Reading Group and Hattie (2) Inspiration (and pragmatism)

This post was written by TPI after our Reading Group meeting on Hattie. Resources here

So much to read…

The volume of educational literature available at the moment is immense. Twitter and the bloggersphere are like an additional universe waiting to be explored. At times it can be overwhelming, so I find that choosing wisely and going with recommendations are both crucial. The key books that jumped out at me last year (and yes I was a little late to the party in some cases… fashionably late?) were from John Tomsett, Carol Dweck and John Hattie.

Why so? Tomsett’s ‘Love over fear’ theme strikes a chord with many of us in the recent climate of educational pressure and, at times, questionable educational direction.

Dweck’s Growth Mindset has genuinely changed my life in lots of ways. I’m going to be brutally honest here, one of the reasons is that I now feel less jealous of excellence than I used to (it’s worth reading the McEnroe anecdote about his new Les Paul Guitar on p100). When you finally have the epiphany that excellence always comes off the back of punishing graft, you can’t help but respect ‘talents’.

Finally, Hattie. As with many staff working in schools, we are on a constant mission to find out what works and as Hattie puts it, what works best! Hattie attempts to encapsulate that magic all in one book – very appealing.

Visible learning (and effect sizes)

The concept of Hattie’s ‘visible learning’ is clever. It’s a meta-analysis of many educational research papers (a study of the studies). The key premise is that Hattie evaluates educational practice in terms of its’ effect size on progress. However, when you flick through the pages at the end of a long day (or at the beginning of a short day) you’re bombarded with statistical analysis, which can be a little hard to swallow.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to see the man in action at the Visible learning conference in London. I have to say, I thought he was a brilliant speaker and very persuasive in his arguments. What Hattie says is that the average progress for a student across one year is 0.4d per subject. This means that any educational initiative that produces above 0.4d is significant and worthwhile, whilst anything below 0.4d should be treated with caution. Will the investment be worth it? When resources are finite, should efforts be put into other +0.4d initiatives?

Worth it?

Hattie started by talking about class size, which for many years has been lauded by some as the cure for behaviour and student progress. He quickly shot it down as a 0.2d effect size. Which might on face value be a concern for the many schools that have invested in small class sizes. However, in the flesh, Hattie came across as a pragmatist and did say reducing class size is often done with little thought as to how a smaller class should be taught. Do teachers simply talk more in order to fill the initial void of silence? Does this become the routine for the year, two years? If you think about the amount of verbal and written feedback you could give to a smaller class and the amount of high quality tailored interaction that could be had, surely it could be like a scene from Dead Poets society?

Another interesting effect size was ability grouping, which he found to be 0.12d, which could be used to reinforce the ongoing arguments against ability setting. Once again though it is overly simplistic to assume some schools and subjects don’t do this well.

Importantly Hattie is keen to acknowledge the importance of a strong pastoral system in schools, since bullying has a -0.2d effect. With this knowledge, and yes I’m stating the obvious, if we want to improve our students’ outcomes we need to think about all angles of a student’s experience at school, not just their classroom diet.

Other interesting effect sizes for various factors…

  • Single sex schools 0.08
  • Charter schools 0.09
  • Home schooling 0.16
  • Religious schools 0.24
  • Boredom -0.49
  • Depression -0.36
  • Retention – 0.32 (more of the same doesn’t work)
  • GRIT programs 0.26 
  • Power point 0.26
  • Lack of illness 0.26

You might be thinking, ‘why have I included religious schools, when we’re a Catholic school?’ Well, I could have left it out of this blog but we need to remember Hattie is talking about progress only. He’s not measuring happiness, spirituality, well-being, the morality of our students and the intangible feeling we all get from working in such a special environment.

Worth considering?

Some interventions with positive effect sizes…

CPD 0.41. This needs to be focussed on the needs of the staff and school, which is the very essence of what we’re trying to achieve at Notre Dame.

Questioning 0.48. However, as we know from the extensive focus on AFL, this only works if we question the right way. Hattie said we correct students 40 – 50% of the time. Are we missing golden opportunities to send them into the “learning pit”? Even with an overburdened curriculum we have to make the most of these opportunities.

Peer influences 0.53. To quote Hattie, ‘80% of feedback is from peers, 80% is wrong’. Although this feels like an exaggeration, I can’t help but feel there is some truth to it. What makes peer assessment effective? I would say the primary factor is structure. Certainly when you begin the process with a class. They need to know what they’re looking for and how they should feedback. The planning of this takes time but according to Hattie could reap dividends and will ultimately save on the amount of written feedback teachers produce.

Goal Difficulty 0.59. Not too hard, not too boring, the Goldilocks principle as JH calls it.

Feedback 0.7. We clearly must remember that this refers to high quality verbal feedback, as well as high quality written feedback. A theme ND will be looking into in further detail in 2017 to ensure our practice meets the needs of students but crucially staff well-being.

Goal success criteria 0.68. This was an interesting one, we’re essentially talking about the elements that define the direction of the lesson and what students need to achieve by the end of the lesson/learning episode. Without quoting his exact words (I promised I wouldn’t), JH feels that success criteria are the key to this. He alluded to an overly complex convoluted set of objectives, criteria and outcomes in the classroom. My personal feeling on this is one of agreement. Yes, students need to know what they need to achieve but have we over complicated this process? I think so. So if you want to simplify, ensure your title defines the overall objective, which can be done well with a question and ensure you let students know what success looks like.

Classroom discussion 0.82. Not a lot to say here, except it’s probably the best part of teaching and thankfully, when done well and when we’re not deliberately side-tracked by the students, leads to a greater understanding.

Efficacy/observing impact 0.88. For me this is crucial, the phrase JH loves to use is ‘know thy impact’. It sounds obvious that teachers have an impact but what Hattie reminds us of is that if we are reflective and in a constant process of refining our practice and if we remember we are never the finished product (a theme that runs through Tomsett’s book) we will have a greater impact. Clearly we have to be careful of going too far the other way and being overly critical on ourselves, that will only lead to pain.

Relationships 0.72. For me, this is one of the reasons for constantly ruminating on work life balance. How can we be positive, happy people that bring joy to students if we are not rested? We need to make real time for students where we let them into our lives and vice versa. Most of us came into teaching because we like people and have a passion for our subject. We must never lose the people aspect of our work, it’s the very reason the Notre Dame Nuns exist and the foundations all schools are built on.

We should finally end on the much discussed self-reported grades, difference size +1.44. I think people have read this in different ways but ultimately this is about student’s expectations of their own performance being, in some cases, the biggest single limitation to their own performance. This has to be a motivation to instilling a growth mindset culture within a school, doesn’t it?

Pragmatism… what works best?

Ultimately I really enjoyed meeting and listening to JH. I think a lot of what he says is useful, and a lot of it is very much common sense with a number attached. I do think he came across as a pragmatist and was willing to accept that the rankings were dependent on so many variables and ultimately the quality of delivery. There will be small classes making little progress and small classes making leaps and bounds. But ultimately the message of moving away from what works to what works best is a crucial one. I think we can go a step further, what works best for us as individuals.


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