Visible Learning: Agree to Disagree?

The last few weeks I have had a ton of PD and training. One of these days was a one day workshop on Visible Learning where we took a look at Hattie’s research and work.

I will admit that I go to any training with a critical eye. So often I feel like no matter where I go or what training I attend there is a sales pitch connected to it all.

I will also admit I have not read his book. I plan on it as soon as it arrives, but in the meantime I will base these ideas off the training, the handouts, and other resources.

To start off with I am not a fan of research and numbers. I feel like anyone can find any data to prove any agenda they are after. If you are part of our Iowa Educator Voxer group you have heard me rant on this many times. Hattie research is intense. Lots of students and a ton of data points. It can make it seem like it is golden.

One piece that stood out to me was the topic of homework. As a parent I struggle with homework. As an educator I have changed my perspective of homework and if I was back in the classroom I would not issue too much of it. The research shows that there is little effect at the primary level. This is a no brainer whether Visible Learning or not. Additionally, there are gains in homework in math which I understand and least in science which I also understand. I am not suggesting that you give zero homework, but this topic really needs to be looked at by schools. How much of the homework assigned in really worth it? How much of the homework basically “grades” students on socioeconomic factors and family structure rather than learning? I digress here, but homework is an issue that is discussed, but rarely given action steps.

So often we see busy homework. Homework should be practicing a skill and not introducing new concepts, abstract thought. It loses value when educators try to build new concepts through homework. This also seems like a no brainer, but this happens more that we like to admit.

One statement that stood out to me was that,

[Tweet “…… a lot of homework seems to be a sign of ineffective teaching.”]

I found this powerful and with some thought it really makes sense.

Project Based Learning was seen as an ineffective means of teaching. I disagree. As stated in the training a lot of times when this is brought into the classroom educators fail to secure the surface level knowledge before digging into deeper levels of learning. I am an advocate of proper PBL so I disagree with a lot of the slants against PBL. However, I can see where PBL could be implemented and without proper training of teachers, it would be a disaster. Quality PBL is tough. It requires a lot work, prep, and experimentation. Teachers need time to really think through their projects. I have seen both excellent examples and really bad examples. Once again, I don’t think PBL is bad, but it comes down to culture and expectations of the schools. Even more important is providing support to reach those expectations.

The other piece I was adamantly against is the idea that cluster grouping has no effect on learning. After many years in gifted education I can find plenty of research showing benefits. After working with many intelligent students I can tell you they hate PBL because they often get stuck with kids who don’t care about school or don’t put forth an effort and have to do all the work(poorly organized PBL!). I was fired up during this part of the discussion. Like I stated before you can find data to prove whatever so I keep this in mind despite my anger rising on this topic. If I had to listen to one more effect size blast on cluster grouping I was going to lose my mind. I had five different research examples showing the opposite of their message!

In the end it was an alright training. It challenged my thinking and lead to some discussion that would not happen without these types of days. The key with any training is to keep an open mind, consider what you learn and develop a plan to make learning better for students.

The biggest takeaway from this day is balance. I don’t necessarily believe in the idea of balance, but the concept that you must provide a variety of opportunities. If you do some PBL/some direct, group in clusters AND mixed groups, etc. You cannot buy into a one shot answer. It is a combination of tools to meet the needs of students. You don’t need training to know this, just being in a classroom will provide this answer!

Have any of you read the book, attended a Visible Learning training, or something similar? If so what are your thoughts?

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