Book Review: Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment, 2nd Edition

by | Aug 1, 2018

Time poor no more!

So often I walk away from my work in schools feeling overwhelmed and weary. I have come to the conclusion, possibly due to externally perceived pressures, that we are spending more and more time covering and testing curriculum, rather than thinking about the essential skills and understandings our students will need beyond the coveted ATAR score.

How do we shift this educational paradigm?

Wiliam’s case for embedding formative assessment into our classroom practice is not only compelling, but exciting! He provides practical ways forward for weary teachers to rethink their current practice and consider research-informed techniques that reduce workload and increase student learning.

In my work in schools I am driven by questions like, “How can we know students are learning if we are not intentionally seeking feedback from them as they learn?” “How can summative assessment improve learning if it’s too late and we’ve moved onto the next topic?” Thankfully, each chapter of this book commences with credible research that informs practical classroom techniques to help us learn from and with our students, so that we can make real-time adjustments to our instruction and better meet their learning needs.

A highpoint of Embedded Formative Assessment is the reframing of what effective feedback is and what it is not. Wiliam argues that feedback must result in a cognitive, rather than an emotional, reaction and importantly, cause students to think rather than react. His arguments are compelling as well as counterintuitive, and if enacted would decrease our daily workload! Surprisingly, the most effective feedback is not the traditional and time consuming “grade and comment”! In fact, he suggests we are simply wasting our time and would be better off giving no feedback at all! So what feedback is most effective? I would recommend every teacher reads this book to find out!

Wiliam’s line of argument supports the claim that day-by-day formative assessment not only affects learning exponentially – in the order of a 50 to 70 per cent increase in the speed of learning – but is very cost effective for schools to implement.

Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the 
span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls

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