Evidence of impact lies at the heart of Visible Learning. What is the evidence this is working? What is the evidence this is not working? What are our actions in response to the evidence? This year’s annual visible learning conference theme, Impact! Knowing, Acting, Evaluating, delves into “knowing thy impact” and focuses on the importance of assessment, inquiry, evaluation, and implementation in order to connect what educators do with what learners learn, which results in improving student outcomes. The conference is filled with collaborative learning opportunities that push educators’ thinking and build capacity to existing levels of knowledge. Let’s look more deeply into each element of this year’s conference theme.
The Visible Learning research informs us that just about everything we do in education works if we set the bar at zero. This means schools need a clear understanding of what a year’s worth of growth looks like for a year’s worth of input for each student. It also means teachers and leaders need to know what students need to learn, as deemed by grade level standards, and what successful attainment of that learning looks like. Do we share common conceptions of progress at our school? How do we first make learning visible for us as educators? How do we transfer that clarity of learning so it is visible to our students such that they learn to become their own teachers? These are questions we ask ourselves in the knowing phase of impact. Schools need to engage in discussions about what impact means in their schools, which includes an understanding of where students are in their learning, what progress looks like, and how to diagnose what is and what’s not working.
James Popham (2008) says there is no such thing as a valid assessment rather there is what he calls inference accuracy. We can have copious amounts of assessments to gather evidence from students, but if we don’t know what to do with that evidence, if we aren’t able to make instructional inferences that point us “where to next?” it doesn’t matter how valid the assessment is. Many times, schools are awash with data that can leave them data rich but information poor or experience paralysis through over analysis.
Effective teachers are masters at being adaptive and are willing to try and try again to find ways to reach students and maximize their learning. Assessment data gives us valuable information about our students’ progress, but it should also be instrumental in shaping our instruction. Success in student learning is shaped by the choices we make in our classrooms. By using formative assessment as feedback about our impact, we can better analyze how and what our students are learning and plan the next steps for greater success. Focus on the learning rather than the teaching and the evaluation will give us the information we need to guide the process. To maximize learning, we need to show students what success looks like and then use formative assessment outcomes as the tools to help build that success.
I am an evaluator of my impact sits at the top of Hattie’s 10 Mindframes. Teachers and leaders who possess this mindframe recognize the power data has to inform and understand the impact of our decisions and actions. We must diagnose what our students are doing and analyze how they are learning. We need to see where they are, how they have grown, and where they need to grow. Next, we must get involved in multiple ways to better meet their needs and then evaluate our interventions. When we commit to establishing clarity of learning in the knowing phase, and are constantly collecting evidence to determine where students are moving along the trajectory of learning in the acting phase, we are well positioned to use data to track progress, implement improvements, and evaluate results and impact.
Bringing it Together
So what does this mean for our schools and classrooms? It means we need to refocus our efforts to ensure that any actions we take have maximum impact on learning and achievement. To begin, we need to commit to a deep understanding of what our students need to learn and what mastery of that learning looks like. In addition, we need to constantly elicit and analyze evidence of student learning to know where students are getting it, where students have gotten it and where there might be a need to go back and reteach or intervene. From here, we are in a strong place to engage in discussions and evaluate the impact our decisions and actions had on student achievement. When we examine impact through the lens of knowing, acting and evaluating we are on our way to fulfilling the mantra of visible learning, and that is, when teachers see learning through the eyes of their students, and students become their own teachers, then we have created students who are visible learners.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement, Routledge. London
Popham, J. (2008) Transformative Assessment, ASCD. Alexandria, VA