So What is Visible Learning Anyway?

So What is Visible Learning Anyway? Thoughts and Understandings From a School Principal

As with most fall meetings, this fall started off with direction setting meetings, visions, missions and re-establishing what we are about.  It was during these meetings that the notion of Visible Learning, as described by John Hattie came across my radar.  What was this Visible Learning?

So, I ordered the book Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement and cracked it open when it came. Wow, the book is not what I was expecting and not like I have ever seen before.  I find it is not a book you can read cover to cover, it is more like a reference book.  I gleamed information out of it and let it set until today when I participated in the Visible Learning webinar through The Leadership and Learning Center, facilitated by Douglas Reeves.

Visible Learning is now beginning to take shape in my mind, I am beginning to understand new information and think about applying it in my own context.

Lightbulb moment: Changes in teacher practice effect changes in student learning (Douglas Reeves).  Okay, maybe not a lightbulb moment but a critical thought none-the-less.  Even today, as we were working through some behaviour issues with elementary aged students, could it be that if the teacher changes the approach and the practice, perhaps the students behaviour would change as well?  Let’s focus on the teaching (and I mean teaching, not teacher), rather than on the behaviours.

English: A teacher teaching something in Da Ji...As stated by Douglas Reeves: Linking specific teaching strategies with specific student results is Visible Learning.  As mentioned in the example above, would there be a way to incorporate specific teaching strategies and measure specific results? I think so.  The key at our school is that I think we are very good at identifying what is wrong and what we need to be different.  I think we know what the preferred state would be.  I think we have many resources and teaching strategies (perhaps too many) but I DON’T think we know how to measure the effectiveness of specific strategies.

In regards to the teaching strategies, our goal has been to focus on those high impact strategies.  I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new John Hattie book Visible Learning for Teachers to ensure our understanding and implementation of high impact strategies.  As a side note, feedback (d=.72 effect size) is a high impact strategy I previously blogged about (see Feedback or Feedforward).

As mentioned in The Walk-About we have our observations in place – in other words, teachers are observing teachers each day.  We now need to make those observations systematic, objective, and precise (Douglas Reeves).  We need to observe for high impact strategies and the effect they are having on student achievement.  We need to gather specific data about specific practices.

Our goals with Visible Learning are:

1.  To raise awareness.  ex:”This is what feedback and engagement look like in our school and in your classroom.”

2.  To set targets. ex:”Now that we have this information, what are we going to do with it?”

3.  Practice. ex: “Last month my feedback to students consisted primarily of ______ and this month it consists of_____”

4.  Measure the effects of our practice.  “This teaching practice, resulted in this improvement (or not)!

5.  Keep what works, get rid of the rest!

Perhaps through Visible Learning, our understanding of what quality teaching really is will become more specific, objective and precise resulting in a greater understanding of knowing why we are doing what we are doing in the art form called teaching.

Feedback or Feedforward

Teacher talking to student at LSI

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we have been focussing on the notion of feedback vs feedforward.

We started by taking a look at Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Key Strategies.  In a nutshell:

1.  Know your learner;

2.  Feedback designed to move the learner forward;

3.  Everyone knows the success criteria;

4.  Peers Supporting Peers;

5.  Agency, students owning their learning.

From these 5 strategies we decided to begin understanding and processing them one by one with “Feedback” being the first one we tackled.

Dylan Wiliam has some wonderful podcasts on his website.  The podcasts are him presenting information; I find it very valuable to hear him speak directly.  You can check it out at: or if you just google Dylan Wiliam you will see links to podcasts and You-Tube.

Anyway, he identifies feedback in the following three ways:

1.  Data (which is not feedback, its just data).  This sounds like: “You got a “B” on your test.”  “I’m waiting for three more people to get their books out.”  It points out to the learner a specific piece of information.

2.  Thermometer (which is not feedback, its just a thermometer).  This sounds like: “Next time you will  get a “B” if you add more details.”  “You will be finished as soon as you get your title page done.”  It points out to the learner where they are now and where they need to be.

3.  Feedback System – which is FeedForward.  This includes what students need to do to improve and the VERY important HOW to go about it.  This FeedForward encourages the student and gives hope that they will do it and you will help.  This sounds like: “Now its time to do your title page; lets get the examples I showed earlier and decide which components you want to add to your title page.”  “I noticed on your planning sheet you listed many details about your main character; now we have to incorporate these details into your story. We will use your planning sheet to help us.”

All of this is based on the work of Dylan Wiliam.  Here is an other link that adds more information:

Now, because I work with teachers and other staff, I have been trying to take this information and apply it in the context of teacher development.  Right now what I am noticing works well for me is to phrase my feedback in the form of a question:

“How would you take the information you just told me about what you observed and apply it in your own classroom?”

“When you were observing Mrs. XX you noticed that she provides extra support and instruction to a few children during silent reading, when are the times in your day where you would have time to provide extra supports to students?”

I find with adult learners, and probably with many children as well, in the context of asking them to change their practice or do something different, just telling is simply that, just telling.  “You should work with XXX while the others are silent reading,” just doesn’t come across the same way!

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