Sunday, April 14, 2013

Some interesting learning about effective learning/instruction/teaching from Visible Learning - Hattie

As part of my work in the ISAL II Cohort (Illinois School of Advanced Leadership) through the IASA (Illinois Association of School Administrators), I am going through a vision quest of sorts with respect to adaptive change, organizational change, growth, learning and success.

One of the powerful learning lessons I'm experiencing with the program is the exposure to research about "What Works" in education as well as how to apply that to my own practice as a leader and as a learning leader.

I feel compelled to share (affirm for those of you who already know, share for those of you who do not) one of the highly significant authors/researchers of our day is Professor John Hattie from Aukland, New Zealand. In this blog post, I am sharing some highlights from Hattie's book Visible Learning, the source document of the summary from where this information originates can be accessed at:

To get more information on the book Visible Learning:

Briefly, Hattie's meta analytical research (53,000 studies addressing and affecting the learning of 83 Million students) has 2 major findings:
Learning occurs when:
Each teacher sees his or her content and class through the eyes of the students and
Each student sees him or herself as his or her own best teacher

Excerpts from Miller's summary of Hattie's book:
Visible Learning by John Hattie (2009)
Summary by Gerry Miller (North Tyneside EAZ Consultant)

John Hattie is Professor of Education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
This summary information by Gerry Miller also refers to Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Development & Personality by Carol Dweck (2000) and Jo Boaler’s work on setting and social class.


Visible Learning is the result of 15 years’ research and synthesises over 800 meta-analyses (over 50,000 studies) relating to the influences on achievement in school-aged students. It presents the largest ever collection of evidence-based research into what actually works in schools to improve learning.
The main contributors that influence achievement are classified as the student, home, school, curricula, teacher and teaching strategies. A model of teaching and learning is developed based on the notion of visible teaching and visible learning.
A major message of the book is that what works best for students is similar to what works best for teachers. This includes an attention to setting challenging learning intentions, being clear about what success means and an attention to learning strategies for developing conceptual understanding about what teachers and students know and understand.
In 1976 Gene Glass introduced the notion of meta-analysis – whereby the effects in each study, where appropriate, are converted to a common measure (an effect size), such that the overall effects could be quantified, interpreted, and compared, and the overall moderators of this overall effect could be uncovered and followed up in more detail.
John Hattie uses these effect sizes to allow us to make a much more sophisticated judgment on what is really making an impact on student learning and achievement.

The nature of the evidence and effect sizes

Hattie looks at 138 different influences on student achievement and places the major results from thousands of research studies along a continuum of effect sizes, ranging from d = -.34 to d = 1.44.

What do these effect sizes mean?

An effect size of d = 1.0 indicates an increase of one standard deviation on the outcome – in this case the outcome is student achievement. A one standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing children’s achievement by two to three years or improving the rate of learning by 50%. When implementing a new program, an effect size of 1.0 would mean that, on average, students receiving that treatment would exceed 84% of students not receiving that treatment.
Hattie’s work is based on educational innovations. Research shows that these can be expected to have an average effect size of 0.4 (the “hinge point”). Innovations tend to capture the enthusiasm of the teacher and the excitement of the students attempting something new. So very few innovations have no positive effect at all. It is not unreasonable to claim that at least half of all implementations, at least half of all students, and at least half of all teachers can and do attain an effect size of d = 0.4 as a consequence of their actions. Therefore when analysing effects, we can say that anything with an effect size of over 0.4 is likely to be having a visible, positive effect.
To put it another way, an effect size of 0.2 or less is low, 0.4 is medium and 0.6 or more is high.


  1. There are many outcomes of schooling, such as attitudes, physical outcomes, belonging ness, respect, citizenship and the love of learning. This book focuses on achievement and that is a limitation of this review.
  2. The most successful outcomes come from innovations, and these effects from innovations may not be the same as the effects of teachers in regular classrooms – the mere involvement in asking questions about the effectiveness of any innovation may lead to an inflation of its effects.
  3. We need to be careful about drawing too definite a conclusion from an effect size without examining the study. For example, homework is shown to have an overall effect size of 0.29, which is low and well below the average of 0.40. But when you look more closely, you find that primary students gain least from homework (d = 0.15) while secondary students have greater gains (d = 0.64).

Quality feedback

A key finding of the study is that the most powerful single influence enhancing achievement is feedback. But again we need to be careful with this information. Does this mean that we need to give children more and more feedback to raise their achievement? No! What is needed is quality feedback and where that feedback has the greatest effect is when teachers receive more and better feedback about their teaching, and then the ripple effect back to the student is high (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).
The six main contributors that influence achievement: the student, home, school, curricula, teacher and teaching strategies.

School Curricula effects for gifted students

The curricula effects in this section relate to differential curricula experiences for gifted students within schools, such as ability grouping for gifted students, acceleration & enrichment.
Ability Grouping for Gifted Students (d = 0.30  rank 87/138 P99)
This is different from high ability groups and involves specific curricula aimed at challenging students at the appropriate level. This means there is more likelihood of success in engagement and learning.
Acceleration  (d = 0.88  rank 5/138 P100)
An alternative to special classes for gifted children is to accelerate students through the curricula: “Accelerated instruction enable bright students to work with their mental peers on learning tasks that match their abilities” (Kulik and Kulik, 1984). A number of studies have found significant gains in achievement from acceleration, which consistently outperforms enrichment.
Hattie wonders why, if acceleration is so successful, it is one of the least used methods for gifted students. Levin (1988) asked, if acceleration is so beneficial for gifted students, why could it also be used with non-gifted students? Evidence on this question is, as yet, limited from a meta-analysis point of view.
Enrichment  (d = 0.39  rank 68/138 P101)
Enrichment involves activities meant to broaden the educational lives of some groups of students (usually gifted).
Wallace (1989) found that teachers’ experience was a key factor here, with those with several years of teaching gifted students having greater effects (d = 0.88) than those with no or limited experience (d = -0.06)
The most powerful effects of the school relate to features within schools, such as the climate of the classroom, peer influences and the lack of disruptive pupils in the classroom. Other powerful effects include adapting curricula to be more appropriately challenging (eg through acceleration or differential curricula for gifted students) and having principals who see themselves as instructional leaders.
Section 4 The Teacher
The contributions from the teacher
The current mantra that teachers make the difference is misleading. Not all teachers are effective, not all teachers are experts and not all teachers have powerful effects on students. It is teachers’ variability in effect that is critical.
In his paper “Distinguishing Expert Teachers from Novice and Experienced Teachers” (2003), John Hattie identified three dimensions that most successfully separated expert teachers from the rest:
  • Challenge
  • Deep representation
  • Monitoring & Feedback
The importance of these dimensions can be seen again in Quality of Teaching (below)
He has also described expert teachers as those who meet with colleagues regularly to discuss:
  • Evidence of progress of their and their colleagues’ students
  • How to improve their teaching
  • How to change their teaching
  • How to do this in the light of evidence that what they are doing at present is not having the effect they you want

Feedback  ( d = 0.73 rank 10/138 P.173)

Since Hattie’s first meta-analyses of influences on student achievement in 1992, it has been clear that feedback is among the most powerful of these influences. He did not initially realise that the most powerful feedback is that provided to the teacher, especially by the student, but also by other teachers. When teachers seek, or are at least open to, feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can be synchronised and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps to make learning powerful.
Quality feedback to students is also effective, but while many teachers think they are providing regular, quality feedback, students often disagree!
Carless (2006) asked students and teachers whether teachers provided detailed feedback that helped them with their assignments. About 70% of teachers said they did this often or always, but only 45% of students agreed with these claims. Further, Nuthall (2005) found that most feedback that students obtained in any day in classrooms was from other students, and most of this feedback was incorrect.
A model of feedback (see P.176)
Hattie’s model of feedback concludes with feedback at four levels:
  1. Task level – How well tasks are understood / performed.
This feedback may indicate whether the work is correct or incorrect and may include directions to more, different or correct information, such as “You need to include more about the Treaty of Versailles”.
  1. Process level – The process needed to understand / perform tasks.
This feedback is more directly aimed at the processing of information, or learning processes needed for understanding or completing the task. A teacher or peer may say to the learner “ You need to edit this piece of writing by attending to the descriptors you have used, so the reader is able to understand the nuances of your meaning” – or for a younger age group “You need to use more powerful adjectives to help the reader understand how the person is feeling – use one of these or your own: devastating; appalling (Shirley Clarke’s Example Comment).
  1. Self-regulation level – Self-monitoring, directing and regulating of actions.
This feedback helps the student to self-regulate, encouraging greater skill at self-evaluation, or confidence to engage further with the task without relying on the teacher for help. For example “You already know the key features of the opening of an argument. Check to see whether you have incorporated them in your first paragraph”.
Levels 2 & 3 can have major influences on self-efficacy, self-regulatory proficiencies and self-beliefs about the student as a learner, such that the student is encouraged or informed how to better and more effortlessly continue on task.
  1. Self Level – Personal evaluations and effect (usually positive) on the learner.
This feedback is personal in that it is directed at the “self”, which is too often unrelated to performance on the task, eg “You are a great student”, “Well done!”
Level 4 feedback is rarely effective and does not raise achievement. It draws attention to the self, which encourages students to avoid the risks involved in tackling a challenging assignment, so they minimize effort, having a high fear of failure (Dweck, 2000, Black & Wiliam, 1998).

It is often claimed that when teaching is aligned with the preferred or dominant learning style of students then achievement is enhanced. Hattie found that many of the studies making these claims were flawed, although he did find that when students enjoy learning then achievement is likely to be higher (which is not surprising!). Hattie found that studies tended to confuse learning strategies, which do make a difference, with learning styles, which do not.
Teachers and principals need to collect the effect sizes within their schools and then ask “What is working best?”, “Why is it working best?”, and “Who is it not working for?”. This will create a discussion among teachers about teaching. This would require a caring, supportive staffroom, a tolerance of errors, and for learning from other teachers, a peer culture among teachers of engagement, trust, shared passion, and so on. Trust reduces the sense of vulnerability that teachers experience as they take on new and uncertain tasks associated with reform. Trust also maximises the occurrence of error and thus allows feedback to be powerful in use and effectiveness. To engender reform that will make a difference requires incentives primarily in terms of teachers learning about their teaching, about what is working and for whom, and from sharing evidence of the effectiveness of their methods.
The personal nature of learning
Olson (2003) states it simply – it is students themselves, in the end, who decide what students will learn. Thus we must attend to what students

Gerry Miller