75 minutes to up your game

28th November 2008 at 00:00
A little over an hour per month could transform your teaching, says expert

Just 75 minutes a month discussing your work with colleagues can transform you from a bad teacher to a good one, increasing pupils' rate of learning by at least 50 per cent, an influential education academic said this week.

Professor Dylan Wiliam set out a new way for schools to introduce Assessment for Learning (AfL) in the classroom at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) conference in Birmingham this week.

The deputy director of the Institute of Education in London first introduced AfL, which uses assessment to improve pupils' understanding, with Professor Paul Black a decade ago.

Since then, the Government has taken up the idea. But Professor Wiliam and other experts claim ministers have debased the method by focusing on its least radical and easiest to implement aspects.

Professor Wiliam says that if teachers hold monthly meetings where they report back on their progress, hold each other accountable and decide how to try to improve before the next meeting, they can introduce the AfL approach properly.

The "teacher learning communities" he envisages would focus on AfL techniques such as giving pupils feedback instead of grades, getting pupils to check and take responsibility for each other's work, and increasing the time teachers wait for an answer after asking pupils a question.

"It is actually doing these things that is hard," said Professor Wiliam. "Most teachers are aware of the `wait time' theory, but they find it takes six months of trying for them to really slow down. It's like trying to change your golf swing in the middle of a tournament.

"The idea is that every teacher makes a commitment to continually improving their practice. There are a lot of teachers who don't think they need to improve."

Professor Wiliam has trialled the approach in 60 schools in England and claims it is superior to the five days a year continuous professional development teachers are entitled to, which "doesn't really work".

"If teachers stick with this, we will have the potential to increase the rate at which pupils learn by a least 50 per cent," he said. "It makes a really bad teacher into a pretty good one and an average teacher into an outstanding one."

Professor Wiliam has produced a complete set of agendas for each monthly meeting, timed to the nearest minute, that the SSAT will put on sale to schools in January.

But the trust will be competing in a crowded field. Alternative schemes to help teachers introduce AfL have been developed by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the National Strategies team.

Professor Wiliam was speaking at the biggest SSAT conference yet, where 2,600 delegates from more than 1,100 schools gathered to view showcases on education reform given by 100 different schools.

It was also the trust's first conference since board members, frustrated by Sir Cyril Taylor's controversial media profile, ousted him as chairman in January.

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