Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making learning Visible (John Hattie)

Auckland University Professor John Hattie has recently authored a study, based on research into 83 million students, studying effective teachers around the world and has come up with some reassuring results for creative teachers. It's all about trusting relationships and 'oodles of feedback'. Note - it is not about national testing, our government's highly unoriginal plan.

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It seems hard to avoid the brief press releases of Auckland University Professor John Hattie's research in our newspapers. It is a shame that the papers haven't done more in depth research of their own into Hattie's findings.

Most teachers by now will know the main findings of Hattie's research from his previous papers and creative teachers will be reassured that his research backs up intuitive ideas gained from their experience. For such teachers Hattie's findings will be obvious and common sense; unfortunately common sense is not so common! A quick glance through Hattie's book provides definitive evidence of what works and what doesn't.

What doesn't 'work' includes class sizes,homework and school type and he doesn't even mention our current governments misguided focus on national testing.

I have my doubts about the importance of school type but as he states in his book ' this is not a book about what cannot be influenced in schools.... critical dimensions about class, poverty... are not included.. not because they are unimportant, indeed they may be more important than many of the influences discussed in this book. It is just that I have not included these topics in my orbit'.

He also says that his book is not about qualitative studies. It only includes studies that were based on statistics. Thankfully his finding give support to the intuitive ideas gained by creative teachers through their lived experience. Hattie does say his message is a positive one for teachers and that 'many teachers already think in the way the book argues'.

Although I appreciate his exclusion of the socio -economic dimensions the effect of the environment students students come from has to faced up to. If not faced up to it places a impossible responsibility on schools and teachers in such areas.

Hattie's research aslo includes little criticism of the archaic industrial aged structures of secondary schools which work against many of the relationship issues he found to be most important. Although this is understandable, in light of Hattie's study, it is a also a shame - a bit like patching up a sinking ship. In previous paper he has written that his research would assist 'restoring faith in the public school system'. Elsewhere he mentions that effective practices are more often to be seen in primary schools. If out of date school structures are not faced up his effective teaching findings could well be simply cosmetic - getting better at a bad job. And, indeed, Hattie's development of better testing in literacy and numeracy has had the effect of schools focusing on literacy and numeracy and diverting valuable teachers energy away from other equally important areas. Such thoughts would seem to place Hattie as an educational conservative unlike future orientated thinkers such as Guy Claxton, David Perkins, Howard Gardner, Robert Fried and Elliott Eisner etc, and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson.

To his credit he quotes that, for all the reforms, in many respects some aspects of education are 'hardly different than 200 years ago' and that his 'meta analysis' of research provides the potential to make real changes as its conclusions are 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

The big challenge of Hattie's findings, if implemented, would mean 'a change in the conception of being a teacher...it necessitates a different way of interacting and respecting students'. This brings us back to the writings of Guy Claxton and our current curriculum's emphasis on 'key competences'.

Hattie's meta analysis ( a synthesis of 50000 previous studies) found that overwhelmingly student teacher interaction came out on top.

Hattie's book is about the power of directed teaching, focusing on 'what happens next' through feedback and monitoring. This is an approach that also informs the teacher about the success or failure of their teaching; making learning for both teacher and student 'visible'.

Number one is teaching where the students know exactly how well they're doing and can articulate this, and what they need to know, to their teacher. Hattie says that teachers should ask themselves, "how many of the kids in your classroom are prepare to say, in front of class, 'we need help', we don't know what's going on', or ' what have you learned?" This sort of trust, he says, is rare.

The most effective strategy of all is giving regular feedback and fostering an atmosphere of trust - these are qualities within the reach of every teacher to improve on.

I have to agree with the head of the secondary teachers union who has said , in response to Hattie's finding that, 'it is not rocket science' but I disagree that it it would be common practice in our stressed secondary schools. Hattie, in his book, commends the work of University of Waikato's Russell Bishop study of the experiences of Maori students which asks for a considerable change of approach in teacher student relationships. It is however not 'rocket science' for those creative teachers, past and present, found in our primary schools.

I liked Hattie's reference to philosopher Carl Popper's 'three worlds' ( a favourite of the late National Art Adviser Gordon Tovey, mentor to creative teachers in the 50 and 60s). The first world of surface knowledge, the second of thinking skills ( 'key competencies'), and the third creating deep concepts about what is worth learning. Tovey called the 'third world' the creative products resulting from learning. It places 'key competencies' in perspective for me.

Hattie writes that the major source of student variance lies within 'the person who gently closes the door of the classroom door and performs the teaching act'. His research focuses on the difference between the 'expert' or 'excellent' teachers and the 'accomplished' or simply 'experienced'. I would prefer the use of the phase 'creative' rather than 'expert' because it is the 'artistry' of such teachers that make all the difference. Identifying and sharing such teachers quality teaching attributes is the focus of Hattie's research. 'While teachers', he says, 'have the power - few do damage, some maintain a status quo in growth of students achievement,and many are excellent'.We need to identify, esteem, and grow those who have powerful influences on student learning.'

Papers are available on the Internet which outline all Hattie's ealier findings but the top teaching influences are : feedback, instructional quality, direct instruction, remediation feedback, class environment and challenge of goals.

'Expert' (or 'creative') teachers, Hattie found, had real respect for their learners as people with ideas of their own. They are passionate about teaching and learning, able to present challenging learning tasks ensuring 'deep learning' ( able to be transferred) and show more emotionality about successes and failures in their work. They are able to make lessons their own, invite students to 'engage', integrating and combining new learning with students prior knowledge. Their expertise ('artistry') allows them to 'read' their classrooms and to be more responsive to learners.

Such creative teachers,Hattie writes, are very context bound and find it hard to think out of the specifics of their classroom. They are extremely flexible and opportunistic, improvising to take advantage of contingencies and new information as it arises. They are 'greater seekers and user of feedback'. Interestingly research indicated that such teachers did not have written lesson plans but all could easily describe mental plans for their lessons. They were able to work intuitively and focus their energy on the creative act. Creative teachers indeed!

Interestingly it was pedagogical knowledge ( 'the art of teaching') rather than content knowledge that distinguished the 'expert' teachers.

The three things that separated 'expert' from 'experienced' teachers were: the degree of challenge presented, depth of student processing of knowledge and representation of what was worth finding out about, and ongoing monitoring and feedback.

Five areas covered in Hattie's latest book are;

Students to develop: a 'positive learning disposition' and to be 'open' to new learning. They need to develop 'engagement' with learning goals so as to become 'turned on' so as to gain worthwhile learning. Claxton's 'learnacy' or the NZ Curriculum's 'key competencies'.

Homes to be helped develop 'positive parental expectations and aspirations' as 'positive parent alignment' with school is vital.

Schools to provide a positive , optimistic, invitational, trusting and safe learning climate. One that welcomes student errors and develops positive peer influences; that gives both teachers and learner's respect as learners.

Teachers who are seen by their students as quality teachers. Who provide clarity of expectations and a belief that all can learn. Teachers who are 'open' to new ideas, who develop positive learning climate, and who value the importance of student effort to improve.

A curriculum that is explicit to learners and that provides challenging in depth experiences.

Hattie's work probably deserves greater consideration than I have given it as it is important. If teachers are to make the difference Hattie believes is possible then we need more than 'press releases'.

Hattie's on going research has identified teacher effectiveness ( or creativity) 'beyond doubt' and faces up to the fact that not all teachers are equal.

If the ideas Hattie has identified are known by all teachers then all our students could do far better than is currently expected.

Applying such ideas is preferable to wasting teacher time and energy on the failed concept national testing.


Anonymous said...

I bet John Hattie woudn't like to be thought of as educational conservatist - but I guess he is conserving the best effective teaching strategies?
I think you are right about the over focus on literacy and numeracy but I guess there are some good contracts involved in developing and selling all the asTTle tests!

Unknown said...

The frustration is that we have a wonderfulbody of research which is ignored by political parties and government. I railed against National Party policy on national testing on my blog, in local press, at a Rotary meeting and wherever I could! I was surprised by the lack of even basic awareness of their policy by even my principal colleagues. It all made no difference and I suspect even this research will not sway government. We need some inspirational leadership at government level.
At some stage I would like to share the plans we have at our school to turn the secondary curriculum on its head. Hattie's work will be very useful.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Bruce!

I apologise before I start here. I think it's very simple. The problems of government and education authorities can be summed up in one simple word.

The same word has been used about the Bush Administration and the quest for weapons of mass destruction.

The same word can be used for the salesperson who is (successfully) selling inappropriate equipment to people who can't afford it.

That word is denial.

It is denial that home backgound has any influence. it is denial that books are (actually) useful. It is denial that elearning is expensive and rarely works. it is denial that practice makes perfect. It is denial that 'just in time' is just not good enough. It is even denial that pedagogy is any good. (I did apologise!)

Through denial our authorities can justify throwing out the baby, bathwater AND the bath all at the same time when they have the power to release the money and say how it is to be spent.

Check out Benjamin Zander. See what he has to say about effective teaching strategies AND testing.

He has a very conservative view about the place of testing in learning. Not!

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Bruce Hammonds said...

Your are possibly right anon, John Hattie would certainly not see himself as an 'educational conservatist' but that is how I see him with his over emphasis on literacy and numeracy testing.

Thanks for your comment Maurie. The status quo has a power of its own! I read with interest your own blog and the school wiki. Sounds like your trip to Queensland was worthwhile - 'rich' topics and productive pedogogies and all. All aligned well with Hattie's findings. Had one your ex pupil staying with me - Flynn.

Greeting Middle Earth (Ken?). You are so right about denial, or avoiding facing up to reality , or worse still, twisting facts to suit the circumstances in education.Loved reading your blog and enjoyed Benjamin Zander video - a great teacher.Thanks.

gregcarroll said...

Bruce - lets be careful about reading too much into meta-analysis. While I agree with much of what he is saying we also have top be VERY careful that too much is not extrapolated from his information. Particularly by those called Tolley (Peachy??)?!
Effect size and causal relationships are NOT the same thing! Nor are particular strategies ever isolated in the classroom. True class size of itself is not a significant factor compared to teacher competence but I would think that a skilled teacher can do an even better job and provide even higher quality feedback etc in a smaller class.
We also need to critique the data - standard deviations of the results ARE significant. An overall average of averages can provide a misleading picture! Like saying a schools overall achievement are positive and ignoring individuals who are not doing so well. Some studies will have shown little, or even negative effects in their particular circumstances. They may b just the ones that are important to your school or ours.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks for the thoughts about Hattie's research Greg (and the link to John Cleese's video clip).

I have passed your thoughts on to Kelvin Smythe (networkconnect) because he is writing a critique of Hattie's reseach and how ERO will use his findings to punish schools.

It all depends on what is defined as 'achievement' -and who defines it!
I guess I 'cherry picked' his ideas.

gregcarroll said...

Marzano etal's book has a great introduction that outlines the do's, don'ts and pitfalls of meta-analysis. Well worth a read for anyone who deals with statistics an research to inform their thinking and practice.
My experience of Hattie is that he tends to focus on the "numberable" - ERO heaven. I wonder how he sees the Key Competencies...? e-asTTle won't measure them? Are our schools going to be league-tabled based on them I wonder?
We live in interesting times :-)

John O'Reilly said...

In fairness, much of what you describe as "common sense" (as presented in Hattie's research) is very nuanced and has much that is actually decidedly uncommon in practice. Take feedback for example - most educators would acknowledge the importance of formative assessment, comment-based marking etc. i.e. feedback from the teacher to the learner. Hattie concludes that in fact the most important type of feedback is that from the learner to the teacher and that most of the strategies with the largest effects sizes (e.g. reciprocal teaching) maximise this. This is far from obvious for most teachers, especially those starting out. I think Geoff Petty's "Evidence based teaching" has a useful synthesis of Hattie's findings.


Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks John.

Actually I am in the process of writing another blog about Hattie's ideas and no longer see much that is positive to say about him.

Andrew Herrick said...

Hey Bruce,

Great post. You may be interested to note that the reason I found this blog was the result of a web search for Hattie's model for teaching and learning which is the focus of a current Univrsity assignment I am completing. Interesting for me is the fact that the 6 indicators of quality teaching and learning are the basis for which we are to judge our colleagues understanding of quality teaching by. Perhaps its not just schools that have bought into the Hattie wave of best practice.

dan dempsey said...

Maurie said:
The frustration is that we have a wonderfulbody of research which is ignored by political parties and government.

Let us specifically identify elected and appointed school officials, school board members and many school superintendents in Maurie's government group.
Excellent point about effect sizes and causal relationships.

Try the following for effect sizes that I believe indicate likely causal relationships.

As a math teacher I've watched the abysmal results as Administration forced changes in instructional decision making through a bizarre top down destruction of more effective practices (often under the guise of best practices).

Check this:
John Hattie published "Visible Learning" which uses 800 meta studies which collectively looks at 83 million students and found the following effect sizes:

Problem based teaching = 0.15
Inquiry based teaching = 0.31
Direct Instruction = 0.59

The following should be a non-issue:
"Discovery/Inquiry" vs: Example Based "Explicit/Direct Instruction"

But it is not, much to the chagrin of teachers interested in results.

Is it time for a math book burning yet?

notes from the Math Underground

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, Bruce. I was doing some research into John Hattie's work and really enjoyed reading your blog. The problem I have with schools is that there is so much forced change from the top down as Dan Dempsey points out. There will never be one model or theory that suits every teacher in every school school in every state in the country and it is time for the department of education to start listening to and responding to the needs of schools. Then we will see some amazing and creative things happen in education and until then nothing much will change. I like Maurie's plans to turn the secondary curriculum on its head and give something different a go. If it works keep on doing it and if it doesn't try something new.

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