In 2009, Routledge published John Hattie’s seminal work, “Visible Learning: a Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement”. He compiles 30 years of educational research into this publication, ranking strategies, methodologies, learning environments. He writes that much of what is tried in education “works”, but that educators need to look at and use the strategies and methodologies that provide the most significant increase in student learning/achievement.
Instead of concentrating on eradicating the difference in performance between different schools, he argues, schools (and teachers) should be spending more time looking at the differences in individual student performance within schools. “I think you need to start dealing with that. You’ve got to deal with any complacency that’s set in.”
I couldn’t agree more. In Canada, the provinces of Alberta and Ontario (and more recently Quebec) have shifted towards an American approach to public education – one that is “data driven” with the intent of comparing schools under the guise of overall improvement in public education. The focus on individual students is lost in a drive to provide data that shows a district to be “above average”, despite the fact that the very definition of “average” requires some schools to be below and some to be above this measure. So far, Manitoba has avoided this damaging model though I sense some leanings towards this. I have appreciated being able to work in an environment that allows for more student-centred learning rather than district or divisional data-driven “let’s be better than average” models. In my two decades of experience in education as a teacher, consultant, textbook author, and K-12 administrator, I have always been supported in my growth as an educator and have striven to support the teachers I have led through removing barriers, providing resources (whether dollars or physical items), and freeing up time for collaboration and professional development.John Hattie’s Visible Learning.
Hattie’s book identified more than 100 classroom interventions and listed them in order of effectiveness (increased impact on individual student learning), concluding that one of the most important interventions was the quality of the feedback that pupils got from their teachers for their work and the interaction between students and their teacher. He also concluded that there are few things that negatively impact student learning – among them summer break (unless there are summer gap academic programs in place), mobility of students (instability in home life), television/media usage (if a child engages in more than two hours per day), and multiage/multigrade classes (negative effects on mathematics and science learning).
Hattie has taken thirty years of research, from hundreds of researchers and thousands of students in dozens of countries, and created meta-analyses of the data. His book allows for educators to look at what the strategies, teaching methods, learning environments are that best promote individual student achievement. Any educator who doesn’t want to be “doomed to repeat” history in terms of poor choice of methodology or learning environments should read this book. There are a lot of strategies and methodologies in education that “work”: if we’re not using the most effective ones, we need to ask ourselves why.