Even though Professor Hattie’s (2009) Visible Learning synthesis provides a wealth of research that can be used by educators to inform their practice, the deep implementation of evidence-based strategies remains unrealized in many schools and classrooms. In a recent article published in Education Science, we examined the reception of the Visible Learning research at two sites and identified six supporting conditions that assisted educators in transferring key influences from the Visible Learning research into classroom practice in ways that demonstrated increases in student learning. The two sites we examined were of particular interest to us because educators at the schools were able to achieve deep implementation of learning intentions, success criteria, and effective feedback and realize measurable gains in student achievement. The question we set out to answer was: What conditions helped to assist educators in implementing and adapting evidence from the Visible Learning synthesis as they encountered it?
A brief description of the six supporting conditions is shared below:
1. Participation in An Impact Cycle
Teams at each site engaged in Impact Cycles (Figure 1) – a process also known as collaborative inquiry. This professional learning design served to guide teams in carefully considering evidence-based strategies from the Visible Learning research, applying and refining them in their practice, and examining the impact of their changed actions on student learning. The first step in the Impact Cycle is to gather evidence to determine an area of focus. This step enabled the teams to conduct a deep diagnosis and gather baseline information. The process helped teachers to orient their work around outcomes and focused them on questions such as: ‘Did the students gain the essential skills and understandings? How do we know? How can we use evidence of student learning to improve classroom instruction?”
Figure 1. The Visible Learning Impact Cycle
2. Clear examples of how to apply the strategies.
After learning more about what makes a particular influence most impactful, teachers needed
examples and multiple opportunities to see the strategies modelled in order to meaningfully integrate them into their practice. For example, when learning about the three feedback questions (i.e., Where am I going?, How am I doing?, and Where to next?) and the levels of feedback (i.e., task, process, and self-regulation), teachers were provided multiple opportunities to learn more about Hattie and Timperley’s (2007) model that makes feedback more effective. Through direct instruction, teachers’ were better able to understand the feedback questions and levels. Teachers were also provided examples of feedback statements and coded feedback according to the levels. In this gradual release of responsibility approach, the teachers eventually crafted feedback based on samples of student work they brought and this assisted them in transferring the skill of identifying students’ instructional level and tailoring feedback accordingly back in their classrooms.
3. A ‘knowledgeable other’ in assisting educators in understanding the implications of the research.
In both these projects, teachers were introduced to the Visible Learning research via a conduit. A knowledgeable other provided an overview of the Visible Learning research and an explanation of effect sizes and meta-analyses. The knowledgeable other also selected particular factors and used them as opportunities to demonstrate the need to uncover the untold stories behind the effect sizes.
Homework is a good example of an influence that needs to be ‘unpacked’ for an audience because it is affected by moderating variables. A moderator is a third variable that affects the strength of the relationship between the independent (e.g. homework) and dependent variables (student achievement). The Visible Learning research demonstrated that homework has a higher effect size in high schools than it does in primary grades. When the effect size of homework is taken at face value, it appears less significant than when it is disaggregated according to grade level. Teachers needed a knowledgeable other to help them understand this and to engage them in learning more about the “stories” behind the influences they selected to use in their practice. The knowledgeable other consistently communicated information about the strength of the evidence for the influences in the Visible Learning database (e.g. feedback has an effect size of 0.70) to the teachers and helped them in understanding what that meant in regard to various factors’ potential to accelerate student learning or not.
4. A supportive organizational environment.
Another enabling condition for implementation was a supportive organizational environment. Not only were teachers learning but administrators and teacher leaders were learning alongside them as part of the supportive environment. Both locations promoted and supported teams working together to solve the dilemmas of teaching and learning. The supportive environment enabled the teams to deliberate over the challenges they faced in relation to the identified student learning need, examine their current practices, and determine how to best implement the evidence-based practices in order to improve student outcomes. Common understandings regarding effective practice were built collaboratively as a result. Teams were invited to ‘lean on each other’ and to all share the responsibility and outcomes for students as they pursued the work together. Opportunities for staff collaboration were deliberately scheduled. Achievements were acknowledged and celebrated.
5. The recognition of educators as agents of influence.
It was essential to help educators make the link between their collective actions and resulting student outcomes in order to achieve deep implementation. When teachers saw themselves as agents of influence, it empowered and motivated them to continue to persist against the challenges they faced in their schools. The Impact Cycle helped teams make sense of their actions by examining evidence regarding students’ experiences in schools. In doing so, teachers were able to orient their work around student outcomes and gain better understandings about the potential impact of their collective actions. When teams recognized small successes early during the process and attributed student progress to factors that were within their realm of influence (e.g. actions of the team and individual teachers’ changes in practice), they were motivated to continue. The recognition of mastery experiences unfolded as teachers were encouraged to share their learning and successes with peers through the Impact Cycle.
6. The Monitoring and Adjustment Implementation Strategies
In both examples, teams monitored and adjusted their implementation strategy in light of implementation evidence collected throughout the projects. Monitoring the implementation plan allowed the leadership teams to adjust their course of action based on successes and challenges identified by the educators.
Hattie’s (2009) synthesis represents the largest collection of evidence-based research regarding what matters in schools in raising student achievement. As we move into the tenth anniversary since the original publication, deep implementation of the influences that are most likely to impact student achievement remain largely unrealized in many schools and districts. Knowing what works and making it work (so that increases in student achievement are realized) are two different things. In this blog, we summarized the six key conditions, that we identified through our work in two school districts, that helped to bridge the divide between research and practice in ways that demonstrated measurable impact on student learning. These conditions were also instrumental in helping teachers realize that through their collective efforts, they were making a difference.
Note: The six supporting conditions were first published in Education Science. See Donohoo, J.; Bryen, S.; Weishar, B. Implementing High-Leverage Influences from the Visible Learning Synthesis: Six Supporting Conditions. Educ. Sci. 2018, 8, 215. If readers would like to read more, the original and more detailed article is available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2227-7102/8/4/215
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge, New York, NY.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.