“Where are we going? How are we going? Where to next?”
Instead of teaching my Monday class, I had an opportunity to join many of my colleagues from the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) as we invaded Laval, Quebec. There was quite a number of us heading to the Visible Learning Plus Conference (Dr. John Hattie) hosted by the LCEEQ (Leadership Committee for English Education in Quebec). The description we were given was: “Visible Learningplus is a professional development program for teachers that explores how evidence can be used to create innovation in the learning environment. Their work is focused on John Hattie’s research and the principles of Visible Learning and visible teaching. This outstanding research involved millions of students and represents the largest ever evidence-based research into what actually works best in schools to improve learning…” I couldn’t wait.
I have had the privilege to attend (and even present at) a few of the LCEEQ’s earlier conferences- back when it was called IDC (Implementation Design Committee)- and have always been so impressed by the high quality of the presentations and the engagement of those in attendance. This year our numbers reached almost 1000- it felt a bit like being at a rock concert as I know I wasn’t the only one who was eager to see the ‘real’ John Hattie in action. It was an amazing experience and I loved how I was able to connect with a bunch of colleagues from various parts of my life (Accompaniment with Dr. Avril Aitken, English Language Arts Committee, Ministry initiatives, school board, mentors and teachers). After feeling a bit like a fish out of water in the PhD world, this felt a bit like coming home to so many friendly faces.
Our school board has been playing with Visible Learning for the past few years- in particular, the staff at D’Arcy McGee and Symmes JHS, under the direction of George Singfield and his team, have been doing some really interesting work. I have heard staff saying they are inspired by this initiative and excited about the work they are doing. They also are seeing results. Having once taught and been V-P at those schools, I was invited to join the school’s PD training on Visible Learning this year brilliantly facilitated by my mentor Ainsley Rose. It blew my mind. The potential impact is so incredible on student learning and this conference was a fabulous way for me to get a different perspective and dig a little deeper.
Dr. John Hattie delivered the key note presentation titled Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn. He did not disappoint. I loved hearing about his vision and how he is thinking about education today. It can be summed up in the guiding principle of Visible Learning- when teachers see learning through the eyes of their students and students see themselves as their own teachers.
There were so many things that stood out for me, but I will target a few of the gems:
– Can we identify the excellence around us? This is really at the heart of visible learning- and developing assessment capable learners. It is about examining what we are doing well and building on it. The motto of the conference and Hattie’s work is “Know thy impact“- we need to really understand what we are doing as teachers and how this impacts student learning. We need to build trust and understand where excellence is. We need to ask impact questions:
- What does it mean to be good at _________?
- What is the magnitude of that impact?
- How pervasive is this impact? Is everyone getting it in the class????
– Kids come to school to watch teachers work. As Hattie points out, much (he says 45%- but I don’t know where that number comes from) of what we are teaching students, they already know. We need to move past surface learning to deep learning. This conference gave us many ways to engage in this area.
– The importance of student-teacher & peer-peer relationships for effective feedback. “The purpose of trust is to wallow in errors”. I believe so much in the affective domain- the relationships and trust; Hattie’s work really seems to reinforce this.
– The pit is not something to be afraid of- we need to encourage students to embrace feeling like they don’t know what to do and own the various learning strategies that will help them get out of the pit.
– Kids need to set expectations for themselves that exceed their expectations- and ours. We need to be clear about our learning intentions for EVERY lesson and use success criteria as a means for students to gauge their own learning. It is about helping students see themselves as their own teachers and knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do.
– The best teachers turn you onto their passion for the subject and see something in us that we didn’t see in ourselves. We have an enormous impact on students and can truly make a difference in their lives.
– Teacher observations– this is clearly an area of interest for me and Hattie is very critical of teacher evaluations and observations. He said a lot that I am still chewing on, but a couple of things stood out: 1) observations only highlight how you should teach like me- the focus is not on the learning. 2) accountability has a downside. We need to identify the excellence- this should be our focus.
– introduction of the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collins, 1982) which stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome and “is a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they got right.” Check out Biggs’s website on SOLO Taxonomy.
In terms of taxonomies, Hattie also gave a pretty damning account of Bloom’s (even the revised version!)…something that I will have to look into further.
At the start of his presentation, Hattie addressed and dismissed some of the criticism he has received. This is an area I want to look more into, but to my (novice) understanding, he has been questioned on the numbers & effect size work and for not delving into the impact on pupils of social factors such as home life and poverty. As Hattie points out, there has been a lot of misreading of his work and there is danger of an oversimplified view of the research leading used to push policy initiatives that are not in the best interest of students, teachers and communities. I also wonder about the theoretical framework that Hattie works from (and the research studies he uses) and how that may be a source of tension with some critics. I know there is no magic bullet and this isn’t the holy grail (as it has been called), but I find this has been a great place to start important professional discussions. I also am pretty impressed by what is happening in some of these schools- it may be time for a visit to New Zealand to Stonesfield School.
After the keynote, we had 4 break-out sessions delivered by excellent facilitators that gave us greater insight into some of the key areas of Visible Learning.
1) Instructional Strategies for Metacognition- Jenni Donohoo
“Increasing teachers’ own metacognitive awareness of their cognitive processes is an important first step in preparing them to increase student awareness” (Linda Baker, p.421 in the International Guide of Student Achievement)
2) Student Voice- Julie Smith–
“No one has a bigger stake in teaching effectiveness than students. Nor are there any better experts on how teaching is experienced by its intended beneficiaries. But only recently have many policymakers and practitioners come to recognize that-when asked th right questions, in the right ways-students can be an important source of information on the quality of teaching and the learning environment in individual classrooms”
3) Using Data to Make Learning Visible- Ainsley Rose
Teachers and leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement. By seeking evidence to inform their teaching and practice, teachers and leaders are also asking, “Where am I going?” “How am I doing?” and “Where to next?”
4) Feedback That Makes Learning Visible- Peter DeWitt
“The art is to provide the right form of feedback at, or just above, the level where the student is working…”
Some other standouts for me:
– “When you put the child together first, the rest of the world follows”
– We are working in a DRIP state- Data-Rich, Information-Poor.
– It is not about the data, but the story (conversation) around the data
Finally, Ainsley Rose did the closer and, as usual, he was incredible. I felt inspired, I felt lucky to have chosen this profession and I felt like we were on the right path. We can make a difference; it is all about “Gentle pressure- persistently applied”.
This is where I am wallowing now and really liked Ainsley’s Questions to consider…
- How do you currently make the learning goals clear for your students?
- How do you now they are clear?
- What might you now do differently?
What Really Works in Special and Inclusive Education– David Mitchell
Flipped Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel– Peter M. DeWitt
The Hidden Lives of Learners– Graham Nuthall
Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement– Jenni Donohoo
Habits of mind: Arthur L. Costa