Assessment: formative and classroom-based

Nikki Booth | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Gathering quality evidence of pupil learning

A frequent key question for teachers is: “Are we ready to move on yet?” In many classrooms, it might be the case that a teacher asks the class a question; several students put up their hands; the teacher picks one of these students; the student gets the answer correct; and the teacher feels confident that the class is ready to move on. The big problem here is that we are not sure as to whether the other, say, 30 or so students have understood the concept, too. In other words, we have not gathered quality evidence that we are indeed ready to move on. This is important because, without this information, we cannot be sure where our learners (whether whole class, small group, or individuals) are in their learning and, crucially, whether more time is needed to get learning back on track before the end-of-unit test.  

Allowing students to opt-in to answer a teacher’s question can be considered harmful because:

by allowing them [the students] to raise their hands to show they have the answer – they [teachers] are actually making the achievement gap worse, because those who are participating are getting smarter, while those avoiding engagement are foregoing the opportunities to increase their ability (Wiliam, 2018a: 93).

What teachers need to do more of, then, is broaden the evidence base so we can make better inferences about where learning is and what needs to be done next to enhance it further. 

One method of doing this is through what Wiliam calls “all-student response systems” (2018a: 100). Here, a teacher would ask a question to the class (this could also include a small number multiple choice questions); students would write down their answer(s) on a mini-whiteboard (sometimes referred to as “show me” boards); and then hold it up so the teacher can see 100% of the students’ responses. In terms of gathering quality information, whether they are used at the beginning, during, and/or at the end of a lesson, what teachers are now able to do is scan quickly across the room as to whether students have understood the concept and whether it is safe to proceed or not. If a large number of students have not understood the concept, then more teaching (perhaps with carefully scaffolded modelling) is required. For a smaller group of students (or even individuals) it helps inform teachers that more practise is required. The important point is that, through collecting quality evidence in this way, teachers become more aware as to where their students are in their learning and can respond accordingly.  

More information and examples can be found in Wiliam (2018a, 2018b), and Wiliam and Leahy (2015).