Dylan Wiliam talks, communicating with parents, effort and differentiation

In conversation: Dylan Wiliam

On the topic of communicating student achievement, the academic said ‘we’ve actually basically lied to parents that the information we’re giving them is useful and meaningful … these grades that we give to students, really don’t tell parents anything at all’.

He recalled a conversation with one parent during his time as a mathematics teacher in London. ‘He was pushing me to tell him what “position” his child was in the class – his “rank” in the class. I resisted and resisted, and eventually I gave in and I said “okay, he’s in the top three, but it’s the worst class I’ve ever taught. So, now what do you think you know?”

‘The point is, that parents think As and Bs and Cs and Ds are meaningful, but what we should be asking the parents is: “Now, what do you think you know about your child now that I’ve told you he’s got an A?” And the answer is “nothing”, so I think there’s been a bit of dishonesty here, because we’ve pretended to parents that these grades are meaningful, and they’re really not.’

Wiliam argued parents not only need quality information about how their child is doing, but also quality information about how they can get better involved in their learning.

‘Certainly in secondary school parents do need to be involved in understanding whether their child is likely to get into medical school or not. I think it’s a disaster if an 18-year-old finds out that they can’t go to medical school because their grades aren’t there, because nobody has told them that they’re failing. So, there’s a difficult balancing act to be struck I think, but I would say that the balance at the moment is far too far towards telling students where they are, rather than helping them get better.

‘And, when we’ve helped schools change communication systems, when you advise schools to tell parents not where their child is, but what that child needs to do to get better, then the parents are usually very positive – provided you explain the changes to them.

‘… we have to help parents understand that really they should be concerned about things like “is the teacher giving feedback that helps the learner move forward?” rather than just telling them how well they’re doing right now.

Click the link to watch the full video or read the article in the teacher magazine



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