Professor Hatties work influential


A 2008 study by Professor John Hattie, of Auckland University ‘What is the nature of evidence that makes a difference to learning? investigated what actually works in schools to improve learning.

It challenged many preconceptions about what is effective .The study, one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken, found that improving student-teacher interaction is the key to schooling success.

The major influence on student learning is, of course ,the teacher. And so  it follows that the location of evidence that makes a difference to teaching and learning must be located at the ‘teacher’ level.

Evidence that informs teachers about their teaching is the most critical evidence that can be provided.We need in particular to address teachers’ expectations and target setting, as these are key drivers in the enhancement of learning – or can be the greatest barrier to such enhancement, claims Hattie.

And, crucially, pupils need to question their teachers on what they do and do not understand about a subject as this is the single most effective way of improving education ,Hattie concluded. Pupils should know exactly how well they’re doing and be prepared to   articulate this, and what they need to know, to their teacher. Hattie says that teachers should ask themselves, “how many of the kids in your classroom are prepared to say, in front of class, ‘we need help’, we don’t know what’s going on’, or ‘ what have you learned?” This sort of trust, he says, is rare.

Professor Hattie is the director of asTTle  (Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning), an educational resource for assessing literacy and numeracy (in both English and Maori) developed for the Ministry of Education by the University of Auckland.

Also rated highly in the Hattie study  were programmes that set work ahead of a student’s level; using assessment to decide pupils’ next steps in learning; teacher clarity; and letting students teach the class. Hattie found that what works best for students is similar to what works best for teachers – an attention to setting challenging learning intentions, being clear about what success means, and an attention to learning strategies for developing conceptual understanding about what teachers and students know and understand.

The study ranked the power of teacher feedback and interaction far above influences such as  the school a student attends, reducing class sizes (popular among politicians) , frequent testing or a pupil’s gender.

As a result of his research, Hattie has developed a new assessment system, called Visible Learning, which is designed to improve teacher-pupil interactions.  The work has involved synthesising some 815 meta-analyses of education research, each mainly relating to developed English-speaking countries such as the US, the UK and Australia. These cover at least 83 million pupils over the period 1976 to 2007. This enabled Hattie  to create a league table of the most effective ways to raise achievement, out of 138 possible approaches.

The upper rankings of the table are dominated by programmes designed to improve the quality of pupil-teacher interactions, suggesting that transforming this aspect of education is absolutely key to improving attainment. The table’s top-rated approach is pupils assessing themselves: getting children to reach a view on their levels of understanding and feeding this back to their teachers. This suggests that there is a very high correlation between the levels of progress pupils believe they have made and their actual performance in tests.

Hatties work finds favour with those educators who say that we spend far too much time externally assessing pupils and accumulating data that is not relevant to pupil performance and not enough time listening to them, and fostering the most appropriate learning environment .The Hattie research also supports backers of Assessment for Learning, such as Professor Dylan Wiliam and Professor Paul Black.

Here Ministers support making Assessment for Learning (AfL) a feature of classrooms across England but Professor Wiliam has complained that  the Governments   interpretation of what AFL actually should  mean for classroom practice is not in line with the research that led to its adoption. Professors Black and Wiliam developed the approach from 1998 in schools in Oxfordshire and Medway. One of their key findings was that pupils should be told only what they needed to do to improve, rather than being given grades.

What is the nature of evidence that makes a difference to learning?  Professor John Hattie, Auckland University, New Zealand Download paper (PDF: 160KB)


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