On wait time, the nature of questions, visible thinking, formative assessment and deeper learning:
A particular feature of the talk between teacher and pupils is the asking of questions by the teacher. This natural and direct way of checking on learning is often un-productive. One common problem is that teachers do not allow enough quiet time so that pupils can think out and offer an answer. Where, as often happens, a teacher answers her or his own question after only two or three seconds, and where a minute (say) of silent thought is not tolerable, there is no possibility that a pupil can think out what to say. There are then two consequences. One is that, because the only questions that can produce answers in such a short time are questions of fact, these predominate. The other is that pupils don’t even try to think out a response—if you know that the answer, or another question, will come along in a few seconds, there is no point in trying. It is also common that only a few pupils in a class answer teachers’ questions. The rest then leave it to these few, knowing that they cannot respond as quickly and being unwilling to risk making mistakes in public. So the teacher, by lowering the level of questions and by accepting answers from a few, can keep the lesson going but is actually out of touch with the understanding of most of the class—the question-answer dialogue becomes a ritual, one in which all connive and thoughtful involvement suffers.
There are several ways to break this particular cycle. They involve giving pupils time to respond, asking them to discuss their thinking in pairs or in small groups so that a respondent is speaking on behalf of others, giving pupils a choice between different possible answers and asking them to vote on the options, asking all to write down an answer and then reading out a selected few, and so on. What is essential is that any dialogue should evoke thoughtful reflection in which all pupils can be encouraged to take part, for only then can the formative process start to work.
Inside the Black Box
Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment
Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam
In those few sentences above, one can find some of the simplest and easiest methods to transform teaching and learning in significant and profound ways.
If you spend time visiting and observing classrooms in this country, you know that we all can improve on the methods suggested above.
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NOTE: Just about everything that I have read about assessment in the last decade references and/or connects in some way to Black & Wiliam’s article “Inside the Black Box.” Yet I wonder how many educators have taken the time to read it, study it, and strive to implement it. And, I do not mean to sound accusatorial. I genuinely wonder.