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What Works in Education? A Guide for Teachers

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As a teacher, the one reliable daily constant was time. I had 50 minutes to help every student learn. In my toolkit of teaching, I carried 100s of strategies. And this is where I was frequently reminded of the economic term “Opportunity Cost”.

The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

For example, I could decide to have my students practice flashcards (rote memorization) for 30 minutes. Or I could have my students complete a close reading of text and summarize what they read.

What are the opportunity costs of picking one strategy over the other?

To help answer that question, we have John Hattie’s Visible Learning. My previous post explained how Hattie conducts a meta-analysis of education studies to determine the effect size of a given strategy or influence. There are, of course, many influences in education. Knowing which influences and strategies impact academic growth helps teachers with the opportunity cost question.

In Hattie’s research, anything above an effect size of .4 or higher is considered notable and suggests a desirable influence on a student’s academic achievement.

Out of the 252 influences Hattie analyzes, I’m going to focus on the top 5 and break them down.

The Top 5 Influences

Collective Teacher Efficacy: 1.57

This influence, to put it mildly, is enormous. But what does collective teacher efficacy mean? Visible Learning defines it as:

…the collective belief of the staff of the school/faculty in their ability to positively affect students.

Wait, is this saying that it’s the power of positive thinking?

Not really. I tend not to think of it as a direct cause. When a collective group believes their actions affect a particular change, they will then organize and execute the steps required to bring about the desired outcome.

This certainly resonates with my experience as a teacher. When I was with a team of teachers who genuinely believed their choices and actions could help all kids grow, we put the effort and research into finding what works and then applying it in our classroom.

Hattie Image

The Top 5 Factors Related to Student Achievement
Source: John Hattie’s Visible Learning

Self-Reported Grades: 1.33

When you ask students to evaluate their work (quality or level of mastery), you get an effect size of 1.33. That’s almost three years of additional academic growth in learning for every year! It addresses an essential aspect of growth: Meta-Cognition and the internal thinking about “how I, as a student, am learning”.

The practice is simple. Before giving an assignment or assessment, ask students to predict what grade they will get. Some teachers like to use a “grade prediction” journal (for example, a Google Sheet journal) to track predictions over the year.

Teacher Estimates of Achievement: 1.29

When teachers accurately estimate the achievement abilities of their students, they proactively use their skills to modify and adapt their teaching to best fit the (anticipated) needs of students.

This influence is intuitive and somewhat related to the concept of teacher efficacy. The effect size is quite large. And it’s a good reminder for educators to spend time understanding what their students can do. Technology can help by bringing metrics front and center that assist in telling the narrative of student performance.

Cognitive Task Analysis: 1.29

CTA is a type of analysis that focuses on how students think. How does working memory, decision making, problem-solving, and attention work with learning?

For teachers, spending time to think about how students will think when presented with a lesson is critical. Memory is the residue of thought. Intentional planning is vital.

Response to Intervention: 1.29

RTI is a tiered system of support that continuously monitors student academic performance and intervenes when additional supports are required for a student to be successful. A pragmatic framework that, at its core, consists of varying levels of support based on needs, universal screening of students, data-based decision making, and progress monitoring.

RTI is incredibly effective at increasing academic performance and has a robust body of research that demonstrates its value.

What about the broader learning community?

Notice something about the above list? For the most part, they require expertise in the teaching profession. What about parents and guardians home with their students during this coronavirus time?

Our next post will dive into some of the central influences parents can use for growing their kids academically.



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