Monday, 6 September 2010

Professor Dylan Wiliam Clearly Never Got Picked To Answer A Question In Class…

…because it obviously still stings, after all these years:
In a remarkable experiment, a class of 13-year-olds learned twice as quickly when they were not allowed to put their hands up in response to a teacher’s question.

Instead, the entire class was forced to write answers on small whiteboards and raise their answers in the air together.
And the purpose of this barmy (albeit, seemingly successful) experiment?
Professor Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the London University Institute for Education, who led the project, said: ‘The kids and teachers hated it at the beginning.

The kids who were used to having a quiet time were rattled at having to do something; the ones who were used to showing off to the teacher were upset.
Ah. That’s a quite telling bit of phrasing, isn’t it?

Answering questions is ‘showing off’. Hmmm…
Professor Wiliam said he wanted to stop the minority of bright pupils dominating the class and to encourage the whole class to take responsibility for their behaviour.
Aha! It seems the Prof is a bit of a...well, I couldn’t possibly comment, but wasn’t there a bunch of people famous for experimenting with children to create a better society?

I seem to recall they were quite keen on exercise too:
The Classroom Experiment – which will be broadcast later this month – also found that making pupils exercise at the start of each day helped academic performance.
And also putting everyone in fear of informers to encourage obedience and full control:
The teacher also monitored a single pupil’s behaviour each day – without telling the class which student was being placed under scrutiny – and then offered a reward of a day at Alton Towers if the student behaved.

The move was intended to encourage the whole group to take responsibility for earning the reward.
I’d like to know: did his team of researchers follow the time-honoured path of quiet observations with a clipboard, or did he install a huge bank of CCTV screens, the better to observe from his underground volcano lair while cackling maniacally?

He’s clearly very proud of his achievement, too:
‘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,’ he said.
Oh, that laughter still rings in your ears, doesn’t it?

Was it because they thought you couldn’t spell ‘William’ properly, Prof..?
‘I hope this programme shows how difficult high-quality teaching is.’
Well, when people like you are using their classrooms are experimental labs, yes, I’m sure it is…
After one term, pupils learned at twice the speed of peers not taking part and the school was so impressed by the experiment it is continuing with the techniques.

Hertswood head Jan Palmer Sayer said: ‘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.’
All they have to lose are their souls and their free will, I guess…

But maybe I’m alone in finding this all rather creepy?

23 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Hang about here, I quite like the idea of making everybody answer the question.

It's an experiment and either it works or it doesn't (even if we don't know why), like the fact that results tend to be a bit better in religious schools or single sex-schools (instinctively, I approve of neither, but hey, they work).

Furor Teutonicus said...

We had a GREAT teacher. Any one laughing at the kid that got the answer wrong was stood in front of the class, and had to answewr EVERY qeustion for that lesson first.

His marks were kept chalked on the blackboard, and at the end of the lesson, if it was below a certain percent correct, the teacher would slowly turn to the class and say "Well...he really IS thick isn't he....you may all laugh at the idiot now".

After the first week, NO one got laughed at for giving a wrong answer.

Macheath said...

You certainly aren't alone - this one had me choking violently on my morning croissant.

I think you've hit the nail on the head with your usual perspicacity; that phrase 'showing off' tells us a great deal. He's certainly working to an agenda:
'pupils learned at twice the speed of peers not taking part' is patently nonsense since learning is impossible to quantify in that way. All it establishes is that some pupils know the answer but lack confidence to speak out, and a good teacher would take that into account anyway and ensure they participate.

In fact, the whole thing smacks of teaching grandmothers to suck eggs - or it would, if the teacher training establishments hadn't weeded out all but those who bought wholeheartedly into their changing succession of fashionable ideas rather than good basic teaching techniques.

It's no news that pupils benefit from physical activity at the start of the day but surely the answer here is not compulsory activities but to stop parents ferrying their pampered darlings door to door (I know two children who never owned rainproof coats because their mother 'didn't see any need').

As for the trip to Alton Towers, that merely perpetuates pupils' expectations of being rewarded simply for not misbehaving.
What better way to encourage the sense of entitlement that has produced possibly the most selfish, over-indulged and arrogant generation ever?

Sorry - rant over; I feel much better now!

John R said...

No, I dont find it "rather creepy". I find it very, very creepy.

I'm amazed that any professional teacher would allow someone to manipulate a class of children in this way.

By all means let's get children answering questions; clamp down on ridicule; ensure everyone is involved not just the "show offs". But good teachers have been doing this for ages - or at least they did until the educationalist box-tickers took over.

Let's hope this is the last we here of these techniques which owe more to the ethos of 1984 than that of a modern day society.

Socratic Method said...

Furor Teutonicus - at the risk of raising your blood pressure, I ought to point out that your GREAT teacher these days would almost certainly be hauled up before the head at the behest of litigious parents with compensation in their sights.

First they banned sarcasm in written reports, then they banned it in the classroom and told us not to damage the pupils' fragile self-esteem.

I have in front of me an instruction circulated to all pupils and staff to 'avoid actions contrary to our ethos such as [...] mockery or belittling of others' (the next bullet point is 'an abuse of power within any relationship'). In the hands of parents, this is pure dynamite.

The rot set in when someone broke the golden rule - you have to give Head Teachers plenty to do or they start interfering with the running of the school.

Anonymous said...

Mark W, "the fact that results tend to be a bit better in religious schools or single sex-schools (instinctively, I approve of neither, but hey, they work)".

Just because results are better doesn't prove they work. It could be, for example, that children of religious parents tend to behave and learn better. It could be that the kind of people who send their kids to single sex schools are more dedicated to education. It could be lots of things.

gladiolys said...

MMMM... if the children are learning better, what's the problem? It's not like they're being gathered up for a five minute hate or having to answer in newspeak. It's a teacher trying to introduce discipline and respect into the classroom. Wouldn't you approve of that? Especially if he's managing to achieve it under all the restrictions (see your comments above) within which teachers have to work?

JuliaM said...

"It's an experiment and either it works or it doesn't (even if we don't know why)..."

Oh, I know. And normally I'd be happy to see educational standards being raised (IF that's what's happening).

But reading this gave me a chill. It's just wrong, in a way I can't seem to quantify...

"After the first week, NO one got laughed at for giving a wrong answer."

As Socratic Method points out, this would be considered utterly verboten these days, and would almost certainly get him into big, big trouble.

"He's certainly working to an agenda:'pupils learned at twice the speed of peers not taking part' is patently nonsense since learning is impossible to quantify in that way."

I did wonder if this was a little dodgy, but there were no better details in anty of the other reports on this..

"As for the trip to Alton Towers, that merely perpetuates pupils' expectations of being rewarded simply for not misbehaving. "

Yes!

JuliaM said...

"I'm amazed that any professional teacher would allow someone to manipulate a class of children in this way."

I wiish I could say I was...

"The rot set in when someone broke the golden rule - you have to give Head Teachers plenty to do or they start interfering with the running of the school."

Heh!

"It could be, for example, that children of religious parents tend to behave and learn better. It could be that the kind of people who send their kids to single sex schools are more dedicated to education. "

Indeed. Is it selection before your experimentsd even start? Are you comparing like with like?

"...if the children are learning better, what's the problem? It's not like they're being gathered up for a five minute hate or having to answer in newspeak."

Indeed, it isn't. And yet, and yet...

Umbongo said...

The key to what's going on here are the words "London University Institute for Education". Now and again, purely by accident and never to be repeated the institute and others like it - which employ the dross of British academia (and juggling for bottom of the class with "climate studies" departments) - stumble on something that might actually assist in educating our young.

This particular experiment may or may not help educational attainment but we are not told what subjects were being taught and how exactly "attainment" was measured. Prejudice on my part maybe but I suspect that the experiment's results have been skewed by dubious statistics and crap analysis of the "results" (cf any papers emanating from the educational establishment).

Macheath said...

Umbongo, it's a good example of the adage:

'Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach work in faculties of education'.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Predator

This is probably the most interesting thing to happen to these kids in the whole of their school existence.

DP

Furor Teutonicus said...

7 September 2010 12:52
Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Predator


"Ms"???

I hope you are not infering that Julia is a dyke of some sort?

Furor Teutonicus said...

IF she is, fine. But we should not be so presumptious.

JuliaM said...

"Prejudice on my part maybe but I suspect that the experiment's results have been skewed by dubious statistics and crap analysis of the "results"..."

And it's a hellishly small sample size too - 25 kids.

"This is probably the most interesting thing to happen to these kids in the whole of their school existence."

If so, that's unbearably sad, isn't it?

""Ms"???

I hope you are not infering that Julia is a dyke of some sort?"


It seems to be the defualt address these days! It now comes first on all official forms.

No-one other than me seems to prefer the old-fashioned 'Miss'. What's wrong with it?

The Pedant-General said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Pedant-General said...

???

The really terrifying thing about this is that anyone should think either that it is new or that it is not a blindingly obvious thing to do.

This (minus the whiteboards) is totally and utterly bog standard procedure in the armed services where it is described as "Pose, Pause, Pounce".

You the pose the question, pause to allow the entire class to think what the answer should be, then pounce (nominate) someone to answer.

If they get it wrong, you pounce on someone else and then possibly get that person to explain why the previous answer is wrong.

If two or more do not answer correctly, it looks like you've found a point that has not been adequately explained.

This mechanism:
- maintains the instructor as being in control of the class
- prevents idlers from hiding
- ensures that everyone is concentrating
- is the most likely to get useful feedback that the instructor needs to gauge the level of understanding of the class.

It's really simple stuff. That's what's terrifying about it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, there are some very bad teachers venting the frustration of all those years of being ineffective writing here. Its funny how professional underachievers tend to blame the system and hark back to the "good old days"

Let me make one thing clear. The education system is failing massively. We need to have a experimental approach to discover what works and share it within the proffession. There is no harm in trying, we will not be killing any sacred cows.

Recent education reforms have been an expensive sticking plaster over a very deep wound. Furthermore a return to abusive learning relationships and classroom management techniques as advocated by some of the people on this site is not a solution. It's cloud cookoo land and frankly a weirdos charter.

Dylan Wiliam is one of the good guys in the education system. Taking an evidence based approach, focusing on teacher development and group based dialogue and responsibility in class are very powerful ideas and deserve the airtime.

I am, to some extent, uneasy with the extent to which talented pupils may struggle to adust to the more inclusive strategies. However, this was the whole point of the show. By fostering an approach of teachers talking about their ideas and learning from their experinces pedagogies will evlolve adapt and improve over time. The alternative is to continue to sit in our comfortable if inneffective ivory towers.

By the way Ambush Predator, it seem like you may be the one with some deep seated issues from your school days. My guess, you were bullied, and then became the bully.

JuliaM said...

"This (minus the whiteboards) is totally and utterly bog standard procedure in the armed services where it is described as "Pose, Pause, Pounce"."

What works for adult learners can't always be transcribed to child learners, though..

"Wow, there are some very bad teachers venting the frustration of all those years of being ineffective writing here."

Strange assumption to make...

"Let me make one thing clear. The education system is failing massively. We need to have a experimental approach..."

No argument on your first part. But the second? Why an 'experimental approach'? We KNOW what works.

The problem for the Righteous is that no matter what method you use, some don't learn. And in today's 'All must have prizes!' culture, that's not possible to accept.

"I am, to some extent, uneasy with the extent to which talented pupils may struggle to adust to the more inclusive strategies."

But you'll go along with it, right? Using children's futures as some kind of gaming chip in your 'good guy's' grand game of educational Texas Hold 'Em?

"By the way Ambush Predator, it seem like you may be the one with some deep seated issues from your school days. My guess, you were bullied, and then became the bully."

Sorry to disappoint you, but my school days were depressingly ordinary. Bullies pick on the weak, and I've never been afraid to stand my ground.

As for the accusation of being a 'bully', well, hey, if you can't take critiscism... ;)

Richard said...

In the world of education, Dylan Wiliam is the equivalent of a Stephen Hawking. He is well known, well respected and very good.

I don't know him personally.

The TV programme did not show us a true experiment, despite the film's pitch.

Black and Wiliam's book, 'Inside the Black Box', the book that sets out the ideas used in the film, it was published in 1998! The TV programme used the 'experiment' format to demonstrate research results that have been known for more than a decade.

The Pedant-General is right. Black and Wiliam's book does no more than summarise what pre-1988 publications claim works in the field. Black and Wiliam did not invent these classroom practices. For example, read 'white board' as 'chalk and slate'. A useful idea plucked from the Victorian Board schools.

What is wrong with Wiliam showing on TV what works - best classroom practice? I mean 'what works' in terms of results, not works in terms of teachers claims.

Medieval barber surgeons had years of experience that confirmed their belief that cupping worked. They were wrong. 'Experience' in the habitsand customs of a profession is, sometimes, not the best way forward.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=171095§ioncode=26

[If you think DW's comments about 'showing off' are an attack on cleverness, read something about Japanese schools. DW has written about them. Those schools use full participation interactive classroom teaching. The brightest kids in these schools do at least as well as the brightest kids in the English system (in maths and science - the subject used in international tests). That is, the evidence shows that the smartest kids in Japanese schools are not held back by 'no hands up' etc. You don't do hands up in Japanese schools. The teacher controls participation.]

JuliaM said...

"'Experience' in the habitsand customs of a profession is, sometimes, not the best way forward."

But we have the body of evidence, don't we? Take a look at an exam paper from, say, 1970. Conmpare it to 2010.

They aren't comparable, are they? A glance at the young adult literacy rate would tell you that modern, faddish teaching methods don't work as well.

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