#016 Dylan Wiliam – Author, Researcher, Trainer and Assessment for Learning Expert

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On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, I spoke to Dylan Wiliam.

Quite simply, Dylan is one of my heroes. He was the inspiration behind my Diagnostic Questions website, and his many books, presentations and writing that I have eagerly consumed over the years have always left me filled up with new ideas to try in the classroom.

Dylan Wiliam is Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London. In a varied career, he has taught in inner-city schools, directed a large-scale testing programme, served a number of roles in university administration, including Dean of a School of Education, and pursued a research programme focused on supporting teachers to develop their use of assessment in support of learning.

It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Dylan, and we covered loads of stuff. In fact, you might want to listen to this episode at one-quarter speed in order to pick up on all the ideas Dylan shares. Amongst other things, I asked:

  • What makes a lesson successful in Dylan’s opinion
  • Why is Dylan a big fan of the classic SMILE resources, and what did a lesson look like involving these materials?
  • Why is it a mistake to plan a lesson on the assumption that students will understand a topic, and what should teachers do instead?
  • Dylan describes a lesson he taught that went badly, and what he learned from it, which leads to a discussion about the dangers of so-called “real life maths”
  • We talk through Dylan’s selection of things he’d wished he knew when he started teaching, including ensuring students know you care, and the importance of forgetting for learning
  • Dylan explains why he thinks lesson observations are a waste of time, and describes a model that he believes would support teacher development much better.
  • Why is a good idea to test our students more, and how can we get around the problem that students often hate being tested?
  • What makes good group work, and how can you make the whole group accountable?
  • We discuss feedback in great depth, specifically when it is effective and when it is simply a waste of time. Some of the findings might surprise you.
  • Dylan describes the most important piece of research he has been involved in, and what other piece of research has surprised him the most
  • How would Dylan up-skill teachers who simply do not have time to go on Twitter, read blogs, study research, listen to podcasts, and so on?
  • Why does Dylan like multiple choice questions, but is not overly keen on using them with mini whiteboards or electronic voting systems?
  • What books would Dylan suggest teachers read?
  • Finally, Dylan offers up advice for Heads of Department, and describes how he would change teacher training courses

Hopefully you will agree with me that this interview is jam-packed full of food for thought and practical takeaways. Things you can try in the classroom tomorrow, and ideas that will hopefully improve your teaching practice for good, whatever stage of your career you are at. And also, whatever subject you teach. Many of the ideas Dylan shares are not maths specific, so please share this episode with your non-maths colleagues, especially any student teachers or NQTs you may know.

Spoiler alert here, but I was both proud and humbled that Dylan picked Diagnostic Questions as one of his Big 3 websites to direct listeners towards. For listeners not aware of the site, it is the largest collection of top-quality maths multiple choice questions in the world, with a growing number of Science and Computer Science questions as well. We have been working hard over the last few months to develop new features, such as feedback, reporting, a scheme of work, and a mobile app for students. All of this is 100% free and always will be. Head over to Diagnostic Questions to find out more.

On Twitter, Dylan is @dylanwiliam
Dylan’s website is www.dylanwiliam.org

Links to the research that Dylan mentions, as well as all the research cited by my previouis guests, can be found here
The books Dylan recommends, along with those recommended by my other guests, can be found here

  • Dylan gives some background on his favourite number, Skewes Number, here
  • The SMILE Cards that Dylan talks about are available to download for free from by registering at the
  • STEM e-library here: www.stem.org.uk/elibrary/
  • Dylan’s “Relevance as MacGuffin in Mathematics Education” article is here
  • Dylan’s article entitled “The nine things every teacher should know” (although he would prefer the title “”Things I wish I’d known when I started teaching”) that he wrote for the TES is here
  • Dylan describes in more detail the piece of research he has found most surprising here

Dylan Wiliam’s Big 3:

1. diagnosticquestions.com
2. twitter.com 
3. gregashman.wordpress.com

Dylan’s two Podcast Puzzles can be found here

Dylan has kindly compiled all the references to the articles he discusses in the interview here

Finally, the concepts of “Convince me that…” and “VI3 Treatment” that I discuss in the takeaway segment at the end can be found in the Topic section of my Mr Barton Maths website here: mrbartonmaths.com/topics/ Find the topic you want and click on Probing Questions.

My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

3 thoughts on “#016 Dylan Wiliam – Author, Researcher, Trainer and Assessment for Learning Expert

  1. I enjoyed listening to Dylan Williams and it seemed that he was saying a lot of the things that I’ve been wanting to say but not got the expertise or following to influence.

    The only point I would disagree with was the one he made about a bad teacher should be sacked. We seem to encourage, support and empathise with students that have difficulty in conforming to the educational system. Why is it that we don’t share the same behaviour to our fellow colleagues?

  2. I used to be able to listen to the podcasts on your web-site. Now it only gives me the first 30 seconds.

    I don’t have a spotter or a twittify. Please can you let me listen on your web-site like I was able to until early 2021?

  3. This was my first delve into your podcast. I was blown away with how incredibly emotive it was, jeepers I was in tears due to some of the comments (happy tears). Just about to start my first PGCE placement and you’ve made me so excited to be around pupils, teachers and Maths.

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