Embedded Formative Assessment


Recently, I completed reading, Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam.  To say it is an important read would be an understatement. What I think I liked most about the book was that it is grounded in research and a true understanding of what is necessary to improve student achievement.  I think teachers will love that this book is filled with practical suggestions each teacher can make changes to their every day teaching practise to help involve students more in their own learning – helping students learn to think. First of all, I’d like to just point out some of the quotes from the book that struck me. Wiliam talks about how  it is not the curriculum that needs to change (although, in BC, I do like the curriculum changes that are coming – less specific and more open-ended for more exploration of students). Wiliam states,

“Trying to change students’ classroom experience through changes in curriculum is very difficult. A bad curriculum well taught is invariably a better experience for students than a good curriculum badly taught: pedagogy trumps curriculum. Or more precisely, pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught” (pg. 19).

It is the pedagogy, what teachers believe, that needs to evolve and change in order to meet the needs of all our learners.  Wiliam goes on to say,

“The greatest impact on learning is the daily lived experiences of students in classrooms, and that is determined much more by how teachers teach than by what they teach” (pg. 19).

Yes! Yes! Yes!  It is what happens in the classrooms that make the real difference in student learning.  The relationships that are established and nurtured in those classrooms  and the engaging learning opportunities that get our students thinking are what really matter. I think sometimes, people may forget that help for our struggling learners outside the classroom is not makes the biggest difference for those students.

He goes on to talk more about the importance of teacher quality and states that,

“Students who are fortunate enough to be taught by the more effective teacher (in a group of 50 teachers) will learn in six months what those taught by the average teachers will take a year to learn” (pg. 20).

This goes for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds as well.  Wiliam asserts that,

“education can compensate for society provided that it is of high quality” (pg. 21).

Wiliam goes on to say that it is Formative Assessment that is going to make the difference for kids.  He says that no other professional development, whether that be in Learning Styles, Educational Neuroscience, or Content Area Knowledge, will have as great of an impact as if teachers have a deep understanding of Assessment for Learning.

While discussing the research about assessment, he concluded that

“attention to the use of assessment to inform instruction, particularly at the classroom level, in many cases effectively doubled the speed of student learning” (pg. 36).

DOUBLED the speed of learning! You can’t argue with that data!

So, what is formative assessment, you may be asking yourself.  Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam have defined formative assessment as

“encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.  . . .  information from the assessment be acted on while learning was taking place”  (pg. 37).

So, formative assessment is not what happens at the end of a unit. It is not what happens at the end of a term. It is not letter grades.  It is what guides our instruction. It is what we learn about from our students (or what they learn about themselves) that guides what happens next.

Wiliam goes on to talk about the strategies of formative assessment and the processes of what is involved in this kind of assessment. We must be

“finding out where learners are in their learning, finding out where they are going, and finding out how to get there” (pg. 45).


Wiliam summarized the 5 “key strategies” of formative assessment as being:

“1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success.

2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning.

3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward.

4. Activating learners as instructional resources for one another.

5. Activating learners as the owners of their own learning.”  (pg. 46)

Wiliam describes each of these strategies in detail. He discusses the importance of each, the research that it is grounded in, and some examples of how each strategy can effectively be used in the classroom. The practical examples throughout the book are wonderful!

Another quote that I really liked was when Wiliam was talking about feedback, he states that

“we need to ensure that feedback causes a cognitive rather than an emotional reaction – in other words, feedback should cause thinking. It should be focused; it should relate to the learning goals that have been shared with the students; and it should be more work for the recipient than the donor. Indeed, the whole purpose of feedback should be to increase the extent to which students are owners of their own learning” (pg. 132).


I would also assert that the same should go for teachers as well.  When providing feedback to teachers, we want to elicit a cognitive response and not an emotional one. We want our teachers to be owners of their own learning and not passive in the process.

I could go on and on about this book and all the suggestions found in the book (which can be used for every grade level). ABCD CArds, A or nothing, Ask the audience, Exit pass, Find the errors and fix them, Hot-seat questioning, Coloured Cups, Popsicle sticks, Preflight checklist, Red/Green disks, Traffic lights, Student Reporter, and many many others (he has 53 techniques listed throughout this book.

This is a must read for everyone in education.  I look forward to our book study group in our school next year.  Currently, we have 10 of our teachers who have taken the book home over the summer.  We will be purchasing more because of the interest others have demonstrated.

It’s an exciting time in education!

Published by Tia M. Dawson

There are many things that define who I am as a person. First of all, I am a mother of 3 wonderful children! I can not express how fortunate we are to have our children in our life! Secondly, I am an elementary educator who recently returned to the classroom after 12+ years as an elementary school administrator. Lastly, I am passionate about helping others, learning about abuse, helping others in abusive relationships, and helping others understand their worth.

13 thoughts on “Embedded Formative Assessment

  1. Tia,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this great resource. I read it earlier this year, referenced it throughout my field study on teaching metacognition with my students, and have sticky noted it like crazy; this has been one of my go to resources this year.
    It is crucial that teachers understand Formative Assessment is NOT a group of strategies but a belief in how children learn best. You have highlighted this well.
    Using this book as the basis of a professional book club at your school is exciting; your teachers will gain tremendous insight into the importance of how we assess in our classrooms through reading this book.
    Yeah many times over!

    1. Hi Anne-Marie,

      I would love to read your field study (if you did a write up). You’ve done some amazing work in this area, for sure! I have so much to learn from you about Formative Assessment!

      Yes, definitely not a bunch of strategies, but more about pedagogy and believing in how kids learn best. Pedagogy is such a challenge for some to alter and move forward with. It is my hope that this book will help start some conversations with our staff (not just those involved in the book club). We all have so much to learn!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Anne-Marie,

    1. Yes, very important book, for sure. I will go take a look at your blog. Thanks for mentioning that you have also written about connections to it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it!

  2. Pingback: Dylon Wiliam | T&L
  3. Thank you for sharing your insights from this evidently well-researched book. I will be recommending it for one of our professional book clubs at my school. “Pedagogy is curriculum…” is such an integral quote that supports the tenet that good teaching practice and Formative Assessment are essential in student learning success and learning ownership. Knowledge of what FA is and what it is not, is fundamentally necessary to know where our students are in their learning journey, facilitate the pathway to where they are going and how this will be achieved.

    1. Hi Marilyn,

      Yes, it is a very good book, for sure! The addendum that Dylan Wiliam sent me after my post is a very informative for the structure of how to implement such change. While it all sounds great in the book, and it is well supported by research, change is still difficult for many.

      Best wishes this year in your journey! I look forward to hearing about it!

      Thanks for reading and responding,

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