John Hattie is a Professor of Education from New Zealand and a key proponent of evidence-based teaching. Evidence-based teaching is to teach using only those methods, which have been verified from evidence to be effective. Such evidence is based on meta-studies of what actually works in education. John is particularly notable for his work on what he terms ‘Visible Learning’, which is the world’s largest ever collection of evidence-based research into what actually works in education. John Hattie headed a team of researchers for twenty years who trawled the world for evidence about the effectiveness of different teaching interventions. The good news from these studies is that 95% or more of things that teachers do to enhance the achievement of students in the classroom work. Taking this evidence though, which John Hattie presents as a continuum of achievement, his fundamental interest has been to pull out and share the most effective of these teaching interventions.
When learning is visible, teachers know if learning is happening or not, and students know what to do and how to do it. The key idea of his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, is that teachers and leaders should always be aware of the impact they are having on their students, and from the evidence of this impact, decisions must be made about changing approaches.
Using his data, John Hattie identified the following qualities for teachers to have, which impact student learning the most (ordered here from 1 to 6 in order of importance):
1. Are passionate about helping their students learn
2. Monitor their impact on students’ learning, and adjust their approaches accordingly
3. Are clear about what they want their students to learn
4. Forge strong relationships with their students
5. Adopt evidence-based teaching strategies (see below)
6. Actively seek to improve their own teaching
Teachers are far more likely to have a low (or even negative) impact if they:
- Repeat students
- Label students (fixed mindset)
- Have low expectations
One of the major messages from Visible Learning is the power of teachers learning from and talking to each other about planning – learning intentions, success criteria, what is valuable learning, progression, what it means to be ‘good at’ a subject (Hattie, 2012, pp. 67). The key message here is clear – educators should not work in isolation. Hattie explains that schools must create the structures and cultures that foster effective educator collaboration – collaboration that focuses on factors their sphere of influence to impact student learning in a positive way.
That being said, before any teaching strategies are used, Hattie builds on Piaget’s research (1970), to reassert the importance of teachers’ understanding about how each student thinks. In other words, the teacher needs to understand where a student is in their level of thinking and then challenge each student to go beyond that level through a process described as ‘cognitive acceleration’.
Feedback, for example, is one of the single most powerful influences on student achievement. For feedback to be effective, Hattie argues that it needs to:
• be clear and mindful of students’ prior knowledge
• be directed at the right level, so it can assist students to comprehend, engage, or develop effective strategies to process the information intended to be learnt. Feedback works powerfully when there is a lot of challenge in the task.
• relate to the learning intention and success criteria
• occur as the students are doing the learning
• provide information on how and why the student has or has not met the success criteria
• provide strategies to help the student to improve
Among other high-impact, evidence-based teaching strategies Hattie identifies include:
- Direct Instruction
- Note Taking & Other Study Skills
- Spaced Practice
- Teaching Metacognitive Skills
- Teaching Problem Solving Skills
- Reciprocal Teaching
- Mastery Learning
- Concept Mapping
- Worked Examples
Teaching strategies that had little or no impact included:
- Giving students control over their learning
- Problem-based teaching and learning
- Teaching test-taking
- Catering to learning styles
- Inquiry-based teaching and learning
One of the key strategies to put many of the ideas (that do work) into practice, is to coach teachers. Coaches can serve as ‘suppliers of candour, providing individual leaders with the objective feedback needed to nourish their growth’ (Sherman & Frea, 2004). Thus, according to Hattie (pp. 71 – 72), ‘coaching is specific to working towards student outcomes. It is not counselling for adults; it is not reflection; it is not self-awareness; it is not mentoring or working alongside. Coaching is deliberate actions to help the adults to get the results from the students – often by helping teachers to interpret evidence about the effect of their actions, and providing them with choices to more effectively gain these effects. There are three elements: the coach; the coached; and the agreed explicit goals of the coaching.’
As Hattie explains, the variability amongst teachers is dramatic in the education system. Some teachers who do certain things have powerful effects on students’ achievement, but half of teachers are not doing those things, so they are not getting the above-average effects. Using evidence, however, can make a huge difference. By distilling the teaching and learning strategies into a continuum of effectiveness for student achievement, John Hattie’s work brings us much closer to a pedagogy that can bring great benefits for both teachers and students.
Hattie, J. (2008). A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers – Maximising Impact on Learning.
Shernoff, D.J., & Frea, A. (2004). The Wild West of executive coaching. Harvard Business Review, 82(11), 82-90.