Friday / June 14

Prioritizing Strategies to Maximize Impact on Student Learning 

The world of professional learning for educators, leaders and coaches has reached a level of unprecedented accessibility. Although we tend to groan when thinking about *another* meeting on Zoom, there have definitely been some pros for those of us who may not have been able to travel for conferences. Instead of getting on a plane, we had access to professional learning right in the comfort of our own homes! Getting connected with some of the brightest minds in education has not only been easier, but in many cases more equitable as well.  

The result? Increased collaboration and many more great ideas being shared. Yet, if you’re like me, you can quickly become overwhelmed with the wealth of brilliant information at your fingertips in every session. With so many great ideas, how can we determine which strategies to prioritize when every strategy shared has the potential to make a great impact on student learning? And once we figure out which strategies to try, how can we ensure proper implementation? After all, “knowing what works best is only part of the story – in order to make a large impact, we must take what we know about what works best and ensure effective implementation and monitoring our impact” (Great Teaching by Design, p. 6).  

As my co-authors and I developed Great Teaching by Design: from Intention to Implementation in the Visible Learning Classroomwe discovered that the best answer to these important questions is to implement the Discovery (DIIE) Model. This framework, designed and inspired by Professor John Hattie, provides a systematic implementation approach that can turn potential impact into measured and calculated impact.  

The framework has four phases: Diagnosis and Discovery, Intervention, Implementation and Evaluation. These stages provide guidance as we engage in turning good ideas (potential) into high impact learning experiences that move student learning forward. This framework provides a shared language of teaching and learning for all of us to capitalize on the collective teacher efficacy in all learning environments and the belief that we have an impact on our students’ learning. Following this framework supports the implementation of what works best in the classroom. 

In this blog we will unpack the parameters around the first two stages of the Discovery model, as recommended in Great Teaching by Design. Keep an eye out for Post #2, which will walk us through the last two stages. 

Step One: Diagnosis and Discovery 

The first step in the framework requires us to deliberately engage in a discovery process about our learners. “Knowing what intervention or approach will most likely ensure learning requires that teachers have a robust understanding of where each of their learners is in their learning journey” (p.31). This step is absolutely necessary to ensure we have an idea of where our learners are now, and what they bring with them to the learning environment. Our discovery process should seek to not only uncover the ‘what’ behind the learning but also the ‘who’. Discovering more about where our classes are in their learning and where they need to be, requires us to take steps to learn about our program (curriculum and standards) and our learners prior to moving to our intervention or strategy.  


Discovering Our Program 

The standards or curriculum  are a natural starting point in the discovery process. Although standards vary depending on where we teach, all of us must start with analyzing the standards to identify the concepts and skills within each one. The concepts and skills are generally identified in these documents as nouns or noun phrases and verbs. By analyzing our programs and unpacking the nouns and verbs we can easily identify the necessary concepts and skills our students will be expected to master and know in their grade or content area.  

Discovering Our Learners 

Once we have a grasp of the concepts and skills our students are to master, we must take into account the learners we have in front of us. Each learner brings with them background knowledge, prior knowledge, skills and understandings. Naturally, we want to discover the unique dispositions our students come to us with so we can choose appropriate interventions. It is important for us to have a clear picture of where students are in their own learning before moving forward with new learning. Prior to teaching new content, we recommend using initial assessments to determine what learners know and can already do.  

Examples of initial assessments are:  

  • Entrance Tickets 
  • Writing Prompts 
  • Think-pair-shares 
  • Open ended questions 
  • Concept or thinking maps 
  • Reading Responses 

(p. 42) 

By taking steps to purposefully engage in the discovery process we can more appropriately choose our interventions, which is the next step in the Discovery model framework.  

Step Two: Interventions 

Choosing appropriate interventions is more complicated than applying a random strategy that was shared at a professional learning session. If we are looking to maximize our impact, we must act on what we notice from the initial assessments in the discovery phase. Initial assessments can generally provide us information about our learners that fall into the skill, will or thrill category.  

  • Skill: the prior achievement students bring to the task (knowledge, skills and/or understandings related to content.  
  • Will: the dispositions our students have toward the learning (the personalities tour students bring to class.  
  • Thrill: learner motivation (why they want to engage in the learning experience or task. 

Knowing when to focus on the skill, will and thrill of learning will depend on what we have discovered about our learners.  

  • A focus on skill requires us to discover whether the learner has a gap in their knowledge base, skill set or understanding.  
  • A focus on will requires us to discover whether the learner is willing to engage, demonstrate resourcefulness and persist in their learning.  
  • A focus on thrill requires us to discover an understanding of our students’ motivations towards learning 

There are multiple different interventions for skill, will and thrill in the Visible Learning research. A comprehensive list of interventions are available on the Visible Learning MetaX database ( This database contains the comprehensive research of Professor John Hattie, along with effect sizes as well as confidence values. When choosing specific interventions, this is the best place to look. 

Here are some examples of interventions that align with skill, will and thrill (all of which can be found on the MetaX database):  

Skill   Vocabulary Programs, Summarizing, Effective Feedback, Deliberate Practice 
Will   Self-regulation Strategies, Transfer Strategies, Practice Testing 
Thrill   Success Criteria, Task Value, Self-Verbalization and Self – Questioning 

These examples are just some of over 200 interventions that have potential to accelerate student learning. Yet, just having access to these interventions is not enough to have an impact on student learning. Once we identify which intervention works best, we then have to move to the implementation phase.  

An intervention is only as good as our implementation, and that next phase of our framework will be explored in post #2 – coming soon.  

For more strategies that will help you maximize your impact on student learning, pick up Great Teaching by Design and keep an eye out for Part II of this Corwin Connect post. 

Written by

Vince Bustamante currently serves as the Social Studies Curricular Consultant for Edmonton Catholic Schools. In this role he is responsible for resource development, providing teacher support, overseeing curriculum implementation as well as delivering professional learning sessions. He is trained as a Secondary Social Studies teacher with vast experience in middle and high schools, and has a passion for creating a social studies classroom that seeks to empower students to maximize their learning. Let’s get students excited about social studies!

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