Monday, February 18, 2019

Visible Learning in Literacy: 3 Takeaways from John Hattie and Nancy Frey

Opportunity to learn with renowned education researchers and practitioners rejuvenates the mind and reignites the passion in many educators. In the second of our two-part series, Shaelynn Farnsworth and I share what we learned from the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego, this time with a focus on literacy. Head over to part one to see our initial thoughts and shares. 

The second day at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego provided attendees choice in one of two paths in which to learn;  literacy and math. Shaelynn and I jumped at the chance to learn from Nancy Frey and chose literacy learning to continue to grow our knowledge in this area for supporting educators around the globe. Frey and Doug Fisher (her colleague) have worked extensively with John Hattie in the realm of literacy practices and transferring his research into practice. They have multiple books with Hattie, two of our favorites being Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K-12 and Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, Grades 6-12.

Frey consistently delivers high-quality and classroom applicable learning during her workshops and this experience was much the same. During Day 2, she used a combination of research, theory, and classroom application to deepen our understanding of high-impact instruction during each phase of learning.

3 Takeaways:
Constrained and Unconstrained Skills - Constrained skills are those that have boundaries and edges to them and are acquired at concrete stages of development. These include phonemic awareness and phonics. Unconstrained skills are boundless, limitless and continue to grow throughout life. These include vocabulary and comprehension. While no argument can be made against the direct instruction and learning of constrained skills, Frey reminded us all that they are important but not sufficient. Leveled texts are great for learning constrained skills, but unconstrained skills are not developed through these types of texts. Both constrained and unconstrained skills develop independently; it is important for all educators in all subject areas to pay attention to both.

Reading Volume - The amount one reads is important, but do you know how important it is for our students? Frey offered statistics to drive home the point about reading volume. Reading 20 minutes a day = 1,800,000 words per year & 90th percentile on standardized tests. Reading 5 minutes a day = 282,000 words per year & 50th percentile on standardized tests. Finally, a student who reads only 1 minute a day = 8,000 words per year & 10th percentile on standardized tests. Assumptions that all kids have access and time at home to read will not increase reading volume; instead, make time for students to read in your classroom.

In addition, as Frey reinforced, students need both content-specific readings but also need the exploration of texts beyond the content. If a student enjoys to pleasure read graphic novels we should not dissuade that student from choosing them. Rather we should support them while still exposing them to content specific passages and texts.

Surface, Deep, Transfer Learning - Hattie, Fisher, and Frey discuss a scale for learning and divide it up into 3 parts of a triangle. Surface, Deep, and Transfer Learning make up this scale representing learning as a process, not an event. Along with the description of each, Frey offered high-impact instructional strategies to support learning.

Surface - Surface Learning, the base of the triangle, is learning that takes place during the acquisition of skills and understanding of concepts. Learners often recognize patterns and start to build foundational knowledge to support the next level of the triangle, Deep Learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Surface Learning and the effect size:

  • Repeated Reading (.67)
  • Feedback (.75)
  • Collaborative Learning with Peers (.59)


Deep - Deep Learning builds off of the Surface Learning students acquire. As Frey states, you have to know something before you are able to do something with that knowledge. Deep Learning consists of consolidation through connections, relationships, and schema to organize skills and concepts. Deep learning is also used to consolidate constrained and unconstrained skills. Students need more complex tasks to deepen their own learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Deep Learning and the effect size: 

  • Concept Mapping (.60)
  • Class Discussions (.82)
  • Metacognitive Strategies (.69)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (.74)


Transfer - Finally, learning and school should not stop with just Surface and Deep Learning. Transfer Learning is self-regulation to continue learning skills and content independent of the teacher. Frey admits, not everything we teach or learn is worthy of Transfer Learning. Transfer Learning places more responsibility on the learner to question, investigate, and organize to propel their learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Transfer Learning and the effect size:

  • Reading Across Documents to conceptually organize (.85)
  • Formal Discussions, Debates, Socratic Seminars (.82)
  • Problem Solving (.61)
  • Extended Writing (.43)
  • PBL - Problem-based Learning - effect size is low at surface level learning (.15) but significantly higher at Transfer level learning (.61) 


As Day 2 came to a close, our minds were spinning with information and ideas. Nancy Frey not only shared Visible Learning in Literacy but invited us to consider what approaches work best at the right time for the right learning, never to hold an instructional strategy in higher esteem than a student, and our favorite, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”

Do you need help understanding how Visible Learning can impact your classrooms? Or maybe you want to see if the programs you are using are working? Shaelynn and I can help. Visit our website to learn how you can partner with us to help all educators do more and how all students can achieve!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Five Takeaways From The Visible Learning Institute-Day One

This week, roles were flipped as Shaelynn Farnsworth and I had an opportunity to learn from John Hattie at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego. Hattie, a researcher in education, studied more than 150 million students, synthesizing more than 800 meta-studies to determine the effect size various influences have on teaching and learning. His work disaggregates not only what works in education but what works best. And perhaps most importantly, where we as educators need to concentrate our efforts to support student learning at high levels.

The institute was two days, with Day One led by Hattie and Karen Flories, and covered topics on research, Mindframes, feedback and how to better analyze data. Educators from around the globe had the opportunity to dig into the what, why, and how of the Visible Learning methods while being able to speak directly with both Hattie and Flories. Copious amounts of notes were taken, but the following were our Top 5 Takeaways from the first day of learning.

Top 5 Takeaways from the Visible Learning Institute:

Upscaling Success - Upscaling is not typically seen in education. In fact, Hattie states that “all you need to enhance achievement is … a pulse.”  Every teacher can have success in terms of student achievement in their classroom, this is why every teacher can argue that they have evidence that what they are doing works. Hattie urges us all, “Do not ask what works - but works best!” Identify what works best for your students and upscale those practices school-wide. In most cases, it takes 10-12 weeks to see the results of new instructional methods tried with students. During that time we need to have the “sticktoitness” to follow through. But we also have to be mindful that we may not see the results we want and not be afraid to leave practices behind that just don’t work. If something works, upscale it. If it doesn’t abandon it and move on to something that does.

Goldilocks Principle - “Not too hard, Not too boring.” In alignment with current brain research, Hattie introduced us to the Goldilocks Principle. In terms of learning, students prefer learning to be a challenge, but not too hard that success is impossible and also learning that is relevant and engaging. This also ties back to ability grouping and how the research shows that just isn’t what is best for students, especially those that are struggling. When we group students by ability, educators naturally slow down their teaching to ensure everyone “got it.” Rather, what should take place is a heterogeneous mix of ability levels where a challenge is the norm. Our brains, and especially those that are developing, crave a challenge.

Assessment-Capable Learners - Flories introduced the concept of Assessment-Capable Learners, claiming that they should know the answers to 3 Key Questions of Visible Learning:

  • What am I learning?
  • How will I know I’ve been successful in my learning?
  • What evidence can I provide to support I’ve learned?

Students who can answer these questions have teachers who see learning through the eyes of their students and help them to become their own teachers. Learning can’t be a mystery to students. Nor can it be just a repetition of facts and figures. Teacher clarity has an effect size of 0.75. The more we are clear with students of what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we will know we’ve done it, the more they learn. As part of this, we would add a fourth question students should be able to answer. How will I communicate what I’ve learned to others? Not only should the learning reside within the student, but there must also be opportunities for them to share with that they know.

Know Thy Impact - Repeated throughout the Institute, “Know Thy Impact”, Hattie argues that the most important Mindframe of Visible Learning is when teachers understand their job is to evaluate their own impact on student learning. Acknowledging the word “Impact” is ambiguous, Hattie sheds light that the conversations in schools relating to the definition of Impact solidify what each school views as important in terms of learning with Their students but should include triangulation of scores, student's voice, and artifacts of student work. When educators Know Their Impact, they make better decisions on student learning success.

Feedback - Flories ended the day with a focus on feedback and the .70 effect size on student learning. Startling statements were shared. “80% of feedback that kids get is from each other and 80% of that feedback is wrong - Nuthall.” And “Effective feedback doubles the speed of learning - Dylan William”. Student Feedback should be targeted to close the gap in their learning, and used by students to understand the next steps in their learning. Effective feedback begins with teacher clarity when designing and delivering tasks. Good feedback isn’t just focused on the tasks. (And actually, the feedback that is focused exclusively on task doesn’t show students grow anyway.) The feedback that does the most good is that on the self, the personal evaluation of the learner, and done during the process, not at the end. Feedback is just in time, just for me, information delivered when and where it can do the most good.

By the end of the first day, we had taken an endless supply of notes and had much to digest and discuss. What is even more clear to us now is that while much of what we learned feels like common sense to us, it serves as a good reminder and new learning for some. Hattie says there are no bad teachers; just Good Teachers and Great Teachers. What separates the two is the willingness to know thyself, know thy students and know thy impact. Those that do not only have students who are high achievers but they also have students who are fully prepared for what’s next.

In our next post, we will look at the 5 Takeaways from Day Two where we dove into Visible Learning in the Literacy Classroom with Nancy Frey.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The 6 Truths Of Effective Educators

In all the work I have done with countless educators from across the world I believe we can break them down into two groups. Good Teachers and Great Teachers. What separates the two is effectiveness. Effective Educators are those that have a set of truths that they live by. It's what they wake up everyday thinking about and striving for. It doesn't mean they aren't human. Quite the contrary. They know they have limits yet are constantly seeking minute improvements to continue growing themselves as an educator.

6 Truths of Effective Teachers 

View Their Teaching As A Science And An Art-Most educators, early on in their career, have had one of those moments, at the end of a long successful day, realizing that they learned more in those 8 hours than in their previous 4 years of higher education. It's why doctor's offices are called practices and why we should reframe our notion of teaching as a practice, rather than a set of skills acquired through college courses. Effective Educators are never satisfied with where they are in their practice and are constantly seeking to figure out the best ways to teach and the best ways students learn. They might experiment with various, evidence-based instructional practices. Perhaps the ones that work are the ones that work for everyone. Or maybe they aren't. The key is they know as time goes by and methodologies change, they are not inflexible. Rather they know there is still much to learn and that each day is an opportunity to practice, fail, examine, reflect and try again.

Are Students of their Students-Most educators can attest that if they know who their students are, how they learn and how they think, they can better differentiate for those student's needs. While formative assessment is a key part of knowing who their students are, Effective Educators go deeper. They know their students on a personal level. They know what motivates their them. And, perhaps most importantly, they understand how each individual student learns and thinks. Effective Educators are constantly using questioning of their students. Not to see what the student knows but how they know what they know. What processes are their students using to develop their understanding and how can that be used going forward.

Challenge All Students-Current Brain Research shows that intelligence is variable, the brain is malleable and hungers for challenge. Evidence shows that students, even those that may be struggling, rise to the occasion when challenged. We see it in our own lives. When everything we do is easy we become bored and might even become disengaged. When everything is too hard we are resolved to the fact that we can't do it so why even try. In order to avoid being either too easy or too hard, Effective Educators, understanding who their students are, provide differentiated instruction that challenges and pushes their students to go further with their learning.

Believe In The Success Of All Students, No Matter What-Research shows that educators and schools that have collective teacher efficacy can grow their students at a tremendous rate. Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) is the belief that all students can achieve and those educators will stop at nothing to ensure they do. In order for CTE to be as effective as it can be there has to be buy-in from all educators. As Education Researcher John Hattie notes, "A school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things is vital for the health of a school and if they believe they can make a positive difference then they very likely will." Effective Educators believe in CTE. The do all they can to effect the culture of their school to help other teachers buy in to the idea of CTE and provide support. Effective Educators and CTE doesn't stop at the classroom with teachers. It's a collective effort of teachers, administrators, support staff and instructional staff all believing that the positive things they can do for their students will ultimately make a difference.

Continuously Seeking Out Professional Learning-Effective Educators don't just believe that lifelong learning is a characteristic they want their students to have, it's a mantra they live by. They aren't waiting for their principal or school or district to tell them what they need to learn. They are continuously seeking out professional learning. to improve all aspects of their practice. Whether it is a national conference in their subject area, an online course in evidence-based instructional practices, a Twitter chat to push back against conventional thinking or a webinar to learn about a specific type of EdTech, they are hungry to learn and know their learning never stops. Even reading blog posts, articles in trade publications, books, or attending Edcamps, they want to constantly be examining their own practices, realizing opportunities for improvement and capitalizing on all that learning.

Feedback Is A Part Of Their Routine-Effective Educators don't just look at their classroom as a unique, fluid space that they are constantly evaluating and improving. They also look inward at their own practices, thinking about where they are in their teaching and where they want to improve. Effective Educators seek out feedback from their colleagues. They invite them in to evaluate their teaching and are eager to hear where they can improve. They also participate in the feedback loop with those colleagues. Research shows that educators who engage in honest, open conversation with their colleagues improve their effectiveness with their students. Effective Educators view these conversations as a necessary and critical part of their overall growth.