Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Day With Dylan Wiliam

First off, I'd like to thank our division for investing money in teacher's professional development.

Second, I'd like to thank my school's PD committee for thinking outside the box.  Let me explain.  Two years ago, 5 teachers from our school attended a conference in Scottsdale on Standards and Assessment.  At this conference we heard Dylan Wiliam speak (bio here).  I know I took away a lot from listening to him and I'm pretty sure the others did too.  The past couple of years we have begun to implement some of the strategies he talked about regarding formative assessment.  Last spring, our admin asked if we thought he'd be worth bringing in.  YES!   They thought that instead of sending a limited number of teachers to a conference where you hear a person for a short period of time, they would bring the person to us!   What an amazing opportunity!  As a result, the PLC group I belong to decided we would do a book study of his Embedded Formative Assessment this year.  I blogged about our goals here.

Today, 40 of our math and science teachers got to spend our PLC day with Dylan Wiliam.  Today was a great day.  I thoroughly enjoy listening to him speak.  He is knowledgeable, witty, and has stories to back up what he is saying.  I could write an essay on what I learned today.  Instead I will highlight a few points.

On Education Today
1)  We are preparing students today for a world that we know very little about.  Jobs are changing at a rapid pace and we need to teach kids how to become thinkers and teach them the skill of wanting to learn.
2) The solution is not in spending more money to change the physical makeup of the classroom, add technology, etc.
3)  Teaching is a HARD job!  And because of this we need to help teachers become better teachers.  He says a lifetime is not enough time to master teaching.  We have a hard job and will always encounter failure.  We simply need to keep learning in order to become more effective.  It is important to note that we are not bad teachers, we all go to work doing the best that we can, but we need to help each other become better.  It makes sense - why would I want to be the same teacher I was ten years ago?  I'd like to think I've become better and that I can still get better yet!

On Formative Assessment/Feedback
1)  The closer the formative assessment is to instruction, the bigger the effect on learning (ie.  if you collect your evidence and make immediate decisions based on this evidence for the students you collected the evidence from, it will have a greater impact on their learning)
2)  Feedback should be forward looking and not looking back.  It needs to inform the learner of what needs to be done to improve.
3)  Regular checks need to occur
4) Getting feedback right is hard.  Feedback can have a negative effect on learning when done incorrectly, so it is important to know your students so you can be sure they are getting the correct balance.  They need to be challenged, but only so that they feel it is attainable and not out of their reach.
5) The only good feedback is feedback which is acted upon.  You need to provide time in class for students to reflect on this feedback.

On questioning
1) You need to know a purpose to your questions.  You want questions that promote thinking.  It's not about closed vs open, but low level vs high level.
2) Love his "pose, pause, pounce, bounce" strategy - the teacher poses the question, pauses for students to think about it (he said a study showed the average wait time was 0.9 seconds!!!!  Need to give time to think), pounces on a RANDOM student (as opposed to a "volunteer"), and then bounces the answer to another RANDOM student.
3)  Discussion questions - a multiple choice question where a student might select any one of the answers and then you need to discuss with the class as to what their reasoning is behind their thinking.
4) Diagnosis questions (Hinge questions)- a quick question to make sure everyone is understanding what you want them to understand.  This question must be a GOOD question - there shouldn't be a way to get a correct answer with incorrect thinking.  These questions need to be planned ahead of time and critiqued by other teachers.  Idea - have a group of three work on these questions and then give them to another group of teachers to see if they can find a way a student might get a correct answer with incorrect thinking.  If they can then you need to find a different diagnosis question.    He says that with these questions you must be able to collect and interpret the responses from all students in 30 seconds.

On Strategies For the Teacher in The Classroom
Dylan Wiliam provided a large number of formative strategies that can be used in the classroom.  This is what our PLC is working on.  It is important to not overload yourself with these and that you make individual choices with which you might try.  Although all sound very good, there are a couple that stood out to me and they will be the first ones I get to as I decide to try new things.
1)  Structured Interaction - Teach students to pose/develop/ask questions during a lesson.  This will increase engagement.  How I see it working for me is that I would tell the students that as the lesson is occurring they need to be thinking of questions they might want to ask me.  Some questions need to be dealt with immediately, but some can wait until the end of the lesson.  Instead of me asking "does anyone have any questions" I would pull three popsicle sticks (random selection) and ask them for the question they constructed during the lesson.  This is intended to have the students thinking about what is going on and making them active participants in the lesson.  I would like to try this at some point!
2)  Self Reflection with red/yellow/green mixed with creating test questions.  I would like to have students, on a review day, first pre-assess themselves with each skill that is in our rubric as to whether they feel they are red (no clue), yellow (sort of understand) or green (good to go).  Then their review would consist of creating test questions complete with solutions for each of those skills, starting with the skills they are red in.  At the end of the lesson I would have them assess themselves again to see if they feel they have improved their learning.  I hope to try this at some point.
3) Mini Whiteboards - I went out today after the workshop and bought page protectors and dry erase markers so I can start using an all student response system this week!

There was so much more that I got out of the day, but it is too much to write about.  Those were the key points that I took away from the day.  The last thing that really stood out is that he said improving our practice involves changing habits, not adding knowledge and that's why it's hard.  The hardest part is not getting new ideas into people's heads but it's getting the old ones out!

There are two videos online from a project he was part of where they followed a classroom through many of these changes.  It was good to watch how everything wasn't instant success, but the teachers and students kept plugging away and the end result was very successful.  You can watch the videos here and here.  They are both about 1 hour long, but very worthwhile to watch.

Once again, I thank our division and our school PD committee for providing us with this amazing opportunity.


  1. Wow! You got a lot out of that PD. Thank you so much for sharing! They're great strategies to think about.

    It's great that your principal brought him to your school so everyone could learn from him. What was the reaction from the other teachers who hadn't seen him speak before?

    1. I haven't had a lot of time this week to talk to teachers who had never heard him (the ones I talk to all the time where among the 5 who heard him before!), but I have heard of a couple of teachers who have decided to incorporate a few of the strategies in their classes, so something must have caught their attention!

  2. Carey, I love reading your blog! I am continually thinking about how I can incorportate these strategies into my grade one class. It is inspiring to read about the changes you have made to your teaching and how well you have incorportated the PD into your everyday teaching.

    I hope you don't mind, but I passed your blog address along to some people in my division.


    1. Thanks Shelley! I think that many of the strategies would be fun with grade 1's. They are so much more open to new things (thus the reason I usually introduce new ideas with my grade 9's vs grade 12's - the younger they are the more forgiving!). Not a problem that you passed it along!


  3. Carey -

    Our focus this year is formative assessment so I'm very interested in the speaker notes you included and the book you read. I'm trying various strategies but I find it challenging to keep up the pace! I'll be checking back in with you to see what is working with you in formative assessment!

  4. The book is VERY good if you can find it to read!