“Everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere” according to Dr. Dylan Wiliam, who is a formative assessment authority, in his 2018 book: Creating the Schools Our Children Need. In the first half of the book, Dr. Wiliam challenges the effectiveness of popular educational reforms (getting smarter teachers, firing bad teachers, paying teachers more, reducing class size, expanding school choice, and copying other countries). In the final section of the book, Dr. Wiliam provides research-informed recommendations to cost-effectively improve student educational achievement.
Dr. Wiliam argues that teachers should provide students with a “Knowledge-Rich Curriculum.” Dr. Wiliam explains that because of short-term memory limitations our brains need information in our long-term memory to think deeply and understand the relationship and connection between different aspects of knowledge. Because students’ short-term memory can be easily overwhelmed trying to transfer information into long-term memory (cognitive load theory), teachers should take students through each step of a problem and provide background knowledge versus having students try to solve problems completely on their own.
Dr. Wiliam states that the greatest practical impact to improve student achievement is to invest in teacher professional development with attention on formative assessment. Teachers must provide feedback to students on the things a student cannot yet do (deliberate practice). Good instruction starts from where students are at, which requires effective assessment strategies during instruction, so that teachers and students can make appropriate adjustments.
Dr. Wiliam concludes that the first step to school improvement is to focus on developing a school climate where all teachers “need to get better, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” Not only must teachers and school leaders “press for student achievement,” but we must also promote a school culture of mutual trust and focus on improving teacher professional development.