Visible Learning into Action – Real Success Stories Around the World

“In nearly every school, success is around us; if only we had the courage to reliably identify and esteem it.”

– John Hattie

There have been a lot of recommendations on how to make our school education system better for our children – some of it backed by research, some not. While many of these recommendations have had an impact on improving the system, the question is: is it significant? Is it worth the time, money and effort to implement given the results it achieves? Since it is impossible for any one school to incorporate every possible improvement plan, how does a school decide which changes to adopt and which ones to leave out? That’s where the name John Hattie comes into the picture.

Regrettably, John Hattie is a name that only recently came onto my radar despite the fact that he was responsible for the synthesis of over 800 meta-studies relating to achievement which took 15 years of research, covered more than 80 million students, and combined more than 50,000 smaller studies. It is one of the largest collection of evidence-based research on the best practices in education. That was published 7 years ago. In other words, John Hattie has done a lot of research on everything that has been attempted to improve education and found what has made a statistically significant difference and what hasn’t. So if John Hattie says something, please pay attention.

Some of the things John Hattie has said so far (and he’s said a lot so this is by no means a comprehensive post about it)…

5 Big ideas that don’t work in education

  • Instead of achievement standards, we should focus on growth and progress for each student, no matter where he or she starts.
  • Instead of achievement tests, focus on testing that emphasizes giving teachers immediate, actionable feedback to improve teaching.
  • We keep saying that a good school is important, but what’s really important is the teacher. The differences between teachers within a school can account for as much as 70 percent of the differences in scores on the international PISA exam.
  • Another common assumption is that smaller class sizes are more effective but Hattie’s research indicates otherwise – Japan and Korea, two of the highest-performing education systems in the world, have an average class sizes of 33, while Russia, a below-average performer, have average classes around 18. Class sizes are only effective if teachers are coached and supported to take advantage of it.
  • Just like the relationship between money and happiness, the amount of money spent on quality education also has a cap on its positive effect. Beyond a certain threshold, there is almost no relationship between money spent and results earned.

10 Myths about student achievement

There are a lot of ideas about what is and what isn’t important in helping students perform better in school. These are 10 commonly held myths that have been dispelled by John Hattie:

  • Class size – we think big classes are bad but the difference is insignificant. What’s more important is how well the teacher handles the class.
  • Type of school – private or public, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how well the school’s leadership controls what happens in the school.
  • Uniform – uniform or free dress, it really doesn’t matter.
  • Homework – also not really that important, especially in primary school. It’s more important to reinforce what was learned during the day at school.
  • Extra-curricular activities – these are terrific for helping children learn and to help them to enjoy school.
  • Home environment – the negative effect of TV is not the content but the fact that too much of it means the kids are not spending time learning other important things, like communication and relationship skills.
  • Red-shirting (the practice of holding a child back so he can gain the benefit of being the oldest in the class) – only matters for a couple of years before the effects level out.
  • Teaching methods – children learn better from their peers than they do from a teacher or a book. Rather than let children be passive in a class, encourage them to explore ideas, make mistakes and adapt.
  • Tests – should be used to practice and reinforce the material that has been learned, not as an end of year practice where it becomes meaningless because there will be no follow-up on the results of the test. We want students to learn from their mistakes – tests at the end of the year don’t get reviewed.
  • Student expectations – good teachers help students establish an expectation of their own abilities and then encourage them to do better.

8 Solutions: what works best in education

  • Task 1: Shift the narrative – Reframe the conversation to focus on progress.
  • Task 2: Secure agreement about what a year’s progress looks like – Debate and create a shared understanding of “progress”.
  • Task 3:  Expect a year’s worth of progress – Expectations are one of the greatest influences on learning and achievement.
  • Task 4: Develop tools to provide feedback to teachers – Evaluation tools should shape learning rather than simply measure it (see below: feedback for learning).
  • Task 5: Know thy impact – Evaluate the impact on their students. Define success before teaching. Include the students’ voice.
  • Task 6: Ensure teachers have expertise in diagnosis, intervention, evaluation –Because most interventions with the biggest impact relate back to the teacher.
  • Task 7: Stop ignoring what we know and scale up success – Use existing approaches and ideas that have already been proven to be successful with students.
  • Task 8: Link autonomy to a year’s progress – Give successful teachers autonomy – which they have earned. And share their expertise.

Feedback for Learning

See also: Hattie Ranking: Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement covers 138 influences and their effect sizes across all areas related to student achievement (although if you want to make more sense out of this list, you’d probably be better off reading his book – Visible Learning)

What is Visible Learning?

Visible learning is about what works best for learning. It means an enhanced role for teachers as they become evaluators of their own teaching. Visible Learning and Teaching occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.

How effective is Visible Learning?

Like everything else in life, not everyone agrees with John Hattie’s work. So what’s the best way to see if something works? Put it into action. And that’s what John Hattie did in his new book that takes his research around the world and demonstrates its international success.

“Recently at the Visible Learning Conference, Professor John Hattie stood up in his opening address and said, “I’m looking at you all and thinking ‘What if I got this wrong?’” I feel the same way when educators ask to visit and I always end up in the same place – that Keilor Views is a living, breathing example that he didn’t.”

– Charles Branciforte, Principal of Keilor Views Primary School, Melbourne, Australia.

Visible Learning into Action: International Case Studies of Impact

By John Hattie, Deb Masters, and Kate Birch
Published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group)
View inside Visible Learning into Action

Hattie’s new book showcases 15 case studies from schools around the world that have applied the Visible Learning concept with real world success.

Visible Learning into Action takes the next step in the evolving Visible Learning story. It translates one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed education research projects ever undertaken into case studies of actual success stories, implementing John Hattie’s ideas in the classrooms of schools all around the world.

The evidenced case studies presented in this book describe the Visible Learning journeys of fifteen schools from Australia, USA, Hong Kong, UK, Sweden, New Zealand and Norway and are representative of the VL international community of schools in their quest to ensure all of their students exceed their potential for academic success. Each school’s story will inform and inspire, bringing to life the discussions, actions and reflections from leaders, teachers, students and families.

This book features extensive, interactive appendices containing study guide questions to encourage critical thinking, annotated endnotes with recommendations for further reading and links to YouTube and relevant websites. Drawing on the latest research into the major principles and strategies of learning, this essential resource is structured into five parts:

  • Know thy impact;
  • Effective feedback;
  • Visible learners;
  • Inspired and passionate teachers;
  • The Visible Learning School.

Visible Learning into Action is aimed at any student, teacher or parent requiring an up-to-date commentary on how research into human learning processes can inform our teaching and what goes on in our schools.

The main take home message from this book is that there is no one way. There is no script, there is no workbook – instead there is a way of thinking with a framework to guide that thinking. It involves asking what it means by the phrase “Know Thy Impact”.

About the Authors

John Hattie is Professor and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and Deputy Director of the Science of Learning Research Centre. His co-author, Deb Masters, is a principal consultant at Cognition Education and the Global Director of Visible Learningplus. Kate Birch is an education consultant in the Visible Learningplus team at Cognition Education.

Since 1991, John Hattie has written and co-edited seven books that include:

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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