TV trial: class learns at twice normal speed

27th August 2010 at 01:00
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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