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Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 4

This is the fourth and final post in a series based around an interview I had with John Hattie earlier this year.

ChattingHaving tutored on pre-service teacher training programs and I worked regularly with new teachers in my consulting work to schools, I thought I’d wrap up this series of posts by sharing with you the advice that John Hattie would give new teachers.

Straight off the bat he cited the work of Maurice Galton, Emeritus Professor at the University of Leicester, UK.

Galton has studied the impact that transition has on students, both from class to class and from school to school. From Galton’s work, Hattie concludes:

“Make sure in the first month every kid has a friend.”

He says, “It’s the best predictor of investment in learning that we know of. Schools can be incredibly lonely places for a lot of kids. And having a friend is really critical. If you want high achievement the first month is about friendship.”

The second thing Hattie says – and this will come as no surprise if you’ve read his work – is that teacher should constantly ask themselves – every time they walk into the classroom – three questions;

  • How do I know I’m going to have impact?
  • What does impact mean today?
  • How do I know the size of the impact?

Hattie says the way to finding the answers to these questions don’t come from constantly “testing.” Rather he says:

“It’s being open-minded to seeing your impact and listening to the students. Those are the two things I think are the most powerful; those are the two things they often don’t get taught in teachers colleges. Those are the things when you look at great teachers – that’s what they worry about in their first month, in their first year.”

I’d like to thank John for his time in granting me an interview, and whether you agree with him, are skeptical of the stats, research methods etc, I hope this series of posts has added to your thinking.

Until next time…

 

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Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 3

This is the third in a series of posts based around an interview I had with John Hattie earlier this year.

Whilst many education conferences around the world issue a call to arms – of sorts – to embrace 21st Century Skills, it’s worth pointing out that the cohort of kids that started Kindy in the year 2000 are now – for whom those the system worked – into their second year of an undergraduate course.

Bit late for them.

More than that though, the phrase – to me at least – seems divisive.

SugataWe all know that the Y2K bug came to nothing, but did something happen at 11:59pm on Friday 31st December 1999 that meant all that went before in classrooms was now obsolete?

Certainly some high profile thinkers have come to this opinion.

2013 TED Talk Prize winner Sugata Mitra actually states:

“Schools as we know them are obsolete.”

Now of course I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t be moving with the times. Rather, my problem is the way in which the need to move with the times has been communicated to teachers. Talk around 21st Century Skills is vague; it means different things to different people.

Having previously discussed Direct Instruction v Inquiry Based Learning with John Hattie, our conversation naturally turned to the notion of 21st Century Skills.

“I have a problem with this notion of twenty first century skills,”

says Hattie, “I’m just finishing a synthesis on learning strategies, it’s not as big [as others he’s done] there’s only about 15 – 20 million kids in the sample, and one of the things that I’ve learnt from the learning strategies, and a lot of them include the 21st Century skill strategies is that there’s a dirty secret.”

And the dirty secret is that not only does Hattie believe that these strategies are very simplistic, but he is skeptical of classes that focus solely on critical thinking or creativity – something I’m seeing some (but not many) schools adopt.

“These strategies only work within the subject area,”

Hattie says, “They’re not generic. So one of my problems with the 21st Century skills is schools are running critical thinking and creativity classes as if those things can generically cross over. [But] you can think that way in Maths but not necessarily in physics or in English.”

Of course most schools who embrace 21st Century Skills are seemingly embedding them in their teaching of the curriculum. But then this leads us back to the Content v Skills debate and the teaching style most appropriate.

“You’re right, it polarises the debate in terms of strategies versus content. I bet in every school that you go into, you look at the assessments – and I do that because that’s what kids look at in terms of what teacher’s values – you’re still dominated by content.”

It’s a fair point, consider how much your school focuses on kids ability to digest content compared to how much it genuinely assesses critical or creative thinking.

I wonder if this in some way might explain why Hattie can’t find evidence of Inquiry Based Learning, or 21st Century Skills having much of an impact.

In many cases, maybe what we say we value isn’t what we end up assessing?

Hattie’s main worry is that some schools are over privileging 21st Century Skills, because what he calls “surface learning” is – for the most part – over-privileged by many.

His argument is we need a balance of surface to deep transfer. He says,

“We’ve over-obsessed on content.”

But in response to this comes a “generic notion [of 21st Century Learning], and my terror is that schools will be teaching 21st Century Skills. I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think it’s a viable way to go. New Zealand went down that line of enquiry thinking schools and schools were very proud to say ‘we’re deep thinkers, we’re enquiry thinkers’ – it didn’t work.”

He then went on to discuss what had worked in New Zealand, which I found interesting…

Hattie says, “There needs to be a constructive alignment particularly in high schools between what we say we’re going to do and what we actually assess.”

One of the reasons New Zealand have significantly improved their retention rate is because they changed the upper high school assessment system.

“We got away from this notion that you can only be excellent in physics and chemistry and we said you can be excellent in many things,” he says, “And we showed that even kids who wanted to be water polo coaches or baristas could be excellent at those things and could learn skills right till the end of high school.”

Sounds good to me I thought… how did that go down?

“[Because] it was privileged along with physics and everything else it made many of those teachers very upset. It’s been a traumatic transformation but it’s been a very positive one; it hasn’t been without its problems,” he says.

“Its critics are still out there claiming that we’ve got rid of Shakespeare and calculus and chemistry. And for some kids we have, as we should have done.”

I wonder if that’s the key to a 21st Century education – having diversity and a flexibility in the curriculum that is equally valued based on the needs of students and communities?

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Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 2

This is the second in a series of posts based around an interview with educational researcher and Chair of AITSL, John Hattie.

The Education DebateThere are many facets to the education debate and one that pushes more buttons than most is the Traditional v Progressive teaching debate. Some read this as the Didactic v Student Centred or sometimes the Knowledge v Skills argument but either way, lines get drawn in the sand and teachers choose their respective side.

There are many bloggers who write extensively around this subject. I often read through this one by Harry Webb – who blogs forthrightly and points you in the direction of many more blogs and research to support his points – although I’m not 100% convinced that’s his real name… I could be wrong though.

I was keen to know what John Hattie – who was recently appointed the Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) – thought about this debate, particularly as AITSL has devised a set of National Teacher Standards, are piloting innovativeLearning Frontiers approach to teaching and who on their website, showcase “best practice” by way of vignettes and short interviews with teachers.

This is interesting because Learning Frontiers, many of the standards, vignettes and interviews extol the virtues of inquiry or discovery based learning and even Learning Styles; strategies about which Hattie is on record as saying,

“We have a whole rhetoric about discovery learning, constructivism, and learning styles that has got zero evidence for them anywhere.”

I wanted to know if there was a disconnect between what he, as the chair of AITSL believed to be true, and what AITSL were promoting as ‘best practice.’

The first thing Hattie wanted to do was clear up his position around constructivism. Whilst he agrees there is – of course – a constructivist theory of knowing, he says, “There is not a constructivist theory of teaching. And that’s a massive difference and every time I mention it I try and exploit that difference which no one picks up.”

He went on to elaborate that often teachers have to deliberately teach students in order for them to construct knowledge. “I have no difficulty with constructivist knowledge’s of learning, and knowing, but not teaching.”

To further press his point home, Hattie referred to the article Should There Be a Three-Strikes Rule Against Pure Discovery Learning? by Richard Mayer which described three major series of investigations of discovery learning and inquiry learning that showed despite it continues to fail it is still used. Hattie says, “I think the problem is that, that people fail to make that distinction between the theories of knowledge such as Piaget and the teaching.”

So why are such approached included in AITSL’s website?

“I’m disappointed if there are things on the AITSL website that talk about learning styles,”

“They did a massive review in the last month or so going through and hopefully taking everything out that’s hinting [at these concepts]. We do know some of that stuff has a high likelihood of not working [and] they have taken that seriously and they have gone through and if anyone finds stuff that’s still left there we’d all be delighted to know.”

This naturally led into a chat about 21st Century Skills… which I’ll share with you in the next post.

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Chatting with John Hattie Education Leadership

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 1

Visible LearningLate last year I wrote a blog post called, Is John Talking Through His Hattie?

The subject of the post was a series of posts and articles I had come across that called into question the validity of the statistical analysis that is the backbone of John Hattie’s Visible Learning work.

To save you the time of reading that post, the key point raised was:

John Hattie had admitted half the statistics in Visible Learning are wrong.

Within a couple of days I had a reply on the post from John Hattie himself suggesting that I was “Retweeting a lie.”

I decided that this might be an opportunity to directly engage with John regarding the post and the issues raised. He agreed, and what followed was a great 60min chat about all things education, despite a few technical issues that this song brilliant captures…

The interview will actually be the basis for a series of posts, with this being the first.

So… to that blog post.

Did Hattie ever say half the statistics in Visible Learning are wrong?

Well, not according to him, he says,

“The message is that someone tweeted from a conference in London a few months ago, that apparently I said ‘half the statistics are wrong’ and I never said that.”

But that’s not to say there weren’t issues with the statistics. The main argument centres around something called the Common Language Effect Size, which allows you to compare effect sizes in simple terms. For example, Strategy A has a 90% chance of working better than Strategy B.

And it is here where Hattie admits there were some errors.

He says, “Unfortunately at the very last minute I put the wrong column up on the – as part of the confidence levels rather than the actual common language exercise.” It wasn’t until about three years later when some students in Norway alerted Hattie to the errors that the correct data was added to reprints of Visible Learning.

But as and when the next edition is published Hattie says, “I’d take all that stuff out because it didn’t work [anyway].”

Hattie says that whilst “there are some minor errors” in Visible Learning – errors that he says he and others have picked up – these are corrected quickly. And though he is disappointed that such errors occur he is confident that it doesn’t change the overall message of the book, as he says, “Not one iota.”

No doubt debate will continue in educational circles and the blogosphere, but Hattie says,

“The nature of academia is that you live off critique and so I thrive off that and so that’s why I’m happy to talk to you and anyone [but] I’m not going to tell you right now everything’s perfect.”

Hattie says he’s been doing this work and publishing Visible Learning work since about 1989 and what fascinates him is, that in the twenty or thirty years since he started working on it, “No one – not a single person – has critiqued the idea and come up with an alternative explanation for the data.”

In this series of Chatting with John Hattie posts I’ll share with you – amongst other things – our discussions around the use (and mis-use) of Visible Learning, 21st Century Learning, AITSL, Teacher Quality, and advice for new teachers.

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Chatting with John Hattie Education Leadership

Is John talking through his Hattie?

Research QuoteJohn Hattie, the author of the much quoted Visible Learning was recently appointed by the Federal Government to the Chairmanship of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. 

In today’s Australian Newspaper, an article by Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre for Independent Studies said,

Last week, Hattie indicated things were going to change in teacher education under his watch. He talked of “tougher”, “harder”, “standards”, “outcomes” and “impacts”. This is a harbinger of his approach, grounded in the requirement for evidence that reforms are working.

It went on:

Hattie would like the accreditation and evaluation standards for teaching degrees to be much tougher. If this results in some courses being scrapped because they don’t meet the standard for the academic rigour of courses or for graduate teachers’ impact on students, then so be it.

And who better to have at the helm than the guru of effect size himself, John Hattie?

Well it would appear that just as Hattie would like teacher education to be subject to tougher standards, there are some who suggest his research should be subject to a more rigorous analysis.

Despite having been challenged as early as 2011 in the British Journal of Educational Studies, Hattie’s work has been seen as the guiding light in educational reform, but of late it has come under scrutiny, not least because of this blog post and it’s subsequent follow up which asserts that half the statistics in Visible Learning are wrong.

I’ll let you follow those threads if they interest you.

What worries me is that a great deal of educators, regional leaders, keynote speakers and politicians quote Hattie to further assert their position, particularly if that position is at odds with common sense – the class size debate for example.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that educational research is vital. But it is equally vital that we view it through an appropriate lens. As Dylan Wiliam says*,

Educational research can only tell us what was, not what might be. Moreover, in education, “What works?” is rarely the right question, because everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere, which is why in education, the right question is, “Under what conditions does this work?”

Besides I’ve always been skeptical that anyone could determine a numerical value for the impact any given teacher might have with any given student in any given classroom.

*If you want to access the quote from Wiliam you can get his PPT slides from a ResearchED event here.

[EDIT] Through the magic of Twitter, it was made apparent to me by Greg Thompson (seriously… follow him) that some of the issues raised here were first addressed by Snook et al in 2009 in NZ Ed Studies Journal.

[EDIT 2 – 19th Nov] John Hattie has agreed to an interview as per the comment thread below. I’ll let you know how things progress.