I can still remember the feeling I had sitting in the audience almost a decade ago listening to John Hattie talk about his newly published book, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. The descriptor on the front cover said it all: “Reveals teaching’s Holy Grail.” Finally, we had in one place, years and years of research involving over 800 meta-analyses relating to the influences on achievement in our schools. Finally, we had a recipe for academic success. Finally, we could make more informed decisions about pedagogy and programs based on what will and will not likely make a difference.
The work is fascinating and, even better, Hattie hasn’t stopped. Just this past summer, he released his latest work that now identifies over 250 influences on student achievement from studies that involve 300 million students! Although it’s true that educators can’t control all of these influences, there are plenty of them that we can control.
And just as we wouldn’t expect a physician to ignore the latest research to best treat her patients or a flight attendant to ignore the safety protocols that have been proven to best keep his passengers safe, we can’t expect or allow it in our classrooms either.
What Hattie’s work allows us to do is create a common lens for what good classroom instruction looks like. In other words, when we walk into a classroom, we now can all agree on what we should expect to see, both from the teacher and the students. It’s what we call in the Mariemont City School District the Characteristics of Highly Effective Instruction. Grounded in Hattie’s research, this list is our common lens and our expectation. We know the highly effective teacher:
- Creates LEARNING TARGETS for students that allow them to understand where they are going and how to get there.
- Designs creative learning opportunities by applying his/her CONTENT KNOWLEDGE and KNOWLEDGE OF BEST PRACTICE in order to MOTIVATE and INSPIRE students.
- Ensures and protects student understanding by MODELING strong and weak work for demonstrating mastery of the intended learning and encouraging RESILIENCY to reach that mastery.
- Cultivates TRUST by working together with students to set challenging, yet appropriate, LEARNING GOALS.
- Fosters productive and purposeful COLLABORATIVE LEARNING by showcasing and providing guidelines for RESPECT and TOLERANCE when working with others.
- Gives frequent, ongoing, meaningful FEEDBACK to students and creates opportunities to receive feedback from students about the effectiveness of his/her instructional practice.
- Supports students to have an accurate understanding of their own learning through the use of FORMATIVE and SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENTS as well as SELF-ASSESSMENTS.
- ADVOCATES for student success and NURTURES student well being.
And so what does this mean in practice? Obviously, all eight of these characteristics won’t manifest themselves in every moment in every classroom. But, should we see at least one? Probably. And should we see most of them over the course of several weeks? Absolutely. But it requires intentionality.
Just as teachers must be intentional about teaching standards and appropriately pacing the learning, they also must be intentional in building lessons and activities to do the things that highly effective teachers do. Do I know what the learning targets are for this lesson? How will I model the learning I want from my students? Can I create an opportunity for collaborative learning in this lesson? You get the point . . .
School districts must also be intentional in the professional learning we provide our teachers. I’m still surprised at how often I talk with an educator who has never heard of John Hattie and his research. And just an awareness isn’t enough. The real work is in the detail, the pedagogy and the implementation — something that takes time to get right but can happen when we embrace the common lens and come together to do the work.
Steven Estepp is the superintendent of the Mariemont City School District in Cincinnati, Ohio.