Archives For John Hattie Visible Learning

The teacher was clearing the piles of books on a back counter and a young student was helping her. No other students were in the room, and their conversation was lively, animated.

I had stopped by unannounced, to briefly touch on a curriculum matter, so I waited for a few minutes. When the teacher paused to speak to me, the girl continued the work, but she soon made it clear that I was an intruder.

“Miss?” the girl focused all her attention on the teacher.
“Miss?” she insisted, interrupting our conversation. The teacher tried to hold her off, first with a head nod….then, with a hand held up.
“Miss?” the girl persisted.

I recognized the student had no question, really.
What she was telling me was, “This is MY time with the teacher…Go away!”
I had interrupted something valuable.
I knew I had to leave.

In retrospect, I considered that what I had just witnessed may have been that student’s most important lesson of the day, an exercise that was helping to build a positive teacher/student relationship.

The research on the importance of positive teacher/student relationships is clear. Teachers and students spend 1200 hours (average 6.64 hours X 180 days) together in school annually. Every day there is an informal blend of academic and social-emotional learning. And while the time for academic learning is clearly spelled out in prescribed blocks or periods (ex: English period 2, 9:40-10:30), the time designated for developing the social-emotional learning is less so.

There are the formal strategies for developing a teacher/student relationship at any grade level, for example, conferencing with a student or using small groups. Then there are the informal ways, such the minutes spent while a teacher and her student work together and talk as they clear a counter of books. And data show those minutes pay off.

John Hattie, researcher and author of Visible Learning, analyzed the results of multiple studies. He used the results from meta-analyses to calculate a “pooled estimate” or measure of an effect on student learning. He then ranked 195 of the results according to the size of the effect.

His conclusion?  The number one influencer for student achievement is a “teacher estimates of achievement” an effect that he calculated at four times (1,62) the effect of the average influencer. Average influencers, in this case, include inquiry-based instruction (,35), computer-assisted instruction (,45), or school size (,27)

Hattie’s statement:

“It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement.”

The studies that Hattie used in his analysis indicate that the teacher’s knowledge of students in his or her classes can determine the kinds of classroom activities and materials used as well as the difficulty of the tasks assigned. The effect of a teacher’s estimate on student achievement could be felt in the student groupings used in class, as well as the kinds of questions or instructional strategies selected.

Of course, the inverse could also be true if a teacher developed a negative teacher/student relationship. A negative relationship could likely have a disproportionately negative effect on student achievement.

Should that teacher/student relationship be based on low expectations, socially or academically, the year’s 1200 school hours would yield less positive results. While it is important to state that negative teacher/student are rarely born in malice, all teachers should be made aware of the potential damage to student achievement in setting low expectations by claiming that “students can’t”.

“Can’t,” however, was not what I witnessed in the exchange between the teacher and her student, unless it was the message “you can’t interrupt.”

Teachers who consider Hattie’s findings and use the 1200 hours available in every school year to develop positive teacher/student relationships, academically and socio-emotionally, in and outside of the classroom, will see a result in something more than an estimate, a result in actual achievement.

Just be aware that there are times when you can’t interrupt.

Every student can learn and perform differently in any given classroom. A hypothetical classroom of 24 hypothetical students is still a hypothetical classroom of diversity, with 24 individual combinations of learning styles.  Teachers should differentiate for a wide variety of learners and prepare for all students, especially those who have with dissimilar interests and abilities. How dissimilar? Consider this video of a toddler’s dance recital that went viral as an example:

There is obviously a “lesson plan” for this recital. The dance instructor’s objective for the recital is to have all the dancers perform the same dance routine to the song “Broadway Baby”. The routine has been choreographed, as evidenced by the photos, with simple arm movements and tap steps.

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Dancer #3 loosely following the routine…

At the stage right section of the chorus line, the four little girls in their festive tutus catch the attention of the videographer in the audience. He records the performance in which three out of four dancers are dedicated to staying in step and following the routine they had practiced.

Three of the four dancers synchronize their arm and toe-tapping movements; they obviously know the steps of dance routine.  Their performance, in contrast, is juxtaposed with the animated interpretation of another dancer whose enthusiasm for performance is both charming and comical.

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…singing and dancing her interpretation…

This dancer, let’s call her Dancer #3 (third from the left), is whole-heartedly performing her own distinctive dance steps and arm movements while still loosely following the choreographed routine. As the other dancers in the chorus line follow and conform according to scripted direction, Dancer #3 dances to her own distinctive beat.

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….expressing herself in movement…

The members of the audience are heard laughing in the background of the video. It is probably safe to say that in the audience watching the recital were the anxious parents, relatives, and friends of all the little girls in the chorus line.

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…and celebrating her difference…

Each audience member was rooting for their special dancer on stage, and depending on the point of view, each dancer was wonderful. Dancer #3’s family and friends, however, have the evidence to prove that their little girl’s performance was matchless.

Now consider how every classroom has has at least one Dancer #3. All teachers must be prepared to instruct a student or set of students like her who may differ in how they learn and perform. These differences are usually addressed under the educational theory of  learning styles, and there are numerous different theories about how these styles impact how individuals learn.. One theory (Fleming, 2001) suggests that all learners use one of three common learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Another theory  (Gardner) suggests that there are seven different learning styles for learners:

  • Visual (spatial): learning using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): learning using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): learning using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): learning using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): learning using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): learning in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): learning alone through self-study.

Education theorists may suggest even more learning styles, but whatever the learning style, teachers must be prepared to meet all the needs of all the learners in their classrooms. The most recent discussion about learning styles provides the evidence that that all learners benefit when a multitude of learning styles are addressed in a classroom. The education reformer John Hattie uses many studies in his work Visible Learning, and he places little regard on the practice of individually matching a learning style to each learner. He notes that such a practice is only is 41% effective. That effectiveness of addressing learning styles is increased, however, when all there are a multitude of learning styles used regularly in a classroom for all learning styles. There is a positive result when all students are stimulated to listen (aural), to watch (visual), and to move (kinesthetic) in class whenever there is new learning. Since addressing all the learning styles is the basis for differentiation in the classroom, teachers must be prepared with activities that stimulate all students.

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…while drawing admiration from fellow dancers

Going back to the video and watching the energy of Dancer #3, her teacher would be well-advised to increase kinesthetic learning activities in class whenever possible. Perhaps because of her young age, Dancer #3 is not self-conscious about herself, providing the clearest example of a kinesthetic learner whose learning style is expressed through movement. That expression made a positive contribution to the recital if it is measured by the reaction of the audience and measured by the littlest dancer to the right who had been watching Dancer #3 out of the corner of her eye.  The final frames show this small dancer turn in admiration to the other dancers at a job well done; she holds her hand out as if to congratulate the exuberant Dancer #3. They smile at each other in delight.

Key to understanding the importance of celebrating student differences is recognizing that this video would not have been the viral hit viewed by millions if Dancer #3 had danced the routine exactly as her dancing teacher had choreographed. Instead, Dancer #3 tapped and sang what she learned and demonstrated her own learning style; she elevated the group’s performance to a different level by dancing to a different beat.

Her dance is a celebration of difference, and also a “heads up” to her teacher(s)…. better get ready!