In praise of: John Hattie

I don’t know about you but my teacher training year had some essay assignments. We had to read the current educational research papers and respond academically. As I recall, as soon as I qualified, I never looked at the research again.

It’s a shame I stopped reading the research when I did because John Hattie researched what interventions and conditions maximise learning in the late ‘00s. Which was exactly what I was looking for but did not know it.

He did this by taking hundreds of studies and converting their results into a common scale so they can be easily compared. Interestingly, he found that ‘everything works’. Where he (and his research), stands out is by comparing how much things ‘work’ with each other.

Things that teachers (and society) discuss the most about schools: class sizes, ability streaming, gender separation, teacher expertise… these things do not make a sizeable impact.

The things that make a huge difference to student progress:

  • Providing formative feedback
  • Teacher-student relationships
  • Student expectations

Once I read his book, I felt mixed emotions. I was pleased I had evidence based findings to work with but there was defensiveness too. You see, I didn’t go into teaching to do a mediocre job and yet I had been wasting my time on interventions that just weren’t effective.

But like Oprah says, you know better you do better. And now I have been trying to put these findings into practice with my classes.

What I would like to see is more discussion of this sort of thing in the staffroom. Teachers do talk about teaching with other teachers but not usually about the meat and potatoes of our lessons. That’s private!

I would like to set you an assignment, if you’re game. Next time you are in your staff room, casually mention something you have tried to improve formative feedback or your relationship with your class. See if you can get a discussion going. For bonus points, see if you get get this discussion on the agenda of a meeting. Maybe if we talk shop in this way, we can get something really exciting going in our schools.

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