Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

March 15 Effective Teaching 2



March 2015 Monthly Ed Tip!

As educators, we often put undue emphasis on the students for what they can’t learn – it’s because of their backgrounds, their lack of motivation, they learning styles, their inattention, and their unsupportive parents. While it is true that the largest source of variance in student learning outcomes can be attributed to students, the underlying premise of this deficit thinking is that educators cannot change students. However, I propose that teachers must consider themselves to be change agents.

In his book Visible Learners: ”A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Professor John Hattie argues that teachers’ teaching strategies, beliefs, and commitments are the greatest influences on student achievement over which educators have some control. Visible Learners provides an overview of the strategies, beliefs, and commitments of the most successful teachers.

To start this month’s discussion and continue last month’s News Update, rank the factors below that have the greatest effect on student achievement and learning. The answers are at the end of the explanation.

1. Student Expectations

2. Providing Formative Evaluation

3. Teacher Credibility

4. Classroom Discussions

5. Teacher Clarity

6. Feedback

7. Teacher-Student relationships

8. Spaced versus Massed Content

9. Teaching Strategies

10. Socioeconomic Status

11. Time on Task

12. Homework

13. Class Size

14. Matching Style of Learning

15. Teacher Subject/

Matter Knowledge

The ranking is the result of the research conducted by Professor John Hattie, then at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who conducted a huge 15-year research project to discover what works in schools. Hattie investigated the related academic achievement of more than 83 million school-aged students across the English-speaking world and researched 52,637 studies that resulted in 800 meta-analyses. Hattie details the research in his book, Visible Learners: ”A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.

By conducting the biggest ever evidence-based research project in education that synthesized the school-related experiences of millions of students, Hattie provided most exhaustive meta-analysis in education.

In fact, one reviewer called it “teaching ‘s “Holy Grail.”

Thanks to Hattie’s research, we can gauge not only the relative effectiveness of almost every educational intervention under the sun but we can compare these interventions on an absolute scale of effect size.

Perhaps most importantly, Hattie was able to identify a ‘hinge point’ from exhaustively comparing everything: the effect size of .40. Anything above such an effect size has more of an impact than just a typical year of academic experience and student growth.

Hattie says ‘effect sizes’ are the best way of answering the question ‘what has the greatest influence on student learning?’

Based on his research, Hattie opines that if we examine everything teachers do with children in schools, almost everything has a positive effect. The only negative effects are summer vacation, welfare policies, retention, and TV. Everything else has a positive effect and works by having a positive effect.

He writes that students experience educational gains just from developmental reasons. In other words, students experience educational advances by growing up and any gains has nothing to do with the adult in the room, it has nothing to do with teaching strategies, and it has nothing to do with assessment; it is because the child develops through growth.

However, there are things that work better than others, there are levels of effect.

Rather than looking at any practice that has an effect size of more than zero, Hattie suggests that an effect size of 0.4 should be considered the hinge-point. An effect size of 0.4 is about the average effect we expect form a year’s schooling. Therefore teachers should aim to implement those interventions above 0.4 since those are the ones that will truly improve student achievement.

The effect sizes above 0.40 are the ones that teachers should do daily and are the ones that have the greatest effect on student achievement. They are associated with an effect size much more than development and having a warm body in the room.

An effect size of 1.0 or better is equivalent to advancing the student’s achievement level by approximately a full grade, or improving the rate of learning by 50%, or a two grade advance, e.g., from a C to an A grade.

Clearly, an effect size of 1.0 is clearly enormous; it is defined as an increase of one standard deviation.

An effect size of 0.5 is equivalent to a one-grade leap and an effect size above 0.4 is above average for educational research.

The most important discovery from the research was that almost any intervention can claim to “work.” Almost every intervention had an effect size above zero which simple means that the intervention had some positive effect on achievement. However, if every intervention has some effect on achievement, and then all we need to do is implement more of what we already do. However, this will not solve the problem in education.

The rankings are in the exact order listed above.

Rank Effect Size

1. Student Expectations 1 1.44

2. Providing Formative Evaluation 4 0.90

3. Teacher Credibility 4 0.90

4. Classroom Discussion 7 0.82

5. Teacher Clarity 9 0.75

6. Feedback 10 0.75

7. Teacher-Student relationships 12 0.72

8. Spaced versus Massed Content 13 0.71

9. Teaching Strategies 23 0.62

10. Socioeconomic Status 45 0.52

11. Time on Task 75 0.38

12. Homework 94 0.29

13. Class Size 113 0.20

14. Matching Style of Learning 125 0.17

15. Teacher Subject 136 0.09

Matter Knowledge

Commentary on the rankings of student expectations, teacher credibility, teacher clarity, teacher-student relationships, spaced vs. massed content, homework, and teacher subject matter knowledge.

Student Expectations, Rank 1, ES = 1.44

The contributions the child brings to his or her learning include prior knowledge of the subject, expectations of or beliefs in their ability to perform, a degree of openness to experience, and an attitude about the value/worth to them of investing in learning. Additionally, the student brings the ability to engage in a lesson, a sense of self as a learner based on past school-based experiences, and their reputation as a learner.

Hattie writes that student’s expectations can be formed from experience in classrooms. By the age of 8, many students have worked out their place in the ranking of the achievement equations. It is therefore a concern that one of the greatest influences on student achievement identified is that of student expectations/self-reported grades.

Students are very adept at knowing how to rate their performance. If these ratings are too low, then such expectations of performance can set limits of what students see as attainable, according to Hattie.

Hattie’s research indicates that students’ develop estimates of their own performance that are typically formed from past experiences in learning. Students have reasonably accurate understanding of their level of achievement. Moreover, high school students have very accurate understanding of their of their achievement levels across all subjects, he concludes.

He notes this was the case for all but minority students who were more likely to be less accurate in their self-estimates or self-understanding of their achievement. These expectations of success may become a barrier for some students as they may perform to whatever expectations they already have of their ability

Hence, Hattie opines, there is power in teachers setting more challenging goals, engaging students in the learning towards these goals, and giving students confidence to set and attain their goals. A student’s own predictions of their performance should not be barriers to exceeding them, as they are for too many students.

Teacher creditability, Rank 4, ES = 0.90

“Students are very perceptive about knowing which teachers can make a difference to their learning. And teachers who command this credibility are most likely to make the difference,” says Professor Hattie. The reason the effects of teacher credibility is high is because teachers who constantly show students they care, and know about the difference and impact they are having on them, are ‘visible’ and welcomed.

The first characteristic that a teacher needs to be considered is trustworthiness: the pupil must feel the teacher has their best interests at heart, truly cares about their success in class. Pupils must feel safe in their class and feel free of embarrassment if they make a mistake in class in front of their peers. Teachers who are consistent and fair with classroom discipline, include all pupils in activities, and do not embarrass them are more likely to develop trustworthiness. To develop an even deeper trust, the teacher could ask about pupils’ interests outside of school and home life.

Competence is the second key component of creditability. A teacher must not only have mastered their particular subject area, but must also deliver it in a meaningful and engaging way. To do this they need good classroom management skills, the ability to answer questions and the capacity to explain complex material in ways pupils can understand.

Finally, teachers need to be dynamic in how they interact with their class and present their material in an exciting and engaging way, using a diverse range of techniques. If a teacher lacks charisma or is unenthusiastic about the topic, they will lose credibility with pupils.

Teacher clarity, Rank 9, ES = 0.75

One of the themes of Hattie’s first book in which he explained the effect sizes, Visible Learning, is how important it is for the teacher to communicate the intentions of the lesson and the notion of what success means for these intentions. Fendrick (1990) defined teacher clarity as organization, explanation, examples and guided practice, and assessment of student learning. Interestingly, the effects were larger when students, rather than observers, rated teachers and class size and that subject taught made no differences on teacher clarity.

Teacher-Student relationship, Rank 12, ES = 0.72

Somewhat surprising too many teachers is that “teacher-student relationship” ranks 12th of all factors that influence student learning. Hattie writes that to improve teacher-student relationships and reap their benefits, teachers should learn to facilitate student development by demonstrating that they care for the learning of each student as a person and see their perceptive, communicate it back to them so that they have valuable feedback to self-assess, feel safe, and learn to understand others.”

In classes with person-centered teachers, there is more engagement, more respect of self and others, fewer resistant behaviors, greater non-directivity (student-initiated and student-generated activities), and greater student achievement.

Hattie notes research demonstrating that most students who do not wish to come to school or who dislike school do so primarily because they dislike their teacher.

Spaced and Massed Practice: Rank 12th, ES = 0.71

In studies with mice, scientists have found the long-term effects of learning are strongly dependent on whether training is performed all at once (“massed training”), or in spaced intervals (“spaced training”). Researchers found gains incurred in massed training disappeared within 24 hours, whereas those gained in spaced training were sustained longer.

In Visual Learning, Hattie cites numerous studies to support this effect size. Donovan and Radosevich (1998) concluded that students in spaced practice conditions performed higher than those in massed practice conditions (ES=0.46). Both acquisition (ES=0.45) and retention (ES=0.51) were enhanced by spaced rather than massed practice.

The effectiveness of length of spacing was related to the complexity and challenge of the tasks - stronger effects were found for simple tasks with relatively brief rest periods, and longer rest periods were needed for more complex tasks (at least 24 hours or more).

Nuthall (2005) claimed that students often needed 3 to 4 exposures to the learning – over several days – before there was a reasonable probability they would learn. This is consistent with the power of speed rather than massed practice.

The above studies indicates it is the frequency of different teaching approaches rather than merely spending “more” time on task that makes the difference in learning.

Homework, Rank 94, ES = 0.29

Homework is a hotly contested area, and many times parents judge the effectiveness of schools by the presence or amount of homework – although they expect not to be involved in this learning other than providing a quiet and scheduled place, as they believe these are the correct conditions for deep and meaningful learning.

In his research, Cooper (1989) found the effects of homework are twice as large for high as for junior high, and twice as large for junior high as elementary students. The smallest effects were in math, whereas the effects in science and social studies were the largest, with English in the middle. The positive effects of homework were negatively related to the duration of the homework. Shorted is better, but for elementary students, the correlation is near zero (ES = -0.04) between time spent on homework and achievement.

As noted in the prior paragraph, there are marked differences in effects sizes between elementary (ES = 0.15) and high school students (ES=0.64), which probably reflects the more advance skills of studying involved in high school. For high school students, the effects were highest when homework involved rote learning, practice, or rehearsal of the subject matter.

Why are there lower homework effects in elementary school? Hattie proposes that younger children are less able to ignore irrelevant information or stimulation in their environment, have less effective study habits, and receive less support from teachers or parents

The nature of homework also makes a difference. Homework effects were highest in math and lowest in science and social studies and the effects were highest when the material was not complex or novel. Interestingly, homework involving higher-level conceptual thinking and project-based was the least effective.

Hattie reports that homework effects are greater for higher than for lower ability students and for older rather than younger students. For too many students, homework reinforces that they cannot learn by themselves, and that they cannot do the schoolwork. For these students, homework undermines motivation, internalizes incorrect routines and strategies and reinforces less effective study habits, especially for elementary students.

Teacher subject matter knowledge, Rank 136, ES = 0.09

Hattie writes there has been a long debate about the importance of teacher subject knowledge, with the seemingly obvious claim that teachers need to know their subject to teach it. “Pedagogical content knowledge that is the basis of effective teaching,” “teaching begins with a teacher understanding of what is to be learned and how it is to be taught,” he opines.

However, despite the plausibility of this claim, there is not a large amount of evidence to defend it, Hattie writes. He explains that if there were a large and consistent set of studies showing the power of teacher subject matter knowledge /pedagogical knowledge on subsequent student outcomes, it would seem that it should be well-cited and not elusive to find.

Linda Darling-Hammond, world-renowned Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, has argued that it is likely that subject knowledge influences teaching effectiveness up to some level of basic competence but low thereafter.

In summary, the research does show that teachers clearly made a difference. In fact, the difference in effect between a high-effect teacher and a low-effect teacher is about 0.25 which means that a student in a high-impact teacher’s classroom learns about a year more than his or her peers in a lower-effect teacher’s classroom. One of the main points of Visible Learning is that the differences between higher- and lower-effect teachers primarily relates to the attitudes and expectations teachers have and the teaching strategies teachers use in the classroom. It is the methods of instruction a teachers uses and the attitude or belief system of expert teachers that really sets them apart.



“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.