A Few Hours With John Hattie by Steve Peha

A Few Hours With John Hattie

by Steve Peha


Last month, when I spoke at the Learning Forward conference, I had the pleasure of speaking as well with John Hattie. Hattie’s meta-study research, his now-famous effect size rankings, his Visible Learning framework, his Eight Mindframes for Learning, and a seemingly unending list of other nifty things are all the rage these days. But there’s so much information to sort through that I’ve been looking for a way to sum it up into something more practical.

Listening to and talking with Dr. Hattie last month led me to one simple conclusion: assessment literacy is the foundation of successful practice. “Assessment literacy” is a terribly jargon-ish term. To me, it just means that everyone understands assessment: teachers know the effect of what they’ve taught, kids know the effect of what they’ve learned, and parents understand a teacher or their kid explaining how these two things are related.

Now think about this: When we were students, were we clear on what we knew and needed to know next? As teachers today, are we sure about the effect our teaching has on our students? Can we or our students explain either of these things to parents in ways that they understand? Probably not. Put simply, I think most of us in what I call the “collaborative triangle of schooling” (student, teacher, parent) are flying blind; as such, very little collaboration occurs. (You’ll find an overview of myCollaborative Schooling Model here.) And collaborative schooling is really what we need to reach the levels of success we aspire to. No one party—teachers, students, parents—can be singled out, or left out, if we want to create successful sustainable school systems.

I think what Hattie is telling us to do is to open our eyes and take a look at what’s actually happening instead of just muddling along on autopilot doing what we’ve been told we have to do. These days, most teachers, students, and parents do what they're told to do by someone or something. Many of these directives are unworkable; some don’t even make sense to the people who choose to impose them on others. (Sounds strange. But I've asked and it's true.) For the most part, then, we all just try our best to sort out these issues after the dust settles, and there’s really no way to go back and address them properly once time has past. This is the impact of an education system that perceives itself as being driven by values other than learning. Let me be clear: this is NOT because of testing or standards or any of the other common reforms. It's about our reaction to these things. We're just not seeing things as they truly are. Instead, we're making up stories about what we are afraid they will become.

Visible Learning isn’t quite as simple as understanding and talking about the value of what we do. But this is a good first step in moving toward a value-conscious approach to teaching, learning, and parent involvement.

To this end, I’ve rededicated myself to focusing on five things in the classroom no matter what subject area or grade level I’m working in, things that I think represent the essence of Hattie’s message: (1) Know what you have learned; (2) Know what you need to learn next; (3) Know how you will learn it effectively; (4) Know when you have learned it thoroughly; (5) Know what to do if you’re not learning it.

Having done this in one form or another for almost 20 years, I have found that kids who internalize these ideas stand a good chance of becoming successful self-directed learners who tend to gravitate naturally toward the most important of Hattie’s higher effect size findings.

Why do I think I might be on the right track with this? I’ve used it in years past and it has tended to produce thoughtful kids who could pretty much teach themselves with enough time and practice. But I’m not the world expert in this stuff, so I shared the idea briefly with Dr. Hattie. His response, though necessarily brief, was encouraging: “Well, that does cover most of the bases, doesn’t it? Seems to me like a reasonable place to start.”

As teaching gets more and more complicated, the only logical thing to do, I think, is to find simple, foundational techniques that make teaching easier for teachers and learning more meaningful for kids. Visible Learning can help. But only if we open our eyes to see what really matters.

If you’d like a supporting document for this idea, you can download it here. Check out page seven.

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