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Monday / July 23

Moving the Whole System Forward with Visible Learning

The Challenge

Konocti Unified is located in the town of Clearlake, California. Only 8% of Clearlake residents hold a four-year college degree or higher, the median household income for a family of four is $25,000, hovering just over the federal poverty line, and the city is affected by high rates of crime.

Over 80% of the students at Konocti read below grade level according to state exams, though the achievement results were not from lack of effort.  For the past eight years, we conscientiously tried any promising initiative thrown our way in an effort to improve. We implemented a rigorous instructional platform with the adoption of the 2010 Common Core standards, including an intensive professional development series around implementation of the new standards. We also tried embracing the technology era by purchasing enough electronic devices for a 1:1 student device ratio, allowing technology to be used as part of daily teaching and learning, and developed a strategic plan that focused on engaging students through real-life, student-centered activities.

Yet, despite all of our efforts, student learning and achievement remained low.

It wasn’t until Visible Learningplus that we saw an opportunity to finally begin to write a new narrative for our community.

Using Data to Inform Decision Making

John Hattie’s extensive Visible Learning research is a meta-meta-analysis of over 1,400 research reviews comprising more than 90,000 studies involving more than 250 million students around the world. The research identifies over 250 influences on student achievement and highlights the instructional practices within educators’ control that can yield a substantial impact on student learning despite a harsh environment.

To see if Visible Learning might be the help we were looking for, we decided to contact Corwin and bring in the Visible Learningplus model of professional learning, at first, for one day.

They began with an assessment of the structures and processes in place within the district that research suggests are at play in successful systems of change as they apply to growing capability. The assessment evaluated district capability in seven areas: (1) Organizational Structure, (2) Strategic Planning, (3) Performance Tracking and Management Systems, (4) Professional Development Systems, (5) Position Allocation and Responsibilities, (6) Research Policy and Practice, and (7) External Appraisal System.

During the capability assessment, Corwin consultants used tools to gather information about Konocti, including information gleaned through interviews and focus groups with students, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders.

As a result of the capability assessment, Konocti staff constructed a districtwide strategic plan for the school with Hattie’s research about what works best in education at the very core. Our goals were to make learning visible and ensure at least one year’s growth for one year’s input. To accomplish this, we set out two instructional action steps: (1) Focus and develop staff in the strategies that work best and (2) Monitor progress and impact.


Since we began our Visible Learning journey, over 50% of our students grew one year or more in language arts, as measured by the annual state exam.

In addition to facilitating improved reading, teachers also saw an improvement in student behavior and attendance. In accordance with Teresa Amabile’s theory in The Progress Principle (2010), students who were clear in their learning were more successful and, as a result, gained confidence in their abilities and a greater appreciation for school. Furthermore, Visible Learning’s focus on instilling a growth mindset and emphasizing the importance of academic potential and learning from mistakes, rather than a focus on creating academic perfection, inspired more constructive reactions to feedback.

After one year, we observed that the rate of suspensions dropped from 10.5% to just 2.3% at Burns Valley Elementary and that the chronic absentee rate fell by an average of 5% in the district overall. At one school, the chronic absentee rate fell from 36.4% to 16.3%.

“The concepts of Visible Learning, including teacher clarity and effective instructional feedback, have had far greater impact than I had anticipated,” said Kevin Gange, Special Education Teacher at Konocti Unified. “The trainings I received in creating learning intentions and success criteria have been immensely helpful in improving my teacher clarity. With good learning intentions and a focus on the importance of being an active learner, the students in my classroom have embraced a growth mindset that was previously absent and, as a result, have displayed more willingness to try new things and less discouragement from temporary setbacks. I can clearly see from the data I have collected in order to ‘Know Thy Impact’ that Visible Learning has fostered growth in my classroom, and is an effective strategy that can improve student learning and success in any academic environment.”

Download the full version to read more about the Konocti Unified’s Visible Learning journey.


This post is an excerpt from Konocti Unified School District’s Visible Learning journey as told by Teresa Rensch, Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

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Written by

A remarkable principal and collaborator, progressive and innovative, Teresa Rensch has been a principal of North Tahoe Middle School for the past 10 years. There she held firm to her conviction for a collective focus as a school around all students achieving grade level, or beyond, literacy.  Before becoming a principal, Teresa was teacher leader in Chicago Public Schools for 10 years. She was known for raising her students’ reading scores an average of .7 per student each year with deliberate daily reading and writing both during the school day and in after school programs. July of 2015, Teresa became Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Konocti Unified School District, penetrating staff and students with a cohesive energy around student visible literacy and learning. To continue effectively learning and leading, she is in partnership with Corwin at Konotci and underway with her Doctorate in Education leadership through Capella University.

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