Embedded Assessment: Why Educational Achievement Matters

I like need to reread things, especially when I am really trying to connect to the content.  I read Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment in an effort to learn more about how we can empower students to understand themselves and their learning.  I finished the book feeling energized and ready to learn as much as possible about formative assessment practices.  But, I found myself needing to go back to his text to keep myself focused and on the right path.  Is that right?  I enjoyed reading this book like one enjoys eating something delicious.  I couldn’t wait for the next chapter, but didn’t want the book to end.  I wanted to taste every flavor and be able to decipher the ingredients to make the recipe my own.  I found a friend in New Yorker author, Ian Crouch, who said, “But that, of course, is the stuff of reading—the going back, the poring over, the act of committing something from the experience, whether it be mood or fact, to memory. It is in the postmortem where we learn how a book really works. Maybe, then, for a forgetful reader like me, the great task, and the greatest enjoyment, would be to read a single novel over and over again. At some point, then, I would truly and honestly know it.”

In Embedded Formative Assessment, Wiliam explains why focusing on classroom practices that provide timely feedback to the teacher and student on an ongoing basis is the most impactful thing we can do to improve the quality of education.  I look forward to rereading it and processing my thoughts about each chapter as part of our book study. I aspire to truly and honestly know.

“Pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught”.

In Chapter One, Wiliam starts with why.  He offers research to explain why educational achievement matters.  He shares information indicating that while today’s students are more intelligent and skilled than previous generations, they are not exhibiting the skills needed for our rapidly changing economy. He then briefly describes the various ways we have tried to reform education, from structure to curriculum, and why those reforms have been ineffective.  Wiliam asserts that “pedagogy trumps curriculum”, or “pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught”.  Wiliam makes the assumption that the improvement of teaching practices is the critical element to developing necessary student skills.

So, I guess I argue with the author on the point that it is not the curriculum, but the pedagogy.  It is really more of a ‘yes, and’ rather than a ‘yes, but’.  Yes, teaching practices that focus on the skills necessary to face new and unseen challenges are critical, and we must reconsider what we assess and report altogether.  Is it really how we teach, measure, and report reading or science? Or, is it more important to think about how we teach, measure, and report the skills we expect and need students to have such as researching, empathizing, problem identification, analyzing, and innovating?  Should those skills be a byproduct of the learning experience or the primary focus of learning with content and subject matter being the byproduct?

“…education can compensate for society provided it is of high quality.”
I agree that education can be the great equalizer, and that what we have in our country right now is not of high quality for many learners.  Without high quality education, education has a minimal impact relative to societal factors.  Someday we may live in a society where all children have everything they need to be productive and positively contributing members, including a quality education.  Today, teachers can decide to implement research-based practices that make their classrooms places that provide preparation and opportunity.
“It turns out that these substantial differences between how much students learn in different classes have little to do with class size, how the teacher groups the students for instruction, or even the presence of between-class grouping practices (for example tracking). The most critical difference is simply the quality of the teacher.”
I aspire to be a part of making high-quality education the standard for all learners.  I don’t think formative assessment or any one practice is the answer to the many questions in education, but Wiliam provides solid evidence for why we must look to teaching quality as the focus of our efforts.  I aspire to be a high-quality teacher and empowered learner. I aspire to truly and honestly know.

Wiliam, Dylan. Embedded Formative Assessment.  Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 2011. Print.