You should read this if you want the definitive research into what works best in education

Visible Learning

John Hattie

Every single time I open this book, I find something that changes the way I think, act and lead educationally. John Hattie’s seminal work “Visible Learning” is now the Bible for all educators. The key premise; most things that teachers and schools do work, but there are some things which work much better, here’s the evidence.

And what evidence indeed. Consisting of meta-analyses of virtually every worthwhile educational study done, Hattie places every intervention onto a common scale, using an effect size formula, to show exactly how effective different interventions are, (or are not!)

Every teacher and teacher leader should read this book, and keep a copy next to their desk. Hattie’s book is structured as an academic argument, and in places it can be a dense read. However the argument presented in the first chapter provides a rare amount of clarity for an academic text. What really makes this more of a reference guide than a weekend read is the barometer of influence. Each teaching intervention is charted on a barometer of influence, a small chart which tells the reader if it has a negative effect on learning (retention – staying down a year), a low effect equivalent developmental effects (ability grouping), a medium or standard teacher effect (Integrated curricula) or a high level impact – the zone of desired effects (Direct Instruction).  This means the reader can quickly use the index to locate an intervention, flick through to the relevant section, and identify just how effective or ineffective the intervention actually is. This makes for an outstanding mentoring/coaching tool, which I personally have utilized many times to help a teacher understand what they are doing right and occasionally why they should try a new approach.

This book is controversial. It challenges many of the well-worn beliefs of teachers and principals from around the world. Some controversial aspects include the evidence which shows that decreasing class size has very little if no real effect on improving student learning (d=0.21). On the other side, Acceleration is shown to have a huge impact on learning (d=0.88). Hattie’s evidence is so thorough it’s hard to argue against, as the evidence has all been counted and included in the study. It’s a little unfair when you have Hattie on your side. No longer can teachers stand behind the argument that their approach works, because as Hattie so clearly and empirically points out, almost every approach helps students learn. It’s what helps students learn the best that counts.

As Hattie points out, it is visibility which works best. By taking the guessing out of learning and teaching, learners start to become self-teachers. Teachers who let students in on the secret of where they are in their learning, and where to go to next are the teachers that maximize student learning. Teachers who explicitly use learning intentions and success criteria, teachers who provide regular feedback, but who also actively seek feedback from students about their learning have the greatest impact. Teachers who teach students the dispositions to ask: Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next? Have a profound impact on student learning.

Buy it. Read it. Absorb it. Read it again. Keep it next to your desk. Use it to inform your leadership.

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