Thursday, June 07, 2012

Book Review: Visible Learning for Teachers

Title: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning
Author: John Hattie
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2012
ISBN: 978-0-415-69015-7

"When teaching and learning are visible there is a greater likelihood of students reaching higher levels of achievement" (p. 18).

This seems to be an obvious statement - kind of like the proverb, if you don't know your destination, how will you ever know you have arrived.  However, in my experience, many teachers do not make their teaching expectations and learning goals visible for the students they work with.  I've mentioned before my use of backward design and teaching for understanding, which asks teachers to 1) Describe what understanding looks like in your subject area (and then unit). 2) Plan backwards from the end of the unit (What should students be able to know and do?) to the beginning (What skills, strategies and dispositions to student need to learn and practice to get to the understanding?).  Hattie's book, originating out of  New Zealand and Australia, continues to support these ideas, but goes a step further  - insisting that the largest factor of student success is the teacher.  His book, based on meta-analysis of over 52,000 studies on student learning, elaborates on what he believes are the key moves that teachers can make to increase achievement - and it begins with the teacher's mind set, not with the program or curriculum.

Hattie believes that teachers are the major players in the educational process.  Again, this seems like an obvious statement, but more programs and curricula are trying to squeeze out the influence of the teacher with the mistaken belief that the research-based curriculum is the answer to all that troubles schools.    Schools do not have control over student background, prior experiences, or preferences, but teachers DO have control over their own beliefs, commitments, and ultimately, actions. It is the attitude and expectations of the teacher that determines the decisions and actions that happen in the classroom, for both the teacher and the students.

There is a difference between experienced teachers and expert teachers in 5 crucial ways.
1) Expert teachers identify the most important ways to represent their subject (integrating ideas)
2) Expert teachers are proficient at creating an optimal classroom climate for learning (trust)
3) Expert teachers monitor learning and provide feedback consistently
4) Expert teachers believe that ALL students can reach the success criteria
5) Expert teacher believe that they can influence surface and deep level outcomes

All of this happens before the teacher walks into the classroom.  Then, Hattie breaks down the lesson planning into - preparing, starting, flow of learning, flow of feedback and end of the lesson.  Being a meta-analysis, he gives a lot of statistics about the studies he has reviewed but there are some very basic ideas that are important.
*Know the students and begin with what they know
*Focus on creating dialogue (not monologue) in the classroom
*Aim students at the goal (be explicit about what they should do and how)
*Balance surface level knowledge and deep understanding
*Give feedback at multiple places and at multiple levels - including peer-to-peer and self-assessment
*Use errors as growth opportunities to see how students think
*Reflection should focus on the students - their learning and reactions, not teacher action

The last section of the books elaborates on what Hattie calls "Mind Frames" - the kind of thinking and beliefs that schools, school leaders and teachers need to have to promote success for all students:
1) Teachers/leaders need to believe that teaching has an effect on students - therefore, teachers need to evaluate the effectiveness of their interactions with students.
2) Teachers are change agents!
3) Schools should focus more on learning and less on teaching.
4) Assessment should be feedback - not a decision.
5) There needs to be more dialogue and less monologue (in classrooms AND in schools - professional development etc).
6) Teaching and learning is challenging - but this should be supported and embraced, not eliminated.
7) Positive, trusting relationships are necessary to support learning.
8) Teachers/leaders need to teach parents and the community the language of learning used in school and become partners in the learning process.

Appendix A includes a checklist for visible learning that includes much of the a fore mentioned items.  There is an assumption that the school environment supports peer visits etc - which in and of itself, is a good practice.  Appendix B lists the major details of each of the studies the author used to draw his meta-analysis from.

Overall, I can't say this was a fun read, as there were a lot of details of the studies along with effect sizes etc.  However, the major conclusions are significant.  At the last AERA, the theme was "To Know is Not Enough".  We do actually know a lot about what makes learning work, but we are still so entrenched in continuing to do things as they have always been done.  The way we taught 100 years ago will no longer work in an era that creativity and critical thinking is more valuable than following directions and learning one particular trade.  I'm glad I pick up this book (How could you resist the colorful cover?) as it highlights for me the importance of checking my own attitudes and beliefs about teaching and learning before I begin planning for the new school year.

John Hattie's early book, on which this book is based, is Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement.    At What Works Best, Atherton provides a summary, comments and some graphics from the book.

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