Three foundations of a successful classroom.

Since reading the pioneering work of Professor Dylan Wiliam, I have experimented with his ideas in the classroom and they work! His Embedding Formative Assessment packs for schools are fantastic and I would highly recommend them. You’re not likely to see for example, questioning techniques explained so practically or effectively as he does in his video talks.

However, here I’d like to unpick his ideas about how to create an all round effective place of learning. I refer to the three practices which he asserts create a very successful classroom, and in turn school. These three practices, or elements of pedagogy, are Assessment for Learning (AFL), Pupil Voice and Learning to Learn (L2L), which I referred to in my last blog. In my experience as a classroom teacher, when these three are embedded, learning is maximised and the classroom becomes a very special place.

Although I would recommend reading his work, I will try to summarise (in my own words) why these are the three foundations of a highly effective classroom. To begin with, AFL (much talked about, but often not fully understood) is a way to maximise learning in the classroom. This is a system where pupils are assessed, assess themselves and assess each other formatively while they are learning. This means misconceptions and problems are picked up and solved right there in the classroom. Pupils don’t find out later whether ‘they got it,’ but instead assess this in real time when remedial action will be the most effective. There is much written about AFL, but to my mind this is what it does. There are also a multitude of AFL tools which support this process of ‘real time assessment for learning,’ notably the much talked about success criteria, which is another discussion in itself. However, essentially AFL enables pupils and teacher to know where they are, what comes next and how to get there.

Alongside strong and rigorous AFL, you must have a language of learning in place so that the children can talk about their learning within this AFL approach. This is where learning to learn is vital for enabling children to understand how they learn and which tools to access when they ‘don’t get it’ and so on. This level of learner introspection give energy and power to AFL.

Together with AFL and L2L, there should be within a classroom and school the vivid and active presence of a pupil voice. This does not mean the pupils take over the classroom (no Daily Mail panic here please). Pupil voice means that the children make some decisions about school life and how they would like to learn, and perhaps even what to learn. This supports AFL and L2L because pupils need to feel they have a voice that will be listened to; they need to be able to learn in a context where ‘stop I don’t get it,’ is not only acceptable, but is actively encouraged. Pupil voice gives them a sense of ownership and investment in their own learning where they can talk about (L2L) and are in control of their learning (AFL).

These three concepts are then the foundations of an effective classroom. When these are embedded you allow pupils to becomes independent, active, responsible learners who maximise progress. This is my interpretation of Dylan Wiliam’s work, but again, I would suggestion visiting his website and reading his excellent commentaries to his own research.

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