the following categories of skill is disappearing from the work-place most rapidly?
    • Routine manual
    • Non-routine manual
    • Routine cognitive
    • Complex communication
    • Expert thinking/problem-solving

…but what is learned matters too…

  • Autor, Levy & Murnane, 2003

…now more than ever…

  • Source: Economic Policy Institute

The world’s leading manufacturers

Which jobs are off-shoreable?

  • Offshoreable
  • Not offshoreable
  • Skilled
  • Radiographer
  • Security analyst
  • Tax accountant
  • Surgeon (?)
  • Bricklayer
  • Hairdresser
  • Unskilled
  • Food packager
  • Data entry clerk
  • Call Centre operator
  • Grocery store clerk
  • Receptionist
  • Retail salesperson

How flat is the world?

  • Percentage crossing national boundaries
    • Physical mail:
    • Telephone minutes:
    • Internet traffic:
    • First generation immigrants:
    • University students:
    • People, ever in their lives:
    • Goods and services:

Percentage crossing national boundaries

    • Physical mail:
    • Telephone minutes:
    • Internet traffic:
    • First generation immigrants:
    • University students:
    • People, ever in their lives:
    • Goods and services:
  • Responses
  • 1%
  • 5%
  • 10%
  • 20%
  • 50%

Mostly round; some flat bits (Ghemawat, 2011)

  • Percentage crossing national boundaries
    • Physical mail: 1
    • Telephone minutes: 2
    • Internet traffic: 17
    • First generation immigrants: 3
    • University students: 2
    • People, ever in their lives: 10
    • Goods and services: 10

There is only one 21st century skill

  • So the model that says learn while you’re at school, while you’re young, the skills that you will apply during your lifetime is no longer tenable. The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them, except for one skill. The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn. It is the skill of being able not to give the right answer to questions about what you were taught in school, but to make the right response to situations that are outside the scope of what you were taught in school. We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared. (Papert, 1998)

Successful education?

  • The test of successful education is not the amount of knowledge that a pupil takes away from school, but his appetite to know and his capacity to learn. If the school sends out children with the desire for knowledge and some idea how to acquire it, it will have done its work. Too many leave school with the appetite killed and the mind loaded with undigested lumps of information. The good schoolmaster is known by the number of valuable subjects which he declines to teach.
  • The Future of Education (Livingstone, 1941 p. 28)


  • What is the most interesting/surprising/challenging thing you have heard so far?
  • See if you can see get consensus in your group…

Written examinations

  • “They have perverted the best efforts of teachers, and narrowed and grooved their instruction; they have occasioned and made well nigh imperative the use of mechanical and rote methods of teaching; they have occasioned cramming and the most vicious habits of study; they have caused much of the overpressure charged upon schools, some of which is real; they have tempted both teachers and pupils to dishonesty; and last but not least, they have permitted a mechanical method of school supervision.”
  • (White, 1888 p. 517-518)

The Lake Wobegon effect revisited

  • Lake Wobegon is a place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” (Garrison Keillor, 1985)

The Macnamara Fallacy (Handy, 1994 p. 219)

  • The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured.
    • This is OK as far as it goes.
  • The second step is to disregard that which can’t easily be measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value.
    • This is artificial and misleading.
  • The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important.
    • This is blindness.
  • The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist.
    • This is suicide.

Goodhart’s law (Campbell’s law)

  • All performance indicators lose their meaning when adopted as policy targets:
    • Inflation and money supply
    • Railtrack’s performance targets
    • National Health Service waiting lists
    • National or provincial school achievement targets
  • The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get it, but the less likely it is to mean anything

Where’s the solution?

  • Structure
    • Smaller/larger high schools
    • K-8 schools/ “All-through” schools
  • Alignment
    • Curriculum reform
    • Textbook replacement
  • Governance
    • Charter Schools
    • Vouchers
  • Technology
    • Computers
    • Interactive white-boards
  • Staffing
    • Teachers’ aides

School effectiveness

  • Three generations of school effectiveness research
    • Raw results approaches
      • Different schools get different results
      • Conclusion: Schools make a difference
    • Demographic-based approaches
      • Demographic factors account for most of the variation
      • Conclusion: Schools don’t make a difference
    • Value-added approaches
      • School-level differences in value-added are relatively small
      • Classroom-level differences in value-added are large
      • Conclusion: An effective school is a school full of effective classrooms
  • Within schools
  • Between schools
  • OECD PISA data from McGaw, 2008
  • USA

Between-school differences are small

  • In the United States:
    • 74% of the variation in student achievement is within schools, and
    • 26% of the variation in student achievement is between schools
  • But, around two-thirds of the “between-school” variation is caused by differences in the students attending that school, which means that
    • 8% of the variability in student achievement is attributable to the school, so
    • 92% of of the variability in achievement is not attributable to the school
  • This means if 15 students in a class reach proficiency in the average school:
    • 17 students will do so at a “good” school (1sd above mean)
    • 13 students will do so at a “bad” school (1sd below mean)

It’s the classroom…

  • In the USA, variability at the classroom level is at least 4 times that at school level
    • As long as you go to school, it doesn’t matter very much which school you go to
    • But it matters very much which classrooms you are in…
  • It’s not class size
  • It’s not the between-class grouping strategy
  • It’s not the within-class grouping strategy

… and specifically, it’s the teacher…

  • Barber & Mourshed, 2007

Teachers make the difference

  • The commodification of teachers has received widespread support
    • From teacher unions (who understandably resist performance-related pay), because
      • It doesn’t work (Springer et al., 2010)
      • It cannot be done fairly in principle.
    • From politicians (who are happy that the focus is on teacher supply, rather than teacher quality)
  • But has resulted in the pursuit of policies with poor benefit to cost

Impact of background on development

  • (Feinstein, 2003)

Meaningful differences

  • Hour-long samples of family talk in 42 US families
  • Number of words spoken to children by adults by the age of 36 months
    • In professional families: 35 million
    • In other working-class families: 20 million
    • In families on welfare: 10 million
  • Kinds of reinforcements:
    • positive negative
    • professional 500,000 50,000
    • working-class 200,000 100,000
    • welfare 100,000 200,000
  • (Hart & Risley, 1995)

Teacher quality matters

  • To see how big the difference is, take a group of 50 teachers
    • Students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher learn in a year
    • Students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers will take two years to achieve the same learning (Hanushek, 2006)
  • And furthermore:
    • In the classrooms of the most effective teachers
      • students from disadvantaged backgrounds learn at the same rate as those from advantaged backgrounds
      • students with behavioral difficulties learn at the same rate as those without behavioral difficulties (Hamre & Pianta, 2005)

Improving teacher quality takes time…

  • A classic labor force issue with 2 (non-exclusive) solutions
    • Replace existing teachers with better ones
    • Help existing teachers become even more effective

The ‘dark matter’ of teacher quality

  • Teachers make a difference
  • But what makes the difference in teachers?
  • Source of variation
  • Proportion explained
  • Advanced content matter knowledge
  • <5%
  • Pedagogical content knowledge
  • 10-15%
  • Further professional qualifications (MA, NBPTS)
  • 5%
  • Total “explained” difference
  • 20-25%

Improving teacher quality takes time…

  • Replace existing teachers with better ones?
    • Increasing the quality of entrants to exclude the lowest performing 30% of teachers would in 30 years, increase average teacher quality by 0.5 standard deviations.
    • Cumulatively, one extra student passing a test per class every three years…

…so we have to help existing teachers improve…

  • Improve the effectiveness of existing teachers
    • The “love the one you’re with” strategy
    • It can be done
      • Provided we focus rigorously on the things that matter
      • Even when they’re hard to do

Teachers do improve, but slowly…

  • Leigh, A. (2007). Estimating teacher effectiveness from two-year changes in student test scores.

People like neuroscience

  • Descriptions of 18 psychological phenomena
    • Examples: “the curse of knowledge”
  • Designed to be comprehensible without scientific training
  • Each phenomenon was given four possible explanations
    • Basic (without neuroscience)
      • Good explanation (provided by the researchers)
      • Bad explanation (e.g., circular reasoning)
    • Enhanced (with neuroscience explanation)
      • Good explanation
      • Bad explanation
  • Added neuroscience did not change the logic of the explanation
  • Participants randomly given one of the four explanations
  • Asked to rate this on a 7-point scale (-3 to +3).

The curse of knowledge

  • Researchers created a list of facts that approximately 50% of adults would know
  • Participants were asked which of the facts they knew
  • For each of the facts, participants were asked what proportion of the adult population would be able to answer the question correctly
  • Participants gave consistently higher estimates for those items they knew

Sample explanations

  • Good explanation
  • Bad explanation
  • Without neuroscience
  • The researchers claim that this ‘curse’ happens because subjects have trouble switching their point of view to consider what someone else might know, mistakenly projecting their own knowledge onto others.
  • The researchers claim that this ‘curse’ happens because subjects make more mistakes when they have to judge the knowledge of others. People are much better at judging what they themselves know.
  • With neuroscience
  • Brain scans indicate that this ‘curse’ happens because of the frontal lobe brain circuitry known to be involved in self-knowledge. Subjects have trouble switching their point of view to consider what someone else might know, mistakenly projecting their own knowledge onto others.
  • Brain scans indicate that this ‘curse’ happens because of the frontal lobe brain circuitry known to be involved in self-knowledge. subjects make more mistakes when they have to judge the knowledge of others. People are much better at judging what they themselves know.

Seductive allure

  • Without neuroscience
  • With neuroscience
  • Explanation
  • Good
  • Bad
  • Good
  • Bad
  • Novices (n=81)
  • +0.9
  • –0.7
  • +0.9
  • +0.2
  • Students (n=22)
  • +0.1
  • –1.1
  • +0.7
  • +0.2
  • Experts (n=48)
  • +0.5
  • –1.1
  • –0.2
  • –0.8
  • (Weisberg et al., 2008)

Brains recognizing words

  • Group-level activations for recognition of words versus a baseline condition (Miller, et al., 2002)
  • Dissociation in the brain representation of Arabic numbers between native Chinese speakers and native English speakers (Tang et al., 2008)

Pareto analysis

  • Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923)
    • Economist and philosopher associated with the 80:20 rule
  • Pareto improvement
    • A change that can make at least one person better off without making anyone else worse off.
  • Pareto efficiency/Pareto optimality
    • An allocation of resource is Pareto efficient or Pareto optimal when there are no more Pareto improvements
  • Obstacles to Pareto improvements
    • The political economy of reform
    • It is very hard to stop people doing valuable things in order to give them time to do even more valuable things

Cost/effect comparisons

  • Intervention
  • Extra months of learning per year
  • Cost/class-room/yr
  • Class-size reduction (by 30%)
  • 4
  • $30k
  • Increase teacher content knowledge from weak to strong
  • 2
  • ?
  • Formative assessment/
  • Assessment for learning
  • 8
  • $3k

Relevant studies

  • Fuchs & Fuchs (1986)
  • Natriello (1987)
  • Crooks (1988)
  • Banger-Drowns, et al. (1991)
  • Kluger & DeNisi (1996)
  • Black & Wiliam (1998)
  • Nyquist (2003)
  • Dempster (1991, 1992)
  • Elshout-Mohr (1994)
  • Brookhart (2004)
  • Allal & Lopez (2005)
  • Köller (2005)
  • Brookhart (2007)
  • Wiliam (2007)
  • Hattie & Timperley (2007)
  • Shute (2008)

Feedback has complex effects

  • 264 low and high ability grade 6 students in 12 classes in 4 schools; analysis of 132 students at top and bottom of each class
  • Same teaching, same aims, same teachers, same classwork
  • Three kinds of feedback: scores, comments, scores+comments
  • [Butler(1988) Br. J. Educ. Psychol., 58 1-14]
  • Achievement
  • Attitude
  • Scores
  • no gain
  • High scorers : positive
  • Low scorers: negative
  • Comments
  • 30% gain
  • High scorers : positive
  • Low scorers : positive


  • [Butler(1988) Br. J. Educ. Psychol., 58 1-14]
  • What do you think happened for the students given both scores and comments?
    • Gain: 30%; Attitude: all positive
    • Gain: 30%; Attitude: high scorers positive, low scorers negative
    • Gain: 0%; Attitude: all positive
    • Gain: 0%; Attitude: high scorers positive, low scorers negative
    • Something else
  • Achievement
  • Attitude
  • Scores
  • no gain
  • High scorers : positive
  • Low scorers: negative
  • Comments
  • 30% gain
  • High scorers : positive
  • Low scorers : positive

Feedback is not always effective

  • [Butler (1987) J. Educ. Psychol. 79 474-482]
  • 200 grade 5 and 6 Israeli students
  • Divergent thinking tasks
  • 4 matched groups
    • experimental group 1 (EG1); comments
    • experimental group 2 (EG2); grades
    • experimental group 3 (EG3); praise
    • control group (CG); no feedback
  • Achievement
    • EG1>(EG2≈EG3≈CG)
  • Ego-involvement
    • (EG2≈EG3)>(EG1≈CG)

Feedback should feed forward

  • 80 Grade 8 Canadian students learning to write major scales in Music
    • Experimental group 1 (EG1) given
      • written praise
      • list of weaknesses
      • workplan
    • Experimental group 2 (EG2) given
      • oral feedback
      • nature of errors
      • chance to correct errors
    • Control group (CG1) given
      • no feedback
  • Achievement: EG2>(EG1≈CG)
  • [Boulet et al. (1990) J. Educational Research 84 119-125]

Good feedback leaves learning with the learner

  • ‘Peekability’ (Simmonds & Cope, 1993)
    • Pairs of students, aged 9-11
    • Angle and rotation problems
    • Class 1 outperformed class 2
  • ‘Scaffolding’ (Day & Cordón, 1993)
    • 2 grade 3 classes
      • class 1 given ‘scaffolded’ response
      • class 2 given solution when stuck
    • Class 1 outperformed class 2

Effects of feedback

  • Kluger & DeNisi (1996)
  • Review of 3000 research reports
  • Excluding those:
    • without adequate controls
    • with poor design
    • with fewer than 10 participants
    • where performance was not measured
    • without details of effect sizes
  • left 131 reports, 607 effect sizes, involving 12652 individuals
  • On average feedback does improve performance, but
    • Effect sizes very different in different studies
    • 40% of effect sizes were negative

Getting feedback right is hard

  • Response type
  • Feedback indicates performance…
  • exceeds goal
  • falls short of goal
  • Change behavior
  • Exert less effort
  • Increase effort
  • Change goal
  • Increase aspiration
  • Reduce aspiration
  • Abandon goal
  • Decide goal is too easy
  • Decide goal is too hard
  • Reject feedback
  • Feedback is ignored
  • Feedback is ignored

Kinds of feedback (Nyquist, 2003)

  • Weaker feedback only
    • Knowledge or results (KoR)
  • Feedback only
    • KoR + clear goals or knowledge of correct results (KCR)
  • Weak formative assessment
    • KCR+ explanation (KCR+e)
  • Moderate formative assessment
    • (KCR+e) + specific actions for gap reduction
  • Strong formative assessment
    • (KCR+e) + activity

Effects of formative assessment (HE)

  • Kind of feedback
  • Count
  • Effect/sd
  • Weaker feedback only
  • 31
  • 0.14
  • Feedback only
  • 48
  • 0.36
  • Weaker formative assessment
  • 49
  • 0.26
  • Moderate formative assessment
  • 41
  • 0.39
  • Strong formative assessment
  • 16
  • 0.56

What’s wrong with the feedback metaphor?

  • In education
  • Feedback is any information given to the student about their current performance
  • … or at best, information that compares current performance with desired performance
  • Much rarer is information that can be used by learners to improve
  • In engineering
  • That’s just data
  • That’s just a thermostat
  • That’s a feedback system


  • Formative assessment requires
    • data on the actual level of some measurable attribute;
    • data on the reference level of that attribute;
    • a mechanism for comparing the two levels and generating information about the ‘gap’ between the two levels;
    • a mechanism by which the information can be used to alter the gap.
  • Feedback is therefore formative only if the information fed back is actually used in closing the gap.

Formative assessment

  • Frequent feedback is not necessarily formative
  • Feedback that causes improvement is not necessarily formative
  • Assessment is formative only if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in making improvements
  • To be formative, assessment must include a recipe for future action

Unfortunately, humans are not machines…

  • Attribution (Dweck, 2000)
    • Personalization (internal v external)
    • Permanence (stable v unstable)
    • Essential that students attribute both failures and success to internal, unstable causes (it’s down to you, and you can do something about it)
  • Views of ‘ability’
    • fixed (IQ)
    • incremental (untapped potential)
    • Essential that teachers inculcate in their students a view that ‘ability’ is incremental rather than fixed (by working, you’re getting smarter)

Dual pathway model

  • “…students who are invited to participate in a learning activity use three sources of information to form a mental representation of the task-in-context and to appraise it:
    • current perceptions of the task and the physical, social, and instructional context within which it is embedded;
    • activated domain-specific knowledge and (meta)cognitive strategies related to the task; and
    • motivational beliefs, including domain-specific capacity, interest and effort beliefs.” (Boekaerts, 2006, p. 349)

Current practices

  • Spend a moment thinking about how you give feedback currently.
  • Can you think of any changes you might make to the practice that might make it more likely that students will focus on growth, rather than well-being?
  • Share your current practice, and the proposed change, with the rest of the group

The formative assessment hi-jack…

  • Long-cycle
    • Span: across units, terms
    • Length: four weeks to one year
    • Impact: Student monitoring; curriculum alignment
  • Medium-cycle
    • Span: within and between teaching units
    • Length: one to four weeks
    • Impact: Improved, student-involved, assessment; teacher cognition about learning
  • Short-cycle
    • Span: within and between lessons
    • Length:
      • day-by-day: 24 to 48 hours
      • minute-by-minute: 5 seconds to 2 hours
    • Impact: classroom practice; student engagement

Formative assessment: a new definition

  • “An assessment functions formatively to the extent that evidence about student achievement elicited by the assessment is interpreted and used to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions that would have been taken in the absence of that evidence.” (Wiliam, 2009)

Unpacking formative assessment

  • Key processes
    • Establishing where the learners are in their learning
    • Establishing where they are going
    • Working out how to get there
  • Participants
    • Teachers
    • Peers
    • Learners

Aspects of formative assessment

  • Where the learner is going
  • Where the learner is
  • How to get there
  • Teacher
  • Clarify and share learning intentions
  • Engineering effective discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning
  • Providing feedback that moves learners forward
  • Peer
  • Understand and share learning intentions
  • Activating students as learning
  • resources for one another
  • Learner
  • Understand learning intentions
  • Activating students as owners of their own learning

Five “key strategies”…

  • Clarifying, understanding, and sharing learning intentions
    • curriculum philosophy
  • Engineering effective classroom discussions, tasks and activities that elicit evidence of learning
    • classroom discourse, interactive whole-class teaching
  • Providing feedback that moves learners forward
    • feedback
  • Activating students as learning resources for one another
    • collaborative learning, reciprocal teaching, peer-assessment
  • Activating students as owners of their own learning
    • metacognition, motivation, interest, attribution, self-assessment
  • (Wiliam & Thompson, 2007)

Examples of techniques

  • Learning intentions
    • “sharing exemplars”
  • Eliciting evidence
    • “mini white-boards”
  • Providing feedback
    • “match the comments to the essays”
  • Students as owners of their learning
    • “colored cups”
  • Students as learning resources
    • “pre-flight checklist”

…and one big idea

  • Use evidence about learning to adapt instruction to meet student needs

Effective learning environments

  • A prevalent, mistaken, view
    • Teachers create learning
    • The teacher’s job is to do the learning for the learner
  • A not so prevalent, not quite so mistaken, but equally dangerous view
    • Only learners can create learning
    • The teacher’s job is to “facilitate” learning
  • A difficult to negotiate, middle path
    • Teaching as the engineering of effective learning environments
    • Key features:
      • Create student engagement (pedagogies of engagement)
      • Well-regulated (pedagogies of contingency)
      • Develop habits of mind (pedagogies of formation)

An educational positioning system

  • A good teacher
    • Establishes where the students are in their learning
    • Identifies the learning destination
    • Carefully plans a route
    • Begins the learning journey
    • Makes regular checks on progress on the way
    • Makes adjustments to the course as conditions dictate

Strategies for change (Heath & Heath, 2010)

  • Direct the rider
    • Follow the bright spots (malnutrition in Vietnam)
    • Script the critical moves (1% milk, WeightWatchers points)
    • Point to the destination (BP: no dry holes)
  • Motivate the elephant
    • Find the feeling (procuring protective gloves)
    • Shrink the change (5-minute room makeover)
    • Grow your people (growth mindset)
  • Shape the path
    • Tweak the environment (one-click ordering)
    • Build habits (action triggers, checklists)
    • Rally the herd (free spaces in hospitals)

Teacher Learning Communities: A Key to Supporting Change

Knowledge transfer…or creation?

  • (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995)

A model for teacher learning

  • Content, then process
  • Content (what we want teachers to change)
    • Evidence
    • Ideas (strategies and techniques)
  • Process (how to go about change)
    • Choice
    • Flexibility
    • Small steps
    • Accountability
    • Support


  • Belbin inventory (Management teams: why they succeed or fail)
    • Eight team roles (defined as “A tendency to behave, contribute and interrelate with others in a particular way.”)
      • Company worker; Innovator; Shaper; Chairperson; Resource investigator; Monitor/evaluator; Completer/finisher; Team worker
    • Key ideas
      • Each role has strengths and allowable weaknesses
      • People rarely sustain “out of role” behavior, especially under stress
  • Each teacher’s personal approach to teaching is similar
    • Some teachers’ weaknesses require immediate attention
    • For most, however, students benefit more by developing teachers’ strengths


  • Two opposing factors in any school reform
    • Need for flexibility to adapt to local constraints and affordances
      • Implies there is appropriate flexibility built into the reform
    • Need to maintain fidelity to the theory of action of the reform, to minimize “lethal mutations”
      • So you have to have a clearly articulated theory of action
  • Different innovations have different approaches to flexibility
    • Some reforms are too loose (e.g., the ‘Effective schools’ movement)
    • Others are too tight (e.g., Montessori Schools)
  • The “tight but loose” formulation
  • … combines an obsessive adherence to central design principles (the “tight” part) with accommodations to the needs, resources, constraints, and affordances that occur in any school or district (the “loose” part), but only where these do not conflict with the theory of action of the intervention.

Small steps

  • According to Berliner (1994), experts
    • excel mainly in their own domain.
    • often develop automaticity for the repetitive operations that are needed to accomplish their goals.
    • are more sensitive to the task demands and social situation when solving problems.
    • are more opportunistic and flexible in their teaching than novices.
    • represent problems in qualitatively different ways than novices.
    • have fast and accurate pattern recognition capabilities. Novices cannot always make sense of what they experience.
    • perceive meaningful patterns in the domain in which they are experienced.
    • begin to solve problems slower but bring richer and more personal sources of information to bear on the problem that they are trying to solve.

Example: CPR (Klein & Klein, 1981)

  • Six video extracts of a person delivering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
    • 5 of the video extracts are students
    • 1 of the video extracts is an expert
  • Videos shown to three groups: students, experts, instructors
  • Success rate in identifying the expert:
    • Experts: 90%
    • Students: 50%
    • Instructors: 30%

Sensory capacity (Nørretranders, 1998)

  • Sensory system
  • Total bandwidth
  • (in bits/second)
  • Conscious bandwidth
  • (in bits/second)
  • Eyes
  • 10,000,000
  • 40
  • Ears
  • 100,000
  • 30
  • Skin
  • 1,000,000
  • 5
  • Taste
  • 1,000
  • 1
  • Smell
  • 100,000
  • 1

Looking at the wrong knowledge…

  • The most powerful teacher knowledge is not explicit
    • That’s why telling teachers what to do doesn’t work
    • What we know is more than we can say
    • And that is why most professional development has been relatively ineffective
  • Improving practice involves changing habits, not adding knowledge
    • That’s why it’s hard
      • And the hardest bit is not getting new ideas into people’s heads
      • It’s getting the old ones out
    • That’s why it takes time
  • But it doesn’t happen naturally
    • If it did, the most experienced teachers would be the most productive, and that’s not true (Hanushek, 2005)

Hand hygiene in hospitals (Pittet, 2001)

  • Study
  • Focus
  • Compliance rate
  • Preston, Larson & Stamm (1981)
  • Open ward
  • 16%
  • ICU
  • 30%
  • Albert & Condie (1981)
  • ICU
  • 28% to 41%
  • Larson (1983)
  • All wards
  • 45%
  • Donowitz (1987)
  • Pediatric ICU
  • 30%
  • Graham (1990)
  • ICU
  • 32%
  • Dubbert (1990)
  • ICU
  • 81%
  • Pettinger & Nettleman (1991)
  • Surgical ICU
  • 51%
  • Larson et al. (1992)
  • Neonatal ICU
  • 29%
  • Doebbeling et al. (1992)
  • ICU
  • 40%
  • Zimakoff et al. (1992)
  • ICU
  • 40%
  • Meengs et al. (1994)
  • ER (Casualty)
  • 32%
  • Pittet, Mourouga & Perneger (1999)
  • All wards
  • 48%
  • ICU
  • 36%
  • We need to create time and space for teachers to reflect on their practice in a structured way, and to learn from mistakes Bransford, Brown & Cocking (1999)
  • “Always make new mistakes” Esther Dyson
  • “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

Making a commitment…

  • Action planning
    • Forces teachers to make their ideas concrete and creates a record
    • Makes the teacher accountable for doing what they promised
    • Requires each teacher to focus on a small number of changes
    • Requires the teacher to identify what they will give up or reduce
  • A good action plan
    • Does not try to change everything at once
    • Spells out specific changes in teaching practice
    • Relates to the five “key strategies” of AfL
    • Is achievable within a reasonable period of time
    • Identifies something that the teacher will no longer do or will do less of

…and being held to it

  • I think specifically what was helpful was the ridiculous NCR [No Carbon Required] forms. I thought that was the dumbest thing, but I’m sitting with my friends and on the NCR form I write down what I am going to do next month.
  • Well, it turns out to be a sort of “I’m telling my friends I’m going to do this” and I really actually did it and it was because of that. It was because I wrote it down
  • I was surprised at how strong an incentive that was to do actually do something different … that idea of writing down what you are going to do and then because when they come by the next month you better take out that piece of paper and say” Did I do that?” … just the idea of sitting in a group, working out something, and making a commitment… I was impressed about how that actually made me do stuff. (Tim, Spruce Central High School)

Supporting change with teacher learning communities

Supportive accountability

  • Teacher learning is just like any other learning in a highly complex area
    • In the same way that teachers cannot do the learning for their learners, leaders cannot do the learning for their teachers
  • What is needed from teachers
    • A commitment to the continuous improvement of practice; and
    • A focus on those things that make a difference to students
  • What is needed from leaders
    • A commitment to engineer effective learning environments for teachers :
      • creating expectations for the continuous improvement of practice
      • keeping the focus on the things that make a difference to students
      • providing the time, space, dispensation and support for innovation
      • supporting risk-taking

A case study in risk

  • Transposition of the great arteries (TGA)
    • A rare (1 in 4000 live births) but serious condition in newborns in which
      • the aorta emerges from the right ventricle and so receives oxygen-poor blood, which is carried back to the body without receiving more oxygen
      • the pulmonary artery emerges from the left ventricle and so receives the oxygen-rich blood, which is carried back to the lungs
    • Traditional treatment: the ‘Senning’ procedure which involves:
      • the creation of a ‘tunnel’ between the ventricles, and
      • the insertion of a ‘baffle’ to divert oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle (where it shouldn’t be) to the right ventricle (where it should)
    • Prognosis
      • Early death rate (first 30 days): 12%
      • Life expectancy: 46.6 years

The introduction of the ‘switch’ procedure

  • Senning
  • Transitional
  • Switch
  • Early death rate
  • Senning 12%
  • Transitional 25%
  • Bull, et al (2000). BMJ, 320, 1168-1173.

Impact on life expectancy

  • Life expectancy:
  • Senning: 46.6 years
  • Switch: 62.6 years

Teacher learning communities

  • Plan that the TLC will run for two years
  • Identify 10 to 12 interested colleagues
    • Composition
      • Similar assignments (e.g. early years, math/sci)
      • Mixed-subject/mixed-phase
      • Hybrid
  • Secure institutional support for:
    • Monthly meetings (75 - 120 minutes each, inside or outside school time)
    • Time between meetings (2 hrs per month in school time)
      • Collaborative planning
      • Peer observation
    • Any necessary waivers from school policies

A ‘signature pedagogy’ for teacher learning

  • Every monthly TLC meeting should follows the same structure and sequence of activities
    • Activity 1: Introduction (5 minutes)
    • Activity 2: Starter activity (5 minutes)
    • Activity 3: Feedback (25-50 minutes)
    • Activity 4: New learning about formative assessment (20-40 minutes)
    • Activity 5: Personal action planning (15 minutes)
    • Activity 6: Review of learning (5 minutes)

Every TLC needs a leader

  • The job of the TLC leader(s)
    • To ensure that all necessary resources (including refreshments!) are available at meetings
    • To ensure that the agenda is followed
    • To maintain a collegial and supportive environment
  • But most important of all…
    • not to be the formative assessment “expert”

Peer observation

  • Run to the agenda of the observed, not the observer
    • Observed teacher specifies focus of observation
      • e.g., teacher wants to increase wait-time
    • Observed teacher specifies what counts as evidence
      • provides observer with a stop-watch to log wait-times
    • Observed teacher owns any notes made during the observation

Comments? Questions?

Force-field analysis (Lewin, 1954)

  • What are the forces that will support or drive the adoption of formative assessment practices in your school/district?
  • What are the forces that will constrain or prevent the adoption of formative assessment practices in your school/district?
  • +


  • Raising achievement is important
  • Raising achievement requires improving teacher quality
  • Improving teacher quality requires teacher professional development
  • To be effective, teacher professional development must address
    • What teachers do in the classroom
    • How teachers change what they do in the classroom
  • Formative assessment + Teacher learning communities

Practical Techniques for Classroom Formative Assessment

Kinds of questions: Israel

  • Which fraction is the smallest?
  • Success rate 88%
  • Which fraction is the largest?
  • Success rate 46%; 39% chose (b)
  • [Vinner, PME conference, Lahti, Finland, 1997]

Draw an upside-down triangle…


  • 3a = 24
  • a + b = 16

Molecular structure of water?

Eliciting evidence

  • Key idea: questioning should
    • cause thinking
    • provide data that informs teaching
  • Improving teacher questioning
    • generating questions with colleagues
    • closed v open
    • low-order v high-order
    • appropriate wait-time
  • Getting away from I-R-E
    • basketball rather than serial table-tennis
    • ‘No hands up’ (except to ask a question)
    • ‘Hot Seat’ questioning
  • All-student response systems
    • ABCD cards, Mini white-boards, Exit passes

Questioning in math: discussion

  • Look at the following sequence:
  • 3, 7, 11, 15, 19, ….
  • Which is the best rule to describe the sequence?
    • n + 4
    • 3 + n
    • 4n - 1
    • 4n + 3

Questioning in math: diagnosis

  • In which of these right triangles is a2 + b2 = c2 ?
  • A
  • a
  • c
  • b
  • C
  • b
  • c
  • a
  • E
  • c
  • b
  • a
  • B
  • a
  • b
  • c
  • D
  • b
  • a
  • c
  • F
  • c
  • a
  • b

Questioning in science: discussion

  • Ice-cubes are added to a glass of water. What happens to the level of the water as the ice-cubes melt?
    • The level of the water drops
    • The level of the water stays the same
    • The level of the water increases
    • You need more information to be sure

Questioning in science: diagnosis

  • Wilson & Draney, 2004
  • The ball sitting on the table is not moving. It is not moving because:
  • no forces are pushing or pulling on the ball.
  • gravity is pulling down, but the table is in the way.
  • the table pushes up with the same force that gravity pulls down
  • gravity is holding it onto the table.
  • there is a force inside the ball keeping it from rolling off the table

Questioning in English: diagnosis

  • Where is the verb in this sentence?
  • The dog ran across the road
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D

Questioning in English: diagnosis

  • Which of these is correct?
    • Its on its way.
    • It’s on its way.
    • Its on it’s way.
    • It’s on it’s way.


  • Identify the adverbs in these sentences:
    • The boy ran across the street quickly. (A) (B) (C) (D) (E)
    • Jayne usually crossed the street in a leisurely fashion. (A) (B) (C) (D) (E)
    • Fred ran the race well but unsuccessfully. (A) (B) (C) (D) (E)

Questioning in English: diagnosis

  • Which of these is the best thesis statement?
    • The typical TV show has 9 violent incidents
    • The essay I am going to write is about violence on TV
    • There is a lot of violence on TV
    • The amount of violence on TV should be reduced
    • Some programs are more violent than others
    • Violence is included in programs to boost ratings
    • Violence on TV is interesting
    • I don’t like the violence on TV

Questioning in history: diagnosis

  • Why are historians concerned with bias when analyzing sources?
    • People can never be trusted to tell the truth
    • People deliberately leave out important details
    • People are only able to provide meaningful information if they experienced an event firsthand
    • People interpret the same event in different ways, according to their experience
    • People are unaware of the motivations for their actions
    • People get confused about sequences of events

Questioning in MFL: diagnosis

  • Which of the following is the correct translation for “I give the book to him”?
    • Yo lo doy el libro.
    • Yo doy le el libro.
    • Yo le doy el libro.
    • Yo doy lo el libro.
    • Yo doy el libro le.
    • Yo doy el libro lo.

Hinge Questions

  • A hinge question is based on the important concept in a lesson that is critical for students to understand before you move on in the lesson.
  • The question should fall about midway during the lesson.
  • Every student must respond to the question within two minutes.
  • You must be able to collect and interpret the responses from all students in 30 seconds

Real-time test: Figurative language

  • Alliteration
  • Hyperbole
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Personification
  • Simile
  • He was like a bull in a china shop.
  • This backpack weighs a ton.
  • The sweetly smiling sunshine…
  • He honked his horn at the cyclist.
  • He was as tall as a house.

Constructing hinge-point questions

Key requirement: discriminate between incorrect and correct cognitive rules

  • Version 1
  • There are two flights per day from Newtown to Oldtown. The first flight leaves Newtown each day at 9:20 and arrives in Oldtown at 10:55. The second flight from Newtown leaves at 2:15. At what time does the second flight arrive in Oldtown? Show your work.
  • Version 2
  • There are two flights per day from Newtown to Oldtown. The first flight leaves Newtown each day at 9:05 and arrives in Oldtown at 10:55. The second flight from Newtown leaves at 2:15. At what time does the second flight arrive in Oldtown? Show your work.

Providing feedback that moves learners forward

Practical techniques: feedback

  • Key idea: feedback should
    • cause thinking
    • provide guidance on how to improve
  • Comment-only marking
  • Focused marking
  • Explicit reference to mark-schemes
  • Suggestions on how to improve
    • Not giving complete solutions
  • Re-timing assessment
    • (eg three-fourths-of-the-way-through-a-unit test)

Practical techniques: sharing learning intentions

  • Explaining learning intentions at start of lesson/unit
    • Learning intentions
    • Success criteria
  • Intentions/criteria in students’ language
  • Posters of key words to talk about learning
    • eg describe, explain, evaluate
  • Planning/writing frames
  • Annotated examples of different standards to ‘flesh out’ scoring guides and mark-schemes (e.g. lab reports)
  • Opportunities for students to design their own tests

Students owning their learning and as learning resources for one another

  • Students assessing their own/peers’ work
    • with rubrics
    • with exemplars
    • “two stars and a wish”
  • Training students to pose questions/identifying group weaknesses
  • Self-assessment of understanding
    • Traffic lights
    • Red/green discs
  • End-of-lesson students’ review

Technique review

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