Talk it through once a month
Professor Dylan Wiliam, who takes over this month as director of the Institute of Education at London University, contends that the best way to change practice is through school-based teacher learning communities, or TLCs.
Trialled in the United States, where Professor Wiliam was recently based, the communities meet monthly for at least two hours. All teachers have to report what they have tried and then make a written commitment about what they will try next. They are free to choose how much to change and how quickly.
Professor Wiliam, whose original ideas were spelt out in his 1998 book, Inside the Black Box, with co-author Paul Black, believes changing teacher practice is fundamental to raising achievement. "Improving the use of assessment for learning is the most powerful way to increase achievement, and TLCs appear to be the best way to support teaching in making the changes," he says.
"Real sustained increases to student achievement are within our grasp as long as we do not get sidetracked by quick fixes. We need to get down to the hard part: investing in sustained, school-based professional development that is focused on assessment for learning," he believes.
Professor Wiliam's research in England showed that "assessment minute by minute and day by day" during lessons generated some of the biggest improvements in learning ever reported.
"Students learnt in six months what they would have taken a year to learn in other classrooms. And the costs of these improvements were modest - about pound;2,000 per classroom per year. Achieving the same increase in student achievement by reducing class size would cost between five and 20 times as much, depending on the subject and whether we could find new teachers as good as those already in post," he states in a TES article.
Given such value for money, it is not surprising that Scotland has adopted a version of assessment for learning, he states.
Professor Wiliam admits that almost every teacher knows that they should wait at least three seconds at the end of a question, and at the end of a student's answer, before saying or doing anything. But "hardly any teacher does".