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Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement Paperback – Nov 18 2008
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About the Author
John Hattie is Professor of Education and Director of the Visible Learning Labs, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
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Hattie has spent decades collecting data and conclusions from over 800 authoritative summaries of research, to compute average `effect sizes' which measure the impact of a host of influences on student/pupil attainment.
Class size, discovery learning, gender - almost every conceivable influence, strategy, or factor is here, including I'm afraid, your personal bandwagons and bêtes noires. Hattie then compares these factors by putting them on the same scale to find those that have the greatest impact on student achievement.
Having climbed to the top of this mountain of educational research he can see a very long way, and there are many surprises, each verified by repeated research. Did you know that students learn almost twice as well if they share a computer than if they have one each? Do you know why? Do you know that certain types of structured active learning with strong teacher control work miles better than discovery learning or problem-based learning?
He looks at factors and strategies associated with students, home, curricula, and schools, but finds that if we want to improve learning, we must concentrate on what teachers do - and how they conceptualise the teaching process.
What emerges from this book is far more than a monumental data-set showing what works best and why, vital though that is. He develops a model urging us to change our perceptions so that students see themselves as their own teachers - and teachers see learning through the eyes of their students. You won't find the detail in this massive overview, but Hattie does indicate where to go to get it.
This book is the most objective, wide ranging and authoritative summary of education research we are likely to see this decade. There is little comfort here for governments, or for the educational establishment, but there is illumination for both. To ignore this book is to remain wilfully blind to what really matters in education. (The reviewer, Geoff Petty is author of Teaching Today and Evidence Based Teaching)Evidence Based Teaching: A Practical Approach
Hattie creates a single scale upon which to evaluate education impacts. An effect size of d = 0.0 - 0.15 is considered "developmental effects" - what would have occurred anyway due to children aging. An effect size of d = 0.15 - 0.4 is consider "teacher effects" - presumably the effect of having an average quality teacher working with the students. An effect size of d > .4 is what Hattie considers "desirable effects". Is this summary of effect size accurate? Well that depends. If the underlying studies effect was calculated by comparing student outcomes at the end compared to the beginning of the study then it makes sense to dismiss some effect as developmental effects or average teacher effects. But if the underlying study calculated the effect by comparing the difference in growth compared to a control group, that also aged and also had average teachers then to dismiss small effects as developmental or "teacher effects" is completely wrong.
Even for cases where the effect size is calculated by comparing outcomes at end of the study to the starting position the size of the effect that can dismissed as developmental effects depends on items such as length of study (was it a one afternoon or multi year intervention?) and the outcome variable studies (was outcome measured knowing names of letters or was it likelihood of graduating college?). To control for things like development effects is exactly why studies use controls! It is impossible to just make up rules of thumb like this to replace using controls.
Meta analyses can be used to summarize multiple studies that have similar outcome variables and similar design, comparing radically different studies like this is a fool's errand. Hattie often references rules of thumb "and effect size of X is equivalent to being Y months ahead in school" ect. Such rules of thumb might be true for a single study but there is no reason for them to be universally true. Hattie seems to have read various meta analyses with out understanding when the explanations given applied specifically to the studies in question and when they are a universal trait of calculated effect sizes. A key point in seeing that he doesn't understand the statistics he is reporting is in his "Common Language Effects" (CLE) where he attempts to calculate the percent of classes that would do worse than a class with an intervention. He give the example of homework which has an effect size d = 0.29 as having a CLE of 21%. This is clearly wrong. An intervention that has no effect (d = 0.0 ) would be a median class (CLE = 50%). An effect size of d = .29 must be above 50%. In other places he calculated CLEs of negative numbers and over 1 - these numbers a completely nonsensical. That is formula for calculating CLE had a bug in it is a problem - that he reported numbers that are so obviously wrong without realizing something was wrong is clearly indicative that he is way out his depth.
I am still giving this three stars. Despite being completely mistake ridden I still read through the hundreds of pages to get some idea of where research is at. For this it is completely limited since he didn't break results into studies with control groups and those without.
This is a detailed contribution to the educators library, on the important theme- what affects educational outcomes for our students. Given the size and detail, it is best suited to the educated professional, but is also accessible enough for the educated reader - though having little opportunity to affect any change may prove frustrating.
The book is broken down into sections looking at the different influences on outcomes such as the influence from home, school reforms, principal, and teacher and teaching practices etc. Within these sections all the influences are assessed using a statistical comparison called 'effect size'. This aims to be a common scale on which to measure effectiveness- a nice speedometer type graphic is used to indicate the rating for each item.
Think sending a child to an 'elite' child will turn them into a rhodes scholar?
Think keeping a child down a grade if they are not progressing is a good idea?
Think the lauded 'direct instruction' technique is chalk, talk and worksheets?
Read on and see what the current evidence indicates- and it is not always what we want to hear.
Noteably most influences are positive- but the aim of the work is to find out what has a significant influence so that efforts can be made on practices that are more effective. In contrast to one of the other reviewers - there are some questions that are not answered in this book - namely which interventions work best with which types of students? It is great to know what 'on average' is more effective, but this is qualified by the fact that each intervention varies in effectiveness in different studies. This variance should be a source of further study so that we can know which strategy to use and when it is most appropriate to use it.
The other issue that is not acknowledged by some reviewers here is that the measure of success in this type of study is purely academic - did they learn more content or skills than at the beginning and in contrast to a control group. What it also does not tell us about are the other outcomes that are important too - were the students more engaged in their learning, did they become better learners, did they learn other (real world) skills that are useful, and did they learn to get along and work together better? These are all important outcomes that young people arguably need to learn to survive in a fast changing, modern world.
The other qualifier I would need to add is that some areas- such as the effective use of technology are largely dependent on the skill of teachers to design instructional practices that are complimentary and sophisticated enough to be effective. Currently teacher capacity in this area is still emerging and so the results here I would have to conclude are tentative, or at least open for review. The more recent works of Robert Marzano have shown far more promise in this area- particularly for interactive white boards.
As with all strategies, procedures or practices - no two practitioners, classrooms or school communities are alike and the research evidence presented by the late Graham Nuthall in "The Hidden Lives of Learners' indicated that a good educator continually modifies and adapts 'what works' at the chalkface every day. This would then be a qualifying consideration when analyzing the book. Hattie himself lists others including; the cost of the intervention, and from memory I think the complexity of implementation is also discussed. So don't use the work as a recipe book for state intervention in schools!
Overall an extremely informative book - sorts the wheat from the chaff, but must be read critically and in concert with other books from authors such as Marzano and Nuthall.
Only now is education starting to emerge from this pre-scientific dark age. Following the basic Athenian groundwork no-one seemed to think much about education for the next couple of thousand years until the start of the twentieth century. So the roll-call of education thinkers begins; from Vygotsky and Piaget to Gardner and beyond.
But somewhere in the last few decades people started doing real, scientific, evidence-based research on what works in teaching and learning. Individually these studies may sometimes be limited and hard to work through, but taken collectively as a meta-analysis - as John Hattie has done here - certain trends become clear. Oh, and note that the title refers to achievement - that's what matters, not what makes teachers or government ministers happy.
One of the clearest things to emerge from John's work (and also developed by the previous reviewer, the inestimable Geoff Petty Evidence Based Teaching: A Practical Approach) is that almost anything you can do in front of a class beyond just breathing will have a positive effect on student education. Hence the ability of PD providers and publishers to provide endless anecdotal evidence, war stories and even data to prove that the latest scheme they're peddling really works! However, a teacher's time in the classroom is limited - so Hattie's work allows us to select the most effective strategies to spend our time with.
To summarise- this book is essential to anyone who wishes to have a positive effect on student achievement: parents and policy-makers, teachers and administrators. BUY THIS BOOK! (and read it ...)
With that caveat though, I still think this is a very useful book and a great piece of work. Most of the work is actually focused on regular effect size, and it seems that the CL version of it was added as an alternative view for the real data. The amount of research represented in here is mind boggling, and I think it has a lot of very interesting things to say about what works and what doesn't. I'd recommend it, but for important decisions it may be worth going back to the originally cited works and checking the numbers (something I haven't done).