John Hattie and the Philosopher’s Stone

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“Anyone who has ever said that my research indicated that class sizes have no impact on student learning, is fundamentally wrong”… Okay John Hattie, you’ve got my attention.

“Thankfully, pretty much everything a teacher can do, will have a positive impact on student learning”… Phew.

John Hattie is famed for his lists of effect sizes, and following discussions with him, it became clear that there is a great misunderstanding of his research. He can reel off lines such as Microteaching has an effect of 0.88, Vocab programs? 0.67! Teaching science? 0.4! Being clear? 0.75! But his lists are certainly not a list of “shoulds” and “should nots”, much to the surprise of many people who I have spoken to.

So here is a published list, that gets updated almost constantly, but enjoy the version as it stood in the late 2000s. IMG_5790

So, lets get a few things really clear: Changing schools – mobility – is seriously bad for your learning. Staying back a year? Bad news… TV, also bad! Going on holidays? No good…

Things that had little effect? Student control over learning, at 0.04, multiage classes were around the same mark.

Some interesting pairs? Gender and diet have around the same level of effect on a student’s learning, which was about as impactful as ability grouping and mentoring.

Now this is where things get very messy. Mentoring is seen by many as a holy grail of sorts, a wonderful tool that will enhance student learning. But, the reality, is that is has less impact than “typical teaching”.

The scale below shoes that there are essentially 5 levels of effect. The disasters, areas in which the students decrease their ability. The growth students would expect to have without teacher input into development. The “typical teacher” zone, which is basically what can be achieved when you teach people. The green zone, which is the mean improvement expected, and finally the blue zone, where students achieve above the average of what is expected with typical teaching.Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 8.38.00 pm

Obviously, this means teachers should aim to maximise strategies in the blue zone, and limit time in the red zone. But to summarise the presentation from John Hattie last month, there is far more to it than that…

Anything with a positive effect size is good, it does something, its positive, it improves student learning. In analysing over 500 million students, and their achievement, pretty much everything a teacher does improves learning.

To use class sizes as a case study though, it appears that having smaller class sizes has a limited impact on student learning, 0.21, and as such, is not worth the financial outlay required to facilitate it. However, the reality is that reduced class sizes have not been, to this point, facilitate such to maximise their potential for improved student learning. The overwhelming commentary from John Hattie, and in subsequent conversations, was that its not about throwing out every strategy under the sun, but rather embrace those that are proven to improve students – giving feedback, student self-assessment, thoughtful questioning – and be critical of, and improve, strategies that we believe should make more of a difference.

The moral of the story is, do what has a proven ability to improve student learning, and do it well, and always strive to improve practices that you believe in. His most recent studies show that teachers who self-assess and undertake action research to improve their practice have a greater impact than just about anything else…


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