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What REALLY Impacts Student learning?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

John Hattie is a world-renowned educational researcher whose ground-breaking work, Visible Learning, changed many educators' views on what really impacts learning. In his study, he summarised around 50,000 educational studies involving millions of students world-wide. He was seeking to answer the question: What has the greatest impact on student learning? Hattie looked at over 150 different factors that have effects on student learning, across six different areas (students' home lives, their school, the curriculum they follow, their teacher/s & the approaches to teaching and learning). Basically, he used the thousands of studies to work out the effect size of each factor. An effect size of 1.0 is associated with around one year's worth of learning, and/or improving the rate of learning by 50%. At GCSE level, an effect size of 1.0 indicates a two-grade leap (i.e. a jump from a B to an A*). Hattie states that to have a 'significant effect' on learning, then a factor should have an effect size of at least 0.4. What he found surprised a lot of people - educational leaders, teachers and parents alike - and it might change the sorts of questions you ask prospective schools. Some of the things that we have traditionally thought had a huge impact on student learning turned out to have little or no impact whatsoever! Some examples? Ability Grouping (also known as 'setting' or 'streaming'): 0.12 Class Sizes: 0.21 Extra-curricular Programmes: 0.20 Homework: 0.29 Matching 'learning styles': 0.17 So what were the 'big winners'? What were the factors that Hattie found have huge impacts on student learning, based on his extensive research? Some of these might surprise you.... Teachers' expectations: 1.62 Quality of teaching: 1.57 Student self-assessment: 1.33 Quality of teacher feedback: 1.0 Teacher credibility (whether students trust and respect them): 0.9 You can find a complete list of all of the factors and their effect sizes here, on Hattie's Visible Learning site - it's well worth a look. Here in KL, the Australian International School is actually the world's certified Visible Learning school, meaning that they incorporate John Hattie's research and apply it into every aspect of their teaching and learning. Awesome stuff. But why does this research matter? It matters because it shows, pretty unequivocally, what really will make a difference to your child's academic achievement. It breaks down some pre-conceived notions about what a 'good education' looks like (for example: lots of homework; ability streamed classes; amazing facilities). What Hattie really hammers home is the importance of amazing teachers. Time and time again, we see parents selecting schools based on factors that really don't matter that much. Yes, a fantastic theatre and an olympic-sized swimming pool will bring out the oohs and aahs on a school tour, but unless your child is deeply passionate about theatre or a gifted swimmer then these facilities probably won't greatly impact their day-to-day education. Of course, loads of new technology looks exciting....but you've got to ask: who are the teachers leading the use of this technology? Are they skilled at using technology to truly enhance learning, or are these gadgets just there for show? When visiting a prospective school, here are three important questions you should be asking: - How do you give students feedback? You want to hear that they do lots of formative - informal - feedback, in lots of different ways. Lots of talk about regular testing ('summative assessment') should ring alarm bells...because that doesn't help learning). - What is your staff turnover rate? Around 20% is normal. Anything much higher than that should ring alarm bells and warrant further questions. Happy staff stay. Happy staff teach well. - How do you ensure the quality of teaching in your school? You want to hear that they run fantastic professional development programmes that ensure teachers are continually striving to improve. The very best international schools schedule professional development opportunities very frequently - here in KL, Garden International School, HELP International School and Taylor's International Schools all run professional development programmes every week. You also want to hear that the school leaders have rigorous hiring criteria, and that teachers are well qualified, passionate and experienced.


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