I recently completed reading Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie.
One of the reasons I decided to read this book is because I looked back at the books I've read during the past twelve months and realized my reading has focused primarily on leadership and assessment/grading. As the "Director of Instruction" in my school district, I am constantly challenged to read widely on a variety of topics. I hadn't read a good book on pedagogy lately, so Hattie's book which came recommended by a few respected professional friends, caught my eye.
Rather than reviewing the entire book, I thought I might instead share a few quotes and my immediate reaction/application.
Moving away from "best practice" towards "better practice"
"...if the criterion of success is 'enhancing achievement', then 95 per cent of all effect sizes in education are positive. When teachers claim that they are having a positive effect on achievement, or when it is claimed that a policy improves achievement, it is a trivial claim, because virtually everything works..." (p. 2)Early in my educational career, my ears perked up when I heard the phrase "best practice." I couldn't help but wonder who decided which practices were the best. In some contexts, there was no support for the claim. In other contexts, it may have been based on a person's action research. In still other contexts, a person outside the classroom used some standardized measurement tools to assess what's going on in the classroom. Eventually, I realized the phrase "better practice" might be more appropriate for my own use. Hattie alluded to this on p. 5:
"...there is no fixed recipe for ensuring that teaching has the maximum possible effect on student learning, and no set of principles that apply to all learning for all students. But there are practices that we know are effective and many practices that we know are not."The premise of Hattie's book is that some practices are more effective than others, although it's important to note his rank order is based on meta analyses that may often include standardized tests as the gold standard. If one doesn't believe standardized tests measure anything worth measuring, well...this book probably isn't for you. I took this with a grain of salt and decided to keep on reading.
Teachers should be learners, too
"The remarkable feature of the evidence is that the greatest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers" (p. 18).I earned my worst grade as an undergraduate when I took a calculus-based statistics course. Fast forward two years and my first job out of college was in a high school teaching Geometry, a few computer courses and you guessed it, Statistics. To this day, I feel bad for the four students who enrolled in the first Statistics course the high school had ever offered. The textbook was brand new. I was new. As I started to teach these four students about correlation coefficients, confidence intervals and hypothesis tests, my confidence (no pun intended) in the content grew immensely. I became my own teacher of the content. As any first year teacher likely does, I also learned a lot about my own teaching strengths and weaknesses during those twelve months. The minute I started to reflect less on my teaching as a practitioners, the less effective I am guessing I became. Sure, this may seem like common sense, but I think there's a bit of irony involved: Reflective people often reflect on their recent lack of reflection time...and begin to do something about it.
Grading showed up in this book!
"There are certainly many things that inspired teachers do not do; they do not use grading as punishment; they do not conflate behavioural and academic performance; they do not elevate quiet compliance over academic work..." (p. 36).Long time readers of this blog know my thoughts on grading. Enough said.
Learning Styles are no longer in vogue
"One of the more fruitless pursuits is labeling students with 'learning styles'....Learning strategies? Yes. Enjoying learning? Yes. Learning styles? No" (p. 89)I wonder how many hours I've spent in workshops, classes and professional development being exposed to learning styles. Hattie's suggests labeling students in this way is not of any value. In a way I feel betrayed if this is true. I didn't spend too much time sifting through this conjecture, but I've promised myself to read more about it in the future.
"During the lesson, the teacher needs to be able to react to where the students are as they progress from what they know (their prior learning) towards their desired learning (successfully achieving the intended learning of the lesson)" (p. 120).I chose this quote from the book, because I was not good at doing this as a teacher and am in awe when I observe it in one of our teachers' classrooms. I consider myself an introvert...a planner. If I had a strength in this area, it may have been thinking through how students may respond during the lesson planning phase, so that I could plan appropriate instructional alternatives based on student reaction. When I was thrown for an unexpected loop by one or more students, my tool kit was often empty and I usually defaulted to plowing forward as planned. With experience, I believe I was able to improve in this area, but it was an ongoing area of improvement.
Learning isn't always easy
"If learning were easy, then schooling would be a walkover" (p. 126).Teaching is an utterly difficult profession. If all of our students were headed to Harvard without our help, we probably wouldn't have jobs. I remember one day in my second year of teaching when I told a relative who is also in the education profession, "Why do we get frustrated when students aren't learning? It's our job to help them learn!" It was refreshing to vent, but it didn't the job any easier the next day in the classroom.
Relationships, relationships, relationships
"One simple way in which to turn students off learning is for them to have a poor relationship with the teacher" (p. 158).I believe teaching is as much an art as it is a science. Developing a positive rapport with a group of students takes time, patience and often more than an education credential can teach. My supervisor sat me down less than six months into my first year of teaching. His message, "Matt...you're doing a nice job presenting the content, but you need to focus on students." It hit me like a train wreck. In all of my lesson planning, I had not planned in time to get to know my students. "Don't smile until Christmas" was my unwritten rule. Well, it was past Christmas and apparently I hadn't smiled enough in the eyes of my principal. Last month a former student who recently graduated from high school wrote me a very meaningful note. I can't assume with much confidence that I had a tremendous relationship with every student, but at least one took the time to write about it.
Bringing it all together: Leadership matters
"A major reason why teachers stay in a school or stay in teaching relates to the support by the school leaders so that teachers can have a positive impact" (p. 174).I'm no longer a full-time classroom teacher. I miss the students, but hope I can have an indirect impact on them through the adults I influence in my role as a district administrator. Tom the Teacher feels unsupported? That's largely my bucket to fill. My role should continue to be helping teachers visualize the learning process. I need to model how I'm learning, so that others will do the same. I plan to share this reflection with all of the educators in my district as the first step in turning a new leaf over in 2013-14.