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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

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.