How do we make John Hattie’s “Visible Learning” work in maths?
Visible Learning is John Hattie’s mantra. I’ve written previously about being a big fan of Hattie’s work about what affects achievement. He’s collected just about every piece of academic research and collated a ranked taxonomy of factors that affect achievement. Visible Learning is his suggested approach to teaching in a way that incorporates many of the significant drivers of achievement.
He sums up what Visible Learning looks like using the analogy of teaching someone to abseil. The main features of the learning being:
- The success criteria is explicit. The learners not only know what they’re trying to achieve, but also what success looks like. Giving learning objectives isn’t enough, they need to see what success looks like.
- The tasks are challenging. Trusting in the rope to support your weight requires real trust. Learners find it extremely challenging, but when they complete it the first time they get a real sense of satisfaction and have the hunger to repeat it again.
- Student expectations. Ask students to state how they think they will do before they start a task. Human nature is for them to play safe in their prediction. When they exceed their forecast, their belief in themselves as a learner increases. This ratchets up over time and their expectations of themselves rise. This has by far the highest ranking effect size in all of Hattie’s findings.
Know thy impact is another of his mantras. He argues that formative assessment is vital in quality teaching and teachers should constantly be using evidence to reflect on the impact their practice had on their learners. Hattie says assessments are more for teachers than students; they are for you to find out what you taught well and to whom. This reflective, evidence-based mindset, he argues captures the essence of what educational research concludes has a high-impact on achievement. Teaching is to D.I.E for, says Hattie: Diagnose what they do/don’t know, Intervene, Evaluate your impact. Repeat.
I’ve been experimenting with an approach to teaching maths that meets the Visible Learning criteria and allows me to systematically know my impact by using the D.I.E philosophy. This has been the biggest step forward in my practice this year and the learners really like it. The problem is, I can’t see a way of embedding it permanently in my practice. Let me explain…
At the beginning of a topic students are given this sheet that gives the learning objectives.
The students then make a prediction of how many questions they will get right on the pre-learning assessment and enter this number into the table.
The students then sit the pre-learning assessment:
This is class-marked and the students then highlight the appropriate smileys on the tracker sheet (after the pre-learning assessment, not before it) to record their success against each learning objective on the pre-learning assessment. They update the score in the table with what they actually got. Finally a grid is passed round with the students’ names vs the learning objectives. They tick and cross the grid so I then have a record of how each student did on each question.
I plan my lessons based on this pre-learning assessment feedback. I structure my lessons based on who knows what. I know exactly where to pick up from to avoid teaching things they really already know.
After the series of lessons student predict how they will do on the post-learning assessment, sit it, record their actual score, update the smileys and set targets about anything they still haven’t mastered.
The students love it. Comments include: “It really helps me understand what I’ve got to learn”, “It makes me realise that I am actually making progress in maths even when my grade on the exams isn’t going up every time”, “It makes the things I’ve got to learn a lot clearer” and “the assessments help you figure out what you do and don’t know. Stuff I thought I knew, I found out I didn’t and the other way round too. It’s been really useful”.
There are other things I really like:
- Using formative feedback from assessments has allowed me to be much more diagnostic and really impacted on my lesson planning. Rather than making assumptions about where to pick up from, I know without any doubt now. Things I would have spent whole lessons on before are now little-and-often starters. The pitch of my activities has changed. When I can see they have visited things before I set deeper learning activities much earlier than I would have previously. What was a chatty class are suddenly much more focussed and on task more regularly. I’m pitching work much better than ever because of the better than ever information I have on what students already know.
- I’ve never been a fan of giving students a list of learning objectives and asking them to RAG (red/amber/green) how good they think they are at them. RAG-ing doesn’t account for student ignorance! The conscientious, high attaining students underestimate what they can do and the overly-confident, lazy ones overestimate. By doing the RAG-ing based on what they can do on an actual assessment, the results are much more accurate. This is confirmed by the score students predicting they will get prior to the pre-learning assessment and the actual score they get being different; significantly so in many cases.
- I think the approach captures the spirit of the forthcoming assessing without levels reforms. The pre and post learning assessments document progress in a formative portfolio. Targets can be set based on accurate diagnostic assessment of their weaknesses. Progress is very clear to external observers, me the teacher and to the students.
- Supplying the learning objectives in conjunction with the pre-learning assessment really gives students focus from the start. They see the learning journey and buy into it. “I can’t wait until we get to the trapezium lesson”, was one student’s comment after the pre-learning assessment. I’ve never had students consistently looking forward along their learning journey like this before.
All sorted then, the world is fixed! No. I just can’t see a way of making it work all the time. I’m not trying to be defeatist. It’s not the preparation involved, it’s simply the time required to run it. There are 30 modules on the scheme of work, 352 learning objectives and it is already a struggle to cover the course content within the allotted time. Two extra lessons for the pre and post learning assessments mean 60 more lessons needed over the KS4 course. It’s simply not possible to sacrifice 60 lessons to this and still cover the course content. Do you agree?
This has been an issue causing me great frustration recently. The learning is so good with this system. It encapsulates so much of what Hattie says really boosts achievement and I have seen at first-hand why. Visible Learning is really, really good learning.
I want this to be something that is practical. I can’t see where the 60 lessons are going to come from. Schools just can’t do it. In theory, because you don’t need to teach everything (some topics students already know are identified on the pre-learning assessment) there are some savings here, but it’s not enough. Perhaps set the pre and post learning assessments as homeworks? That would have pitfalls! Where’s the time going to come from?!
I’m out of ideas currently. Do you have any? How could I make this work? Please make any suggestions you have in the comments section.