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TV trial: class learns at twice normal speed

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 27 August, 2010 | By: Kerra Maddern

Low-cost programme galvanises pupils with rewards, no grading and PE every morning

Children taught in an experimental model classroom learned at twice the speed of their contemporaries, according to a radical experiment carried out for a two-part BBC2 documentary.

Banning grades, stopping children from putting their hands up and making pupils do PE at the beginning of every day all contribute to greater educational success, results of the project suggest.

The Classroom Experiment - due to be broadcast next month - allowed Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of London University’s Institute of Education, to trial his ideas on a Year 8 class at Hertswood School in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

“They were like drug addicts, except they were addicted to grades - even though they knew it was bad for them,” said Professor Wiliam.

“The changes we made gave the quieter children confidence, made all pupils know they are expected to participate and created a more supportive atmosphere - nobody laughs any more if someone gets something wrong.

“I hope this programme shows how difficult high-quality teaching is and shows the public what a complex and demanding job it is.”

The progress made by the pupils during the one-term experiment has convinced the school to continue with Professor Wiliam’s innovations.

Pupils made half a national curriculum level of progress more than their peers. This meant they were learning at twice the speed, according to Professor Wiliam.

Hertswood head Jan Palmer Sayer said: “There is no doubt everything Dylan did had a positive effect. The difference was tangible - both in achievements and the dynamics of the class.

“Teachers were given clear strategies for improvements which didn’t involve spending lots of money on new technology.”

Professor Wiliam wanted to stop a small number of bright pupils from dominating the class, and get the whole group to take responsibility for their behaviour.

The first thing he did was to ban children from raising their hands except to ask a question. Children were also given mugs in traffic light colours, which they used to indicate if they needed help.

Work was only graded when pupils had completed an entire project, to encourage them to take account of teacher feedback rather than just a mark.

Other ideas included teachers monitoring a single student’s behaviour each day, without the class being told their identity. This was designed to encourage the whole group to take responsibility for earning a reward - a day out at Alton Towers.

“I was surprised by how seriously they took the task, they even reminded each other to behave. They worked much more closely as a group.” Professor Wiliam said.

“All the changes we made can be applied to any classroom simply with minimal costs, but they are not commonly used because teachers teach in the way they were taught.

“The usual approach might work for a lot of children but it doesn’t work for all of them - therefore it’s not working well enough.”

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Comment (22)

  • This is soo good to know! Hopefully ythe curricullum takes into account this fact in planning schemes

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    Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    28 August, 2010


  • I would be interested to see how it worked over several years.

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    29 August, 2010


  • When is the program on?

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    29 August, 2010


  • Mainly the halo effect, I'm afraid. Professor Wiliam is obviously a charismatic and very dedicated educator, with strong ideas on how things should be done. Children respond to that and to all the special attention they are getting. If you taught them in a pyramid to boost their psychic energy levels, you'd get a similar jump in performance.

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    30 August, 2010


  • How many of these ideas have we had over the years? The initial novelty is the thing that makes the difference. Once this style becomes the norm the kids will be just as bored with it. How much would it cost to take a whole school to Alton Towers if the tab was not being picked up by the BBC?

    Perhaps we could have had pyramids under the now scrapped BSF programme?

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    30 August, 2010


  • Ah the idea of banning grades so no one knows how good they are so they all try to do much better. Wasn't that in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

    If only it were so easy..

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    30 August, 2010


  • Typical that nothing was really mentioned about the impact that the PE sessions had on the experience. I believe that alone would have positive effects on students.

    It brings the question of how can we identify which aspects are indeed beneficial and would remain so after the novelty period has passed. Without introducing changes in isolation it is impossible to know which are going to last the distance and the others that will make no difference and could even be detrimental to some learning processes over longer periods.

    As far as judging progress by National curriculum key stage levels goes, some are so ambiguous that I would seriously question their use in gauging degrees of improved learning on this scale.

    And, while I'm on my rant - 'nobody laughs anymore when someone gets something wrong' it just me or is that already totally unacceptable behaviour that would be corrected immediately if it did happen. Not exactly rocket science.

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    31 August, 2010


  • Fine in Primary, non starter in Secondary.

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    1 September, 2010


  • Perhaps if we have a control group who are told they can drop PE...

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    2 September, 2010


  • I think you mean "Hawthorn Effect", not halo effect?

    In John Hattie's book "Visible Learning", which contains meta-studies of education research, he points out that the "enthusiastic teacher effect" or the "something new" effect is very like the placebo effect in medicine. He does not "rate" any teaching method which does not show more than 0.8 grade improvement (effect-size 0.4) as any well organised set of lessons can achieve this.
    The fact that this pseudo-science is peddled by the Institute for Education is worrying - unless they have done decent controlled trials with ordinary teachers.

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    11 September, 2010


  • My name is Sid. I was heavily involved in this program, as you will see when it airs. Obviously some of the strategies weren't as good as others, but some were amazing. For instance the no hand's up rule, not only has this been a real confidence booster in class, but also outside of class to! The only worrying thing about the strategy is how long will it take before the high achievers just give up, and can't be bothered? Dylan was only in our class for one term, and as you see in the program, the high achievers seem to give up after only one half term. I also think the student observing worked fantastically, When me and my friend gave feedback to Miss Obi, she took it on board and used the techniques we suggested! The Classroom Experiment aires on Monday 27th September and Tuesday 28th September at 7pm on BBC2

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    19 September, 2010


  • Well said Sid!
    I am enjoying this programme - looking forward to Part 2. I will be trying out some of the methods.

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    28 September, 2010


  • Professor William's teaching techniques have been used by good primary teachers for years. It has angered me that he is seen as being the one coming up with them.

    Thank you Sid for helping your math's teacher but good primary teachers use this method (it is called guided group work) for the past few years.

    Whiteboards, no hands up, short burst of exercise (brain gym) etc etc - Professor William please give credit where it is due PLEASE.

    The money would have been much better spent on sending some of those teachers or even the SLT of the school to watch good primary practice.

    Even today I have been using secret student rewards with my Year 4 class but I can't afford a trip to Alton Towers. A box with small inexpensive prizes is all it takes with 8 year olds.

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    Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    28 September, 2010


  • I would be surprised if he didn't know the widespread use of AfL or formative assessment in primaries. It was Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black that did the review of research in 1998 that led Shirley Clarke and many others to devise so many strategies to put it into practice. He is unusual in being good at synthesising research and finding ways of turning it into practical strategies. But its the ideas, not him, that matter.

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    28 September, 2010


  • Very interesting programme on so many levels.

    Loved the ideas of the cups and sticks, although I wonder whether the cups would be more of a hindrance than a help.

    'Secret Student'...again...excellent idea. Forging a whole class, pupil led responsibility towards behaviour. I guess it could be extended to learning to.

    'Comments, no grades'...again very good. The bright didn't like it because it took away one of their tools used to show off to the others and boost their own egos. Excellent way of actually getting the pupils to focus more on how to improve.

    Fascinating how the bright weren't so impressed with Dylan's ideas. He took away the control of the bright ones who simply used the old, established systems to boost their own egos to the detriment of the others.

    I wonder how many of the ideas the teachers at the school are still using? Be interesting to know.

    And finally...I vote that Sid should be fast tracked to senior management. He is far better than the muppets I have had to work with in the past. What an incite-full lad. Very perceptive. Well done to Sid.

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    30 September, 2010


  • I was filmed for this documentary along with several other teachers. Although I had tried out different methods that Dylan introduced I had never made them commonplace or stuck with them for long. In short, I got lazy. In time though, I realised that many of the techniques could be real time savers in the long run, particularly in terms of class dynamics and the kids' learning.

    The most inspiring aspect to the experiment was how much all the students grew in confidence and independence. They started taking more responsibility and with that came greater focus on their goals in school.

    And I agree, Sid, you should be in managment. That or a human rights activist. Either way, it was a pleasure having you in my class.

    Miss Overbury

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    30 September, 2010


  • Miss Overbury,

    One teacher to another...well done!

    I can't have been easy for you all on all sorts of levels.


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    1 October, 2010


  • I will add my support to you there Miss Overbury. All these ideas are very good, but all take a lot of organisation, which people outside the profession don't understand. I guess it takes time for these things to bed down and become common place, but are they still effective? Has the novelty worn off by then?

    It was very clear that the process had a very positive effect on all, but not the bright girls initially.

    I just hope 'being on the telly' doesn't spoil them.

    Sid, definitely for SLT! :) He was brilliant with the Maths teacher, because that can't have been easy for her.

    Pass on my congrats to all involved.


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    1 October, 2010


  • Whatever experiment, as long as it is carried out seriously and with the goal of improving education in our schools should be seen as a good stimulus for teachers. Much too often we teachers tend to stick to routine, so I do think this experiment will have boosted reflection and made students realize how much preparation being a good teacher can involve. Let's have more of that on television, quite a change from the usual stuff!


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    2 October, 2010


  • I was amazed at the poor level of English used by some teachers on this programme, where teachers do not think but fink, what chance do the pupils have. No wonder my fathers office in London has to employ certain staff who are whole or part overseas as the English expressed to our foreign clients has to be expressed correctly. I attended a language school in Bournemouth and learnt grammer and correct pronunciation which could be understood my the wider world, perhaps some teachers would benefit from such a course themselves, not a crazy idea as it may sound. In Taiwan our maths standard in schools is about 2-3 years ahead of GB schools. We love grades as it encourages us to work hard and achieve our potential and prepares us for a competitive world. I feel that here there is a class system where a good education is regarded as uncool and to be looked down upon. Rather than constantly searching for new ways of teaching why not return to some traditional methods which provided the highest standards in the world rather than experimenting during the process of falling standards, whatever methods are used teaching standards must be high otherwise nothing will work. In Asia we respect our teachers very highly, here they are often insulted. By the way when I registered on this site Taiwan was not even on the list of countries so I chose Burma. Please note Taiwan is a country between Japan and Philippines.
    Li Ching

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    8 October, 2010


  • I'm a bit depressed seeing all these negative comments. Perhaps if some of the people who made them, were to sit in a classroom and observe a few lessons, they would see, for example, that there is indeed a small group of children who constantly answer all the questions. During this time there is no need for any of the other children to do anything, such as think. After all, they know they won't be called on to provide an answer. Dead time for them.

    I would also take Li Ching up on the implication that 'a good education' involves rote learning in order to provide the correct answers to tests. If the class spends an hour and a half completing a practice test, for example, that's another 90 minutes of dead time. No-one is learning anything that they didn't know before. The odd test is useful, but here we get down on our knees to the god of SATs for the whole of Year 6 and it's a wasted year.

    As for pronunciation, I don't care how someone says the word 'think' as long as I can understand it. I'm not better than the next person just because I speak differently from them. And I'm not better than the students because I 'teach' and all they do is 'learn'. In fact, if I take that attitude I don't expect anyone will be learning anything very much.

    Loved the comments about the ego boosting - spot on! There's no room in the classroom for big egos, theirs or ours.

    A colleague has recently tried some of these strategies in her classroom and they worked. Here's to the teachers who can climb out of their rut and embrace innovation! :D

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    10 June, 2011


  • PS: 'incite-ful', Miles? Really?? :O

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    10 June, 2011


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