For this week’s class we were to watch The Classroom Experiment. The Classroom Experiment is a two-part video series (see Part 1 and Part 2 here) in which education expert Dylan Wiliam takes over a grade 8 classroom to test different assessment strategies with the overall goal of improving student engagement and academic achievement. For example, one of the first strategies that Wiliam implemented was a “no hands up” rule––that is, rather than asking students to raise their hands to answer a question, the teacher chose students randomly by using labelled popsicle sticks. In the video, Wiliam stated that “hands up” is one of the most damaging teaching strategies that can be used in a classroom because only a small chunk of students consistently raise their hands to answer a question. The majority of students, however, do not raise their hands and participate in class, thus foregoing the option to learn and become smarter. By implementing the “no hands up” rule, Wiliam aimed to improve student participation. I like Wiliam’s “no hands up” rule for two reasons. First, the strategy ensures that every student is afforded the chance to participate in class. I like this because I think it is important for students to hear a diversity of opinions and not just the opinions of the same few students every time. Second, I like the “no hands up” rule because it guides and supports student learning by forcing students to become active participants in their own education.
Despite how much I like the “no hands up” rule, I think Wiliam made a mistake by implementing the rule without prepping the students first. I think one of the main reasons why students do not participate in class is because they are scared of getting the answer wrong and being teased by their peers. In fact, one child from the video, Sid, attested to this when he said that he only raises his hand in class if he is one-hundred percent confident that he knows the right answer. Otherwise, he doesn’t raise his hand in fear of being made fun of. In this sense, I think the “no hands up” rule can be intimidating for students because it makes participation mandatory instead of voluntary. That being said, before I ever implemented the “no hands up” rule in my classroom, I would have a discussion with my students about respecting other peoples’ opinions. However, this was not done in the video, so students were made fun of for their answers.
Another assessment strategy from the video that I like is the traffic-light cups. Basically, each student was given three paper cups to have at their desk––one green, one yellow, and one red––and they were to use the cups to signal how they were getting on during a lesson/assignment. For instance, if a student displayed the green cup on his/her desk, it meant that they completely understood the lesson/assignment. However, if a student displayed the red cup, it signaled that he/she needed immediate teacher assistance. I like the traffic-light cups because they are an on-the-spot formative assessment tool that teachers can use to guide their instruction. For example, if the majority of students are displaying yellow cups, it indicates to the teacher that he/she needs to slow down the lesson or go back and explain something in more detail. Overall, this is a formative assessment strategy that I can definitely see myself using in the future.
While I like most of the assessment strategies that Wiliam implemented, there is one strategy that I do not agree with––Secret Student. Now, the Secret Student strategy was successful in the video such that students became more engaged in their learning and displayed less behavioural issues; however, overall, I think Secret Student is a poor assessment tool. First, I think Secret Student instills a sense of fear in students. In my opinion, the students in the video were not intrinsically motivated to become more engaged in their learning; rather, I believe they were motivated by the fear of possibly letting their peers down. Another reason why I think Secret Student is a poor assessment tool is because students are assessed simply on the behaviours they display in class; the underlying causes of the behaviours are not considered. This means that if a student displays negative behaviours or is disengaged in class then they do not receive a point, no matter what is causing the behaviour.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Classroom Experiment–the majority of the assessment tools that were discussed in the video I can see myself using in my future classroom. However, I think the key learning that I took away from The Classroom Experiment is that assessment, when done correctly, can be used as a tool to guide both teacher instruction and student learning.