Visible Learning

Earlier this month I read Doug Ota’s newly published book Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it (highly recommended for anyone working with frequently transitioning families).  I’ll publish a book review on it shortly.

One of the focal points of Ota’s book is a study by John Hattie entitled Visible Learning.  Hattie recently completed a study measuring the impact that various influencers have on student learning outcomes.  These influencers ranged from teaching techniques to teacher attributes to school structures to student home life.  I found the breakdown of each of these influencers to be fascinating (to see all of them, visit this website).

A couple of key take-aways that I got from this as an educator:

1. Most things have a positive effect on a student’s learning.  Out of the 137 influences listed, only 5 had a distinctly negative effect.  Some of these are controllable within a school setting (i.e. providing formative evaluation) and some of these are not (i.e. gender).  I don’t think it’s realistically possible for a teacher to be attentive to all 132 to the 137 factors that lead to positive learning, but as long as some of them are being addressed, then I feel like teachers can be confident that we’re going to decent job.

2. I found it interesting that most of the influences indicated as having the most positive impact on student learning were not necessarily teaching strategies, but rather larger processes that a teacher can incorporate into anything.  For example, self-reporting grades can be incorporated into any classroom (side note: I’ve always wondered about the impact of self-reported grades, because as a teacher I wondered how accurate a student would be…but I guess whether or not they are accurate doesn’t necessarily indicate how helpful they are in student learning).  Or something like comprehensive interventions for learning disabled–not something specific that a teacher does, but something that a whole school can get behind.

3. The five negative influences on student learning were fascinating: summer vacation, welfare policies, retention, television, and mobility.  I guess this could be solid evidence for eliminating summer vacation and moving to a year-round school system.  But then, maybe we should also eliminate TV and hope that student learning improves?

One thing that I appreciated about Doug Ota’s book, though, was that even though mobility was ranked at the bottom of the list in terms of negative influencers, he didn’t treat it as a crime.  Rather, Ota provided ways to help people who are constantly mobile continue to learn well.

Which I think should be a take away from this entire list–none of the items on this list are magic wands that will or will not increase student learning.  Instead, it’s how we respond to them and what we do with them that make a difference for students.

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