Saturday, August 29, 2015

Five things that don't make a difference

Over the summer I've been reading two new publications by John Hattie about what does and doesn't make a difference for improving student learning.  His research around the politics of distraction presents us with a vital message: that the minimum goal of education should be for all students to make at least one year's progress for one year's input, no matter where they start.  I've been digging a lot deeper into these findings in the last few days and am going to write several posts about the things that educators and politicians are focused on which don't make a difference, when in fact by refocusing in several key areas the evidence shows that student learning can be improved.

Hattie writes that he believes political leaders are committed to improving education, however they do not understand the factors that are most effective in improving student learning.  He refers to this as "wasted good intentions".  Politicians are quick to jump on international scores on standardised tests taken across many countries, such as the PISA results.  While there are many reasons for variance across countries bigger differences are found within schools, so the most important factor that needs to be studied is teacher effectiveness and the impact that teachers have on student learning. He writes, "recognising, valuing and enhancing the teachers and school leaders with high levels of expertise makes the difference.  It's what works best."

This summer teachers at ASB read a book about grading and reporting.  Hattie also writes about this and points out that not all students can reach the standard:  "It is highly unlikely that 100% or even 80% of students will get above the standard (and if they do, the claims will be that the standard was set too low)."  If the standard represents the average achievement of students of a particular age, then it will never be the case that all students will exceed the average.  We will only ever have 100% of students above the standard if the standard is set very low.  Politicians, however, try many approaches to get more students above the standard - and Hattie argues that most of these approaches are simply distractions.  For example:

  • Appeasing parents by giving them more choice of school and smaller class sizes - when in fact the evidence shows that the classroom they attend, not the school, is more important.  Rather than giving more choice, politicians need to focus on reducing the within-school variability of teacher effectiveness.
  • Fixing the infrastructure, for example curriculum, assessments and buildings.  In most cases changing these are only effective if teachers are guided on how to use, for example, a new space.
  • Fixing the students.  Hattie argues there is too much focus on things like learning styles when in fact there is no evidence that this enhances learning.
  • Fixing the schools - new types of schools, different calendars and so on are mostly no better than the existing options.  The most important thing to focus on is teacher expertise in the classroom.
  • Fixing the teacher.  Lots of different approaches have been tried such as teacher education, performance pay and more technology.  Hattie's findings show the most important focus should be on influencing the first years of full-time classroom teaching as it is where the greatest learning happens for teachers.
Over the next few blog posts I'll be looking into these in more depth.

Artwork painted on a wall in our Middle School

No comments:

Post a Comment