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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

John Hattie’s Research Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

By Peter DeWitt — September 13, 2016 5 min read
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“I think all school leaders and teacher leaders need to look at Hattie’s research for MORE than just data teams.” Shana Brown

In this recent blog post Why Don’t Teachers Use Educational Research In Teaching, Paul MacLellan wrote,

Last year, three education researchers from Durham University tried an interesting experiment. They carried out an intervention with several primary schools - an intervention that should have had a positive impact on their students' learning. But the researchers weren't interested in the outcome for the students - at least, not directly. What they were interested in was how the teachers implemented the intervention.

They were using research on effective feedback by John Hattie and Helen Timperley. After an initial training for all staff and leaders, and then an observation of watching teachers provide effective feedback to students, the researchers found that ‘Overall, the data indicate that there is no convincing evidence of a beneficial impact on pupil outcomes from this intervention.’ MacLellan wrote, This is quite surprising given that this technique has been shown to be effective over several previous studies.

So, why did this happen?

MacLellan went on to write,

The problem was in the delivery of the enhanced feedback model. Initially, the teachers were confused about the structures around feedback the research put in place. 'They thought that they knew what feedback was,' says Beng Huat. 'At the first training session they said, "We are already using feedback in school. Any good teacher already uses feedback. Why are we doing this?"

Confirmation Bias
As a Visible Learning trainer working with John Hattie, I started my new career with him almost three years ago getting an understanding of the 138 influences (approaches to learning) from his first book, and then moved on to the other 12 influences that he added after Visible Learning for Teachers. As I sit here, I am exploring the next 45 influences that he has added. I have been profoundly impacted by the work that Hattie has done, but it took me a great deal of reading, researching and practicing to get a handle on the work.

Much like the study from above, people often show up to professional development believing they already do what we, as facilitators, are teaching them to do. It’s one of the reasons why Hattie has researched micro-teaching (.88) because teachers can video themselves teaching over a 15 minute period and watch it at least three times to see if they really do what they think they do (yes, leaders can video conversations to see if they listen more than they talk).

This whole idea of thinking we know we are doing already what we are learning about in professional development sessions is called confirmation bias. In Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat writes that,

Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true."

The Basics Behind the Research
In order to understand Hattie’s research, it’s important to understand some basic elements behind it. Those are:

Meta-analysis - In their new book Visible Learning For Literacy (click here for a link to the book and companion videos), Fisher, Frey and Hattie define meta-analysis as, “A statistical tool for combining findings from different studies with the goal of identifying patterns that can inform practice (p. 5).” They go on to write, “A meta-analysis synthesizes what is currently known about a given topic and can result in strong recommendations about the impact or effect of specific practice.” Each meta-analysis comes with an effect size (defined below).

Effect Size - Fisher, Frey and Hattie define effect size as, “The magnitude of the impact that a given approach has.” Meaning, how well it works when it comes to the teaching and learning going on the classroom. Some examples of approaches are direct instruction which has a .59 effect size, classroom discussion .82, and feedback has a .75 effect size.

Hinge Point - It has long been agreed upon by researchers over the last few decades that when a given approach has an effect size of .40 it means that the approach can offer, when done correctly, a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. Anything over the .40 can offer more than a year’s growth. So, if we look at the given approach of classroom discussion, you can see that when done well that can lead to two year’s of growth.

Every one of Hattie’s influences, which you read about here, came from meta-analysis that he collected from developed countries from all around the world. So, for those of you who say they wouldn’t work for your students, it’s quite possible that the research collected involved students just like the ones you have in class. After all, the research involves over 300 million students.

300 million students...

Where to Start?
The best thing to do is to look at the influences and pick two or three. Explore the research behind them online or in Visible Learning or Visible Learning For Teachers. Some of the influences that I think can give us the biggest bang for our buck is feedback (.75), classroom discussion (.82), teacher clarity (.75), and teacher-student relationships (.72).

Since the implications of the above study focused on confirmation bias and the confusion that can stem from that, we need to take one of these influences and have more than one training around it. We need to focus on it with a critical friend or use several faculty meetings. Perhaps, we should even make it part of a year long goal instead of using the “one and done” approach where we do one training and one observation, and then give up before we even get to the implementation dip.

In the End
In response to my blog post Leadership: It’s Much More Than Doing Discipline and Blanket E-mails, RTI Coordinator Shana Brown Tweeted “I think all school leaders and teacher leaders need to look at Hattie’s research for MORE than just data teams.” Brown is correct. I don’t just believe this because I do Hattie’s work and he wrote the foreword of my book. I believe this because once you learn Hattie’s research...you can’t unlearn it.

It’s not just for data teams. Given the research MacLellan focused on in his article, school leaders need to understand the implications of the research, and help support it within their schools (i.e. Goal setting with teachers, formal observation feedback, etc.).

It’s overwhelming to try to understand it all at once, and it’s nearly impossible to do that. However, what educators can do is choose one or two high impact influences and one low impact influences that surprised them and begin exploring from there. Take those one or two influences and make them a year long goal. Don’t expect changes overnight or within a week or two. Using influences correctly takes a great deal of research and practice.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press), where he explores 6 of Hattie’s influences from a leadership perspective. Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.