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Why you should read: Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam

Written By: Tom Sherrington
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A comprehensive guide to formative assessment.

What it means, how it raises educational achievement, why it matters and how to do it in practice.

What is it about?

In the first part of the book, Wiliam makes a case for why educational achievement matters, why our best bet is to develop the teachers we already have and, finally, why improving teachers’ capacity to deploy the minute-by-minute, day-by-day process of formative assessment should be at the centre of teacher development.

In the second part, the implementation of effective formative assessment is explored through five key strategies, each of which is given a chapter where the details and practical ideas are explored.

What are the main messages for teachers?

The message is to try to improve our practice in five areas:

  1. ‘Clarifying, sharing and understanding learning intentions and success criteria.’ Teachers must make sure students are clear about where their learning is heading (without resorting to formulaic procedures)
  2. ‘Eliciting evidence of learning.’ Wiliam shares a range of questioning methods that give teachers information about what students have learned, including some whole-class response methods
  3. ‘Providing feedback that moves learning forward.’ This includes the idea that feedback must cause thinking, not an emotional response. It should be focused on learning intentions and result in more work for the recipient than the donor
  4. ‘Activating learners as instructional resources for one another.’ This is about harnessing the power of peer tutoring, well-structured collaborative learning and feedback techniques
  5. ‘Activating learners as owners of their own learning.’ Teachers can help students learn to manage their overall learning journey, paying heed to ideas about metacognition and self-regulation.

Top Tip

The way students respond to feedback is what matters – if they raise their aspirations or increase their motivation to apply more effort, you’re getting it right. Your relationships with your students will be important in telling you how to pitch feedback appropriately.

Want to know more?

Wiliam, D, (2011) Embedded Formative Assessment. Solution Tree Press.

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