Dylan Wiliam – podcast notes: everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere

Everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere

[by John Smith]

Dylan Wiliam is a rare breed among educationalists. A talented mathematician, former teacher and Head of Department, he is respected worldwide for bringing statistical rigour and common sense to educational research. In his recent book, Leadership for Teaching and Learning, he begins by updating the reader on the current ‘State of Education’ before making a compelling case for the areas towards which teachers and leaders should focus their energy. A book review will follow, but here is a summary of his recent interview with Craig Barton, in which we learn his key advice to educators, gained over years of experience of teaching and studying ‘what works’ in classrooms.

[ The full podcast can be found here: http://www.mrbartonmaths.com/blog/dylan-wiliam-author-researcher-trainer-and-assessment-for-learning-expert/ ]

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What makes a successful lesson?

A successful lesson is when the material is remembered in 6 weeks time. ‘Memory is the residue of thought’ (Willingham) so we need to make sure students are thinking about meaningful work in order for remembering to take place. A busy classroom is a poor proxy for learning.

What we know:

– For novices, worked examples are best.

– For experts, harder problems to work on are best.

– A good lesson isn’t a good lesson for everyone. A good question is a good question for anybody. Focus on asking better questions to glean understanding.

– There is no one type of good lesson, ‘I don’t know definitively what makes a good lesson and furthermore, I’m convinced no-one else does’.
Everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.
What is the worst mistake you see in classrooms?

-The biggest single dysfunctional thing happening in our classrooms is teachers deciding the learning needs of 30 students based on 1 confident volunteer. ‘Jimmy has got it, so we can all move on’. No.

On Assessment

Testing is vital for retrieval.

– The best person to mark a test is the person who took it.

– The best time to revise something is just before you forget it. Forgetting is crucial to learning.

– Always test on everything learned up to that point, not small chunks. – The only thing that matters about feedback is what students do with it.

The purpose of feedback is not to improve the work but to improve the student. Feedback should be more work for the student than the teacher.
On Group Work

Effective group work relies on individual accountability. Group goals are crucial and must be framed such that the whole group needs to be involved. E.g.  every student in a group gets the score of the lowest group member in the subsequent assessment.

If you haven’t got time to do group work properly, it is better to teach from the front.

Formative Assessment – has the biggest impact on achievement of anything you can do.


The best thing a HoD can do is to create a learning environment for teachers.

Just as we can’t do the learning for our students, we can’t do the learning for our staff.

How? Create a culture where you are always working at getting better at something.

What would you include in a PGCE?

Student teachers don’t get enough time explaining things to students in small groups, i.e. learning to be a teacher before learning about crowd control. Too many teachers start with the crowd control and make compromises on quality explanations.

Top 3 websites / blog posts: 1. Diagnosticquestions.com 2. Twitter 3. Greg Ashman’s blog: a very provocative source of ideas.


3 responses to “Dylan Wiliam – podcast notes: everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere


  2. Pingback: Evidence II: The mathematics strikes back | Dr Rachel Buchanan·

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