Sunday / March 3

How To Create A Secure Education Foundation

One thing I have learned from my observations about education is that if hard work guaranteed successful PK-12 education outcomes, this article and most education books would be unnecessary. Our teachers and administrators are exhausted. They do not understand the criticism leveled at them or two of the most recent “solutions” – No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Most people have their own assumptions about what needs to happen in order to improve the education system, but I am sure that John Hattie’s wisdom is necessary to secure the positive educational future we all desire.

Past education decisions seemed logical at the time they were made. Idea after idea were stacked on top of each other, creating a pattern much like the one depicted in Figure 1.

Then along came education pendulums smacking our stack of ideas upside the head. The stacked layers were shoved by hurricane force pendulums until a mixed-up scramble of initiatives blended together over the past 20 years or so was the result (Figure 2). No one can remember from where all the various aspects of the sand arrived.

Education needs an organized framework for implementing all of these ideas. This framework is best depicted as a triangle, shown in Figure 3. This framework is made up of nine individual triangles that are necessary for the ideal education foundation. They are organized into three trapezoids and these three are placed into a super triangle. When these triangles are in the mind of all educators the under-pinning will be in place to withstand future hurricanelike pendulums attempting to drive educators, parents and students crazy (Figure 3). When any of the nine small triangles are removed from the super triangle, it is diminished far more than 1/9th of its strength. Think of a beautiful house that seems to be 99% wonderful. The only problem is a poor foundation. Thus we have cracked walls, doors that won’t close, spaces between steps and the porch, roof leaks and extra spaces in the flooring. The nine triangles are the foundation upon which wonderful, exhilarating programs and learning are built.

The nine triangles are arranged into three trapezoids –with growth mindset infused into each of them.

  1. Hattie’s Mnemonic Triplets of Skill, Will and Thrill
  2. Hattie’s Sequence of Surface, Deep and Transfer Learning
  3. Anthony Burk’s Optimization of the System: Effective, Efficient and Engaging

Trapezoid #1 describes the most likely thought when education priorities are discussed; it is skill development and must be placed at the top of the super triangle. Skill can be defined as remembered content. It is not to be confused with “covered” or “taught” curriculum; it is only what is placed into long-term memory. It takes will (effort) to move content from short-term memory into long-term memory. Fortunately, or unfortunately, students control the will– not the educators. The third triangle inside Hattie’s triplets is thrill. The joy that comes from learning is crucial for students to keep their will strong and thus for the skill to be useful beyond the next chapter test.

The Will and Thrill Matrix is utilized for students to provide feedback to their teacher (Figure 4). Each student places a dot on a mini-version of this matrix and when all dots are placed upon one larger matrix teachers have an image of the Will & Thrill in the classroom.

The next step in the process is asking students what can be done to improve both will and thrill (Figure 5) and testing the proposed solutions in the classroom. Together, skill, will and thrill provide a balance for our efforts to create skilled students.

Trapezoid #2 is surface, deep and transfer learning. Surface is the foundation for both deep and transfer learning. The first step in helping students with surface learning is providing them a list of the essential concepts for the year during the first week of school. Essential means that no trivia is included. Of course, trivia can be taught; it often adds spice to the classroom. However, students need assurance that quizzes and exams will include questions based upon the essentials list.

The learning process does not end with remembered surface learning; it continues onto deep learning and transfer connections to life outside school and other courses within schools. For example, when students are told, “The fire marshal is coming next week and she wants to know what percent of our walls are covered by paper. Please calculate this for me.” In order to solve this deep question, students must remember the surface learning necessary to measure area and calculate percentages. Often students share their transfer learning through what we would call creativity. We know that creativity is connecting two seemingly unrelated events or topics in a new way. When students connect learning from their math and their history classes we are intrigued with the creativity and smile because transfer learning is occurring. Students do not experience transfer learning with content that is memorized for the chapter test and then quickly forgotten.

Trapezoid #3 content is painted on the walls of the Palo Alto, California Carnegie Foundation for the Foundation of Teaching lead by Anthony Bryk. The triplets for optimizing school systems are effective, efficient and engaging. Effectiveness can be visualized in a number of ways. First is what we call “All-Time Bests (ATB).” This means that individual students, classes of students and whole schools of students know on an almost weekly basis that they have learned more than at anytime earlier in the year. ATB becomes the most common set of letters in the school. A second way to prove effectiveness is with an effect size calculator. Students as young as grade one can enter data from scatter diagrams (no student names) into an Effect Size Calculator every quarter. Student thrill is greatly enhanced when students see that their classroom effect size is far more than the average of 0.40.

Efficient for teachers and principals means better results in less time. Anybody with authority can add more requirements to the lives of educators. The key is to be more effective AND also save time for teachers and students. For example, many schools adopted new reading programs after No Child Left Behind that promised effectiveness, but the time required for these effective reading programs was tripled. History, geography, science, art, music, and physical education suffered. The goal is to improve reading in less time so that more time is added to the above school subjects. Both effective and efficient is the aim.

The third aspect of school optimization is engagement, which simply means that students do much more of the work. They are engaged in all aspects of schooling: teaching, measuring, organizing, and creating.

The nine triangles are organized into three trapezoids to assist with long-term memory of the principles behind each label. The triangles could be organized differently. For example, it is when engaged students solve deep problems that thrill abounds. Or remembered skill is essential for efficiency and the will to work even harder. The nine triangles are not new topics for educators; they have been brought to our attention over the years through various programs that have come and gone. My suggestion is to print Figure 3 and post it in classrooms and multiple offices – local, state and national. Questions can be asked about any and all proposed or current programs by using these nine triangles. When all nine are in place, the school is on its way to greatly enhancing the lives of many students, parents and employees. We can tell all our students, teachers and administrators to bring their brains, personality and creativity to work with them every day. They know that their school is built with a growth mindset foundation. It is destined to be successful.

Written by

Lee Jenkins is a Corwin author, consultant and speaker. His book Optimize Your School: It’s All About the Strategy, was released in June of 2015. His processes are successfully implemented in PK to 12 in all subjects. The major focus is intrinsic motivation through continuous improvement. Because students complete all graphs of data there is extremely high student engagement. Effect sizes have been calculated, based upon John Hattie’s Visible Learning, that range from .65 to over 4.00 with an average of 2.35. He strives to replace “teaching, learning and forgetting” with “teaching, learning and remembering.” Classroom scenes and student and teacher interviews are available through and then clicking on the YouTube icon.

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