Impactful Learning

Teaching is not seen as an attractive career choice. Why would someone want to sign up for (and indeed stay in) a career which is often criticised for long hours, poor pay and piles of paperwork? Take a minute to think about your answer.

There is a good chance your answer goes something like this – to make a difference in young people’s lives, to have an impact.

It is easy to lose sight of why we became teachers as we go about the day-to-day job of planning lessons, creating material and marking tests not to mention the regular writing of reports on each of our students. And yet maybe, if we are to address the recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, we should encourage teachers to reflect over the impact they have on learning and the difference they can make.

This week I attended a conference led by John Hattie (Visible Learning) and James Nottingham (Challenging Learning) which focused on this very topic. Hattie has measured the effect a variety of factors have on learning. Some things have a detrimental effect on a child’s learning (for example, having students repeat a year), most things have a positive effect. As Hattie puts it, it is therefore not a question about what works in the classroom but rather what works best.

What works best?

According to Hattie’s most recent research the best schools and the best teachers do the following:

  • Teachers and students work together as evaluators of impact

The most influential teachers are those that study the impact they have on their students’ learning. Hattie is often quoted for his phrase, ‘Know thy impact’. He also notes that teachers should say to themselves, ‘I cause learning’. As classroom leaders we should take credit for what our students can do. Similarly, we should instil the importance of reflection amongst our students.

  • All have high expectations

Hattie says teachers should not be helping students ‘reach their potential’ or encourage them to ‘do their best’, instead we should be having them exceed expectations. When providing feedback we shouldn’t simply praise success, we should raise the challenge that follows.

  • All are moving towards explicit success criteria

Teachers should explicitly inform students of success criteria from the outset. Clear instruction and consistent language is key. Everyone needs to agree on what progress means. As teachers we all should have a common conception of progress.

Collective teacher efficacy

While these 3 factors have the greatest impact on learning, there are others which Hattie notes as having a positive influence – to date he has identified 195. These include peer tutoring, note taking in class and deliberate practice (a subject I wrote about in an earlier post). The factors of influence, Hattie says, should not be seen as a checklist for schools to tick off. Hattie wants teachers to reflect over the impact they have on learning and for this not to be done in isolation but rather in collaboration with others. Collaboratively learning from each other by connecting with other teachers and schools will help deliver excellent teachers by design rather than accident. Yet, as Hattie notes, while collaboration is very important it is also extremely difficult.


John Hattie in Stockholm 2017


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