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Visible Learning
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Visible Learning in Midlothian

What is Visible Learning?

John Hattie has spent 15 years researching what really makes a difference in learning. His research has used over 800 meta-analyses, over 50,000 studies and information about the learning of more than 240 million pupils. The findings from this research are summarised in his book Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (2009).  John Hattie continues to add to his evidence base; every time research is published he incorporates it into his analysis.

Hattie examined six factors and assessed their respective contributions to achievement: the child; the home; the school; the teacher; the curriculum and the approaches to teaching. Teachers have the single largest effect size – “what teachers do matters” (Hattie, 2009).  The things that teachers do that makes the biggest difference are about making learning visible and explicit to pupils.  The key message from Hattie’s research is that ‘when teachers see learning through the eyes of the student and students see themselves as their own teachers we gain the biggest effects’.  Hattie’s second book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising impact on learning (2011) is written for teachers and explains how to apply the principles of visible learning in the classroom.  He summarises the most successful interventions and provides a step by step guide to implementing visible learning, visible teaching in the classroom.

Hattie uses effect size to create a continuum of influences on learning.  This allows us to see which factors have the greatest impact on learning. The most up to date list of influences contains 150 factors.  We know that most of what we do in the classroom has a positive effect on learning but using effect size allows us to identify to what extent this improves learning.  A typical effect size, the average progress we can expect in a year, is 0.40 – this has remained constant despite new research being added. Hattie argues that if this is the average progress we can expect in a year then we need to raise the bar and seek greater impact. We can use this evidence to reflect on existing practice and inform developments – are we using our time and resources in the right way? It’s the start of a conversation about learning and impact not the end. If we think about just implementing the top 10 things on the list then we miss the message about knowing your impact and being evaluative.

If we want to make best use of Hattie’s research we need to evaluate where we are now and identify what we can do to improve this, using his evidence base to guide us.  Each of the influences listed needs to be understood in context and in his books Hattie explains what each of these need to look like in order to achieve the highest effect.  If we take homework as an example; the average effect size is 0.29, the effect size of homework in primary schools is 0.01 and 0.59 in secondary schools.  This does not mean we should stop homework in primary schools but perhaps leads us to think about what makes it effective (i.e. short, consolidates learning and is marked) and what we can change to improve the impact it has in our context.

Hattie’s research raises many questions for us to consider, including

  • Are we focussing on the right things?
  • What is already working?
  • To what extent does data / evidence drive improvement?
  • What is the quality of the feedback our pupils receive?
  • Do we ensure that our pupils have high expectations?
  • Do all teachers evaluate the impact of their teaching? If so, how?

Visible Learning in Midlothian

In May 2014 a conversation about Visible Learning started with Education leaders across Midlothian. Many had read some of John Hattie’s books, had seen the list of effects but had got a bit stuck with how to use this – the challenge was in translating this into practice. Having attended the Visible Learning Foundation Day I was able to introduce leaders to the Visible Learning approach. The approach consists of 5 strands – Visible Learners (or Assessment Capable Learners), Effective Feedback, Know Thy Impact, Inspired and Passionate Teachers and the Visible Learning School. The 5 strands offer the ‘how’ and immediately made sense to school leaders who could see how the evidence and research then translates into leadership, school improvement, career long professional learning and learning and teaching. The image below highlights some key messages about the Visible Learning approach;

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The Educational Psychology Service (EPS) is driving the delivery of Visible Learning in Midlothian and this reflects our aim of supporting the learning of all children and young people and future proofing the service. This approach has enabled us to make best use of our knowledge of how children learn, how organisations and systems work and our understanding of change. We have had a key role in supporting the process of self-evaluation and translating knowledge into action.

During this academic session (2014-15) we have had a number of strands of activity which have worked together to build our capacity to deliver Visible Learning:

  • The core NQT programme has had Hattie’s research at the heart of it.  The focus was the translation of knowledge into action and evaluating the impact of their teaching. This has been positively evaluated by NQTs, Head Teachers and supporters as having an impact on the practice of NQTs and therefore learners.
  • In October we held a leadership conference at which Craig Parkinson (Lead Consultant, Visible Learning, Osiris), Craig Biddick (Tobermory High School) and Laura Kearney (Hodgehill Primary School, Birmingham) offered an overview of the visible learning approach and workshops in which they shared examples of the approach in action.
  • Leaders from across Midlothian engaged in a series of workshops which supported leaders to translate their learning and Hattie’s evidence base into action to have a positive impact on the outcomes for learners. There is no single way to implement visible learning therefore the focus was on helping leaders to answer the questions:
  1. ‘Where do I start?’
  2. ‘What does visible learning look like in my school?’
  3. ‘How do I know we are having a significant impact on all our learners?’

Our approach to CLPL was designed to work with the developing quality improvement framework and self-improving school systems.

  • The EPS has co-facilitated with two teachers a series of practitioner enquiry workshops with a Visible Learning theme.
  • One of the questions we needed to explore was ‘how do we engage all practitioners in Visible Learning?’ We have tapped into the skills, knowledge and experience our teachers to helps us identify the challenges and potential barriers and most importantly how we overcome these.

So what impact is this having?

Our focus this session has primarily been on raising awareness of Hattie’s research and what it means for us in Midlothian, in doing this we have build a strong foundation for delivery. There is clear evidence that the language of Visible Learning is being used when teachers talk about their classrooms. There has also been a shift in language from talking about teaching to a focus on learning and learners. The approach has also helped teachers to think more clearly about their impact and become more evaluative in their approaches. Having an authority approach to this has also had a positive effect on the culture of professional learning and dialogue – we are sharing practice more and breaking down barriers between classrooms and schools. The evidence gathering that schools are engaging in at the beginning of the process allows them to review progress and impact for example; schools are identifying a shift in the language of learning and therefore learners’ ability to talk about their learning.

What is working for Midlothian?

Reflecting on our progress this year we have identified the following features that are making a difference for us:

  • Focus on the learner and learner voice
  • Sharing practice and professional dialogue
  • Gentle pressure relentlessly applied
  • Repeating and modelling key messages
  • EPS research spotlights (making research more accessible)
  • Making connections explicit
  • There is no working group – our plans are messy and change constantly according to need and impact
  • Use of evidence to review progress and impact
  • External input mixed with internal CLPL and support
  • Leadership

These features are not unique to the Visible Learning approach but are considered to be key to achieving better outcomes for children and young people in Midlothian through a Visible Learning approach. We were lucky enough to share our work at the national Visible Learning conference in London last month and meet John Hattie himself. This really highlighted the strength of our community approach to Visible Learning, no school is working in isolation and the strength of sharing practice and professional dialogue is quite unique.   We are also unique in the role that the EPS has taken in leading Visible Learning.

What next?

We have lots of CLPL planned for next session and our main focus will be on closing the gap and ensuring that all schools have started to gather evidence to inform their Visible Learning approach. A teacher conference in August is an important feature of this. We have a solid foundation, a good understanding of the challenges we may face and how we can overcome them and a growing coalition of engaged and inspired teachers who will increase the pace of change over the coming session. Our aim is to develop, in Michael Barber’s words ‘an irreversible delivery culture’ and the EPS will continue to sustain capacity and work with others to build momentum to ensure this (Deliverology 101).


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