An excerpt from Making Change That Sticks, a whitepaper about Visible Learningplus in Klein ISD, Texas
Lemm Elementary School Principal Kathy Brown had a lightbulb moment when she first heard about Visible Learning at a conference in Florida in 2014.
Based on Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning research, Visible Learningplus is a practical approach that puts his findings into practice. The result is a sustainable change model that connects to district initiatives, addresses specific school needs and grows from the bottom up to ensure continuous buy-in from teachers and school leaders.
“We all work really, really hard, so we should be working on the right stuff,” she thought.
By the beginning of October the following year, a team from every grade and special education had attended the conference as well and were now sitting down for their first real dose of Visible Learningplus, a “foundation day” that focused on the five strands of Visible Learning. “Everybody was there — PE, music, ESL,” Brown recalls, “and our brains were on fire.”
The first goal is for teachers to step into their first “impact cycle.” In Visible Learning vernacular, the impact cycle is a continuous process of self evaluation. It follows five stages:
- Gathering evidence to determine areas of focus
- Planning professional learning based on that evidence
- Implementing a plan
- Tracking progress and outcomes
- Assessing the impact and figuring out next steps.
“Every teacher had to come up with what they wanted to try, and they [captured] data before and after to see if they were making an impact on student learning,” explains Brown. Several teachers chose to work on teacher clarity, and specifically on “learning intentions and success criteria,” approaches for helping students get the same idea as their teacher about what’s going on in the classroom and what they should be learning as a result.
Because teacher clarity is in Visible Learning’s top 25 of influences affecting student achievement — it wasn’t so easy for naysayers to pass on, which meant that teacher buy-in was strong. The buy-in showed up in the evaluation, also. The Visible Learning strand “Know thy impact” includes this specific assessment: “Lesson plans make the learning intentions and success criteria clear.” An April 2016 self-assessment by the Lemm team gauged their efforts on that aspect as good, but not great. Eleven months later, though, in a March 2017 assessment, the team called the practice “common-place and systematically embedded.”
At the end of the year, Brown’s school had its final day of professional learning, in which, facilitated by a Corwin consultant, people shared their impact cycles. One teacher decided to focus on goal-setting for her impact cycle. At the end of that grading period, the kids were coming up and asking, “Did I make my goals?” because it meant they could be in the parade. Her response: “I don’t know. You need to find out by looking at your goals yourself.”
That simple act “caused a lot of dialog in the classroom and across the board in our school,” says Brown. The realization: “A goal for children was a wish. Although we talked to them about how ‘100’ is not a goal because you could be the smartest person in the world and still make mistakes and not always get that 100, we weren’t talking to them enough about what a goal was.” As a result, she adds, “That totally changed what was happening at Lemm.”
The enthusiasm however was put to the test in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey slammed Houston just a few days into the school year and did so much damage to Lemm Elementary that the school had to be shuttered for extensive repairs. Within two weeks, the students and teachers were back in action, taking up temporary residence at a new high school. (Lemm has only recently reopened at its former location, in time for the start of the 2018-2019 school year.)
The best part, says Brown, “The learning never stopped. We did our impact cycles. You could walk into a classroom, and they had their learning intentions and success criteria up on the wall. They were teaching without resources. Every child had a chair to sit on, even if it was a high school chair. But we weren’t playing school; we were actually doing school. The background knowledge that we had built for the last two years from Visible Learningplus helped support all of that.”
Download the full version of the whitepaper to learn more about Visible Learningplus, and Klein ISD’s journey.