Skip to main content

The Classroom Experiment - Strategies to Promote Engagement and Learning

Dylan Wiliam is a prominent educator in the United Kingdom. His ideas and strategies are consistently mentioned in education reform circles. On an uncharacteristically quiet evening at home, I stumbled across these BBC videos, The Classroom Experiment. Although it took nearly two hours to get through the videos, I came away thinking that the teacher is certainly the most important factor in student learning, and that student learning can be improved with persistence and a willingness to become better at failure.

For those folks that feel that teachers can be replaced by technology, these videos suggest otherwise.
Here is a summary of the strategies and changes that Dylan Wiliam instituted to increase student engagement and advance student learning.
  1. No raising of hands - use Popsicle sticks, or some other mechanism to randomize the selection process for student responses. Any student can be called on at any time. In a 1:1 classroom, utilize a random number generating app to identify respondents, classroom clickers (CPS) can also serve this purpose.
  2. Use mini-white boards to achieve 100% participation. All students write their responses and then hold them aloft so that the instructor can quickly assess student understanding. Students can assess each other's responses and suggest revisions or improvements. In a 1:1 classroom, students can use their tablets to share responses. In our 1:1 iPad classes, teachers use NearPod to promote participation.
  3. Red, Yellow, Green cups - students use these color symbols to let the instructor and classmates know when to stop, slow down, or move forward with respects to understanding a question or problem. This formative assessment technique allows the instructor to differentiate lessons through students groups. Teachers can also identify students to work as peer tutors for those students indicating yellow or red.  In a 1:1 classroom, a solid home screen color pattern can serve as the self-assessment / pacing indicator.
  4. Student evaluation - assign students as observers of the class and of the teacher. Allow them to informally evaluate classroom operations and teacher effectiveness. Students can provide insight and suggestions for improving classroom atmosphere and student learning.
  5. Energize students through physical activity and movement.  
  6. Provide the tools and opportunities for students to monitor their progress and reflect on their learning experiences. Provide opportunities for students to learn and practice meta cognition. The BBC video example mentioned previously shows PE students using heart-rate monitors to self-assess activity and fitness levels.
  7. Remove fear of making mistakes. FAIL = first attempt in learning. It's OK to fail, just continually work to fail better. Promote a growth mindset that de-emphasizes static intelligence measures. Everyone can learn.
  8. Give comments, not grades.  Wiliam contends that students are intoxicated by letter grades and that this interferes with intrinsic motivation to learn.  He asks teachers to make comments on student work, suggest strategies for improvement, and gradually transition students towards peer review, self-evaluation, and reflection.
  9. Engage the parents in the learning processes. Use technology to share classroom work and experiences. A good LMS product such as Schoology, or a classroom blog or website can help accomplish this. Invite parents to a curriculum night and ask them to participate as learners.
  10. "Secret Student" is a behavioral modification system where students individual accountability for on-task behavior can lead to a group reward. Positive peer pressure helps keep the students focused. The students aren't aware of which individual is being assessed on a given day. Because the focus is on positive behaviors, the student earning a point towards the class score is recognized on the following day. In the BBC video, the participating class needed 20 S.S. positive behavior points in the remaining 30 class days to earn a trip to an amusement park.
These changes were initially tough on teachers and students. However, their persistence and effort paid off as student engagement and behavior improved. In addition, student mastery levels in math and reading also improved over the course of the summer term. Following a successful class experience, these classroom interventions were instituted across the entire school.

Wiliam states that the two keys to improving learning in schools are...
  1. Teachers must commit to continual improvement
  2. Teachers should follow their own PD path, but then emphasize the techniques and strategies that make the most profound differences in their students' learning.


Popular posts from this blog

"Five Reasons Why Schoology Rocks!"

Networking at IETC last week provided me validation in my choice for best learning management system, Schoology. Having used Moodle, Edmodo, Canvas, and Blackboard, I can tell you that these are all terrific products for digital instruction. However, for the past several months, I felt that Schoology was a better choice than these previously mentioned products. Many times, asking the right questions is a precursor to making sound decisions. Here's an article that serves as a guide to asking the right questions when choosing a learning management system:

10 Questions Everyone Should Ask When Choosing an LMS
Here are five reasons why Schoology remains my #1 choice for a classroom LMS: Full-featured classroom organization tools, a collaborative learning place for teachers and students, device-independent applications, Schoology API allows the program to play nicely with others, and the basic level instructional components are, and will always be, FREE.

1.  Schoology's classroom mana…

Good People; The Product of Good Schools

The nightly business reports frequently mention inputs and outputs. Gross National Product (GNP) is a widely recognized leading economic indicator. Widgets aside, what is the product of schools? Some of you want to jump on a table and scream, "children are not products!" Let this breathe a bit as you trudge forward.

In his recent post, Mark Heintz eloquently shares his ruminations to a question being kicked around in our Modern Learners community, "What do we want our children to be?" Credit Pam Moran, Ira Socol, and Chad Ratliff, co-authors of "Timeless Learning; How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-based Thinking Change Schools," for sparking this conversation theme. Timeless Learning provides interesting provocations, inspiring experiences, and compelling rationale for school change.

Like others, my school's leadership team is engaging in discussions about reimagining school to meet the needs of our modern learners. These conversations are seldom e…

My One Word for 2018 is Wisdom

Wisdom, according to, is "the quality or state of being wise;
knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action;
sagacity, discernment, or insight."

"Any fool can know. The point is to understand."
This quote, often incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein, provides an illustration of the value of understanding over knowledge. A simple search reveals this quote can be linked to the writing of mathematician, George Finlay Simmons

Narrowing my thinking to one word is an interesting challenge. I have gained a greater appreciation for words and how the combination of words can convey meaning beyond definitions, beyond knowledge.

Where are the resources for knowledge in a modern world? We purchased an Amazon Echo as a gift for my parents. "It's such a smart and funny device," says my mom. Alexa has a seemingly unlimited access to information, music, and jokes, but does she understand? Can robots and computers obtain wis…