Students Are Our Greatest Resource….Just Ask Them

I want to thank Rhonda for pointing me towards two videos.  Dylan Wiliam, author of “Embedded formative assessment” sets up an experimental school classroom.  He works with teachers and students in grade 8 to test simple ideas that he believes could improve the quality of the student’s education.   His research paper “Inside the Black Box” is cited in much current assessment literature.

The Classroom Experiment Part 1

The Classroom Experiment Part 2

As I watched this video, I was struck by Dylan’s  comment about students being our greatest resource.   His words reminded me of many times in my career when I taught what I thought was a great lesson.  However sometimes, the lesson didn’t do what it was supposed to do….ensure the students understood and could apply their knowledge.  To encourage response, the teacher in Part 1 of this series, uses green, yellow and red cups.  Students keep the green cup at the top of the stack if they understand and are good to go, the yellow cup if they are unsure and the red if they are really confused.  I love this simple teaching technique that encourages the learner to monitor understanding (one of the most important thinking strategies we can teach kids and use as learners).  This technique (as well as the whiteboard technique in the vide0) lets the teacher know at a glance if students are getting it.  In this particular section, many students display a red cup and it is clear by their actions that they are NOT getting it.  It reminded me of how important it is to pay attention to cues and address misconceptions or misunderstandings.  A choice to  ignore certain cues, misunderstandings continue and the gap gets even bigger.

We cannot just assume that a child is learning and must take the time to encourage and teach students to recognize when they do not understand and to take appropriate actions that lead to full understanding.  That in a nutshell is self assessment.  Despite brilliant lessons and activities, many kids every day are left behind….they don’t get it.  This video made me stop and ask:  “What instructional strategies am I using that ensure I am teaching for understanding?”  (of outcomes of course)  🙂

I think most would agree that if we want to check if what has been learned has been learned the learner would be the logical choice for confirming this.  Yet, as Dylan says we often don’t ask him/her.  Eventually the students in Part 1 understand that good feedback is important to learning and begin to participate in self assessment.  Wiliam explains that effective feedback needs to direct attention to what’s next rather than focusing on how well or badly the student did on the work.  If we embrace the idea of feedback as a recipe for future action, we must allow time, in class, to work on using the feedback to improve work.

This video showed the importance of staff working together to explore engagement and their work was not easy work.  All but one student became engaged in their learning by the end of the term.  Can’t wait to watch Part 2 to see if that student does become engaged.


About lgatzke

I am an assessment supervisor passionate about getting kids smarter. As Dylan Wiliam says, "Smart is not something you are, smart is something you get".
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4 Responses to Students Are Our Greatest Resource….Just Ask Them

  1. lgatzke says:

    Yes Eric, I found it quite humorous…even somewhat smart….you reminded me of the importance of criteria :). Dylan’s video was thought provoking as are your words. I am excited about my latest venture. I found a link on the Gallileo site that got me thinking about rubrics. Check it out.
    I am trying to get this type of rubric going with a provincial group creating a numeracy assessment to assess mathematical processes. You can imagine how my head is also thinking about this in regards to reading strategies. What I like about this rubric is the circle. It implies balance and wholeness. There are no numbers. So, students can use descriptive feedback to truly think about strengths and opportunities for growth to create balance in their learning. I think if we want to move away from numbers or letters as grades, we have to have other solutions. This is one that I think could work in many, many areas of the curriculum.

  2. erikvandusen says:


    • lgatzke says:

      Hi Erik,

      I think I have been teaching for too many years… didn’t occur to me that a response might be one word that ranked order. However, you met the criteria and so you can expect a copy of “Putting Faces on the Data” when I receive them.
      Now I have a question that may require some reflection. When you watched the section on grading in the second video, what were your thoughts. The descriptive feedback piece is at the front of my mind. How do we get out students, teachers and parents to understand this when they are so conditioned to think around grades? This school is pursuing this idea. How might we turn this into a possibility?

      • erikvandusen says:

        Hi Laurie,

        A promise is a promise.

        Thanks so much for the book. I started to read it poolside during the Easter break and I’ll follow-up with a review on my blog when I finish.

        Also, I’m hoping that you found my “first” response to be at least slightly humorous. I meant no harm. Rather, I just wanted a prize. My grade eights at Perry taught me the old “first” trick.

        I watch part two of Dylan’s video this evening and I do have a few thoughts I’d like to share in response to your question regarding how we might shift the way in which we traditionally think about assessment. In other words, moving from the practice of assigning grades to providing meaningful, timely descriptive feedback that positively impacts learning in a profound way. I should preface my response by letting you know I’ve never been a fan of grading, ranking, or any other forms of quantifying student learning. My experience as both teacher and learning has led me to believe that this destroys intrinsic motivation to learn, causes people to always look for the easiest path to score a desirable number, and limits the type of risk taking we’d like to see in our learning spaces. Furthermore, I think traditional grading practices have created a toxic culture of competition between learners and in turn limits our innate desire to collaborate with our peers. We see that in this video. Feedback is a far better approach to assessment and we saw some evidence of that in the video as well.

        So, how do we get others to rethink assessment?

        1) Go cold turkey. We should abolish grades altogether and pretend it is no longer an option. Instead we can focus on feedback, narrative assessment, demonstrations of learning, conferences, and portfolios showing growth over time. When stakeholders begin to recognize the inherent value of transforming assessment, they won’t miss grades at all.

        2) Share research. The case against grading is certainly nothing new and has been carefully researched. In fact, during one of grad classes we read academic research that was over 80 years old, detailing the negative impact of grading. Isn’t it disturbing to think we’re really only starting to make progress in this area now?

        3) Ask pointed questions. What is the purpose of education? How do humans learn best? What essential conditions are required for learning? What is the purpose of grading? What is the purpose of assessment? What forms of assessment lead to improved learning? If you wanted to improve your golf swing, would it help more for a professional to assign you a grade or to give you descriptive feedback that you could use next?

        4) Prepare ourselves to respond to their concerns. Grading is the way we’ve always done it. The university will grade, so should we. I need a scholarship, so give me my numbers and letters.

        5) Continue to create awareness around renewed curricula and the understanding the role of outcomes.

        6) Harness the affordances of technology to transform assessment practice. I’ve got loads of ideas around this. Too may to list here.

        These are just a few of my initial thoughts. I enjoyed the videos and I am proud to say that I used both strategies (cups and sticks) in my grade eight classroom. I must have been somewhat on the right track. If I’m permitted to quibble here, I will add that I respectfully disagree with the way in which engagement was/wasn’t defined or demonstrated in the video. I saw a very teacher-centred, transmission model of instruction going on. While I’m clearly out of my league in the category of assessment, I think I’d approach the challenge of increasing student engagement in this particular school with an entirely different set of strategies.

        Signing off for now, but thanks again for the book. Also, you were looking for folks to join you for some work around assessment and over dinner? Count me in please. I’m eager to learn more.

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