Saturday, September 7, 2013

Undermining Student Improvement

Have I missed the mark re: student improvement?

I am beginning to wonder if, in my earnest desire to to do what what's best for kids and their learning, I have inadvertently enabled complacency and undermined improvement.

Let me explain.

Recently I have immersed myself in John Hattie's book Visible Learning Visible Learning - a book, I believe, every educator, at all levels, must read.

The book is a culmination of years of research and analysis of what has the greatest positive impact on student achievement.

So let's cut to the chase. Hattie identifies a number influences on student performance and ranks them in order of positive impact.

In summary, the most positive  influences on student achievement put the individual teacher at the centre of the improvement. Whether it's providing quality feedback, understanding how different students think (meta cognition), how open a teacher is to the evidence of their impact on student learning and how they respond to this evidence or how a teacher enables students to become their own teachers - all of these "impacts" place the teacher and their actions at the centre of improvement.

On the flip side, some of the lesser "impacts" on achievement include those that I would label as "external" (to the teacher) changes and  include such things as: ability grouping, class size, problem based learning, inquiry learning, homework, school scheduling, web based learning and various other school based "programs" (Hattie, 2012).

So getting back to my point....

As a teacher and administrator I feel passionate about doing what best for students and their learning. I often talk about changing the system . As a school administrator I often meet other team members to solve various problems. I've looked at change timetables and calendars, lower class sizes, change teacher schedules etc.

As administrators we talk about the importance of school growth plans, literacy and numeracy programs, we develop assessment and grading protocols and implement technology based programs in schools.  

I am the first one to speak about the need for curriculum reform in our post industrial, Internet driven world.  

I like system improvements.  They make me feel good.  They give me a sense of satisfaction.  They give me something to report out - "look at what we are doing now",  "look at how innovative we are"!

But what is the true impact of these system and "external" reforms on student learning and engagement?

I surmise that Hattie would argue that these "external" reforms and interventions are needed and they do assist many students both in achievement and engagement. 

BUT, by placing the focus on various "externally" driven initiatives, have I inadvertently, caused teachers to shift their focus away from their own practice?

In so doing, have I unwittingly undermined student improvement by not explicitly placing enough focusing on teacher level improvements related to formative assessment, the teacher as learner and the meta-cognition of each student?

Moving forward, in my desire to help students and as I consider school wide or system wide improvements, I need to ask myself this these important questions:
  • How is this initiative (school goal, program, initiative, intervention, etc.) empowering teachers to be at the centre of their own learning?  
  • How is this learning requiring teachers to be reflective and critically open about their own students' performance? 
  • How is this learning related to providing quality feedback to students and  knowing and understanding students as thinkers?

Still figuring it out.....


  1. Hi, John. Check out my blog at to see how I used a suggestion's of John Hattie's contained in Visible Learning for Teachers in my classroom.


  2. That link to my blog should be

  3. Hi Johnny, I agree with you that system reform and structural change on their own are not going to improve student learning. if teachers arent on board with the changes, it will result in them working against any initiatives to maintain status quo. As you mentioned I believe the key is getting teachers to reflect on their practice and how it impacts student learning. And I think that the best way to stimulate reflection on the part of teachers is to allow them to see something different in action. Our goal should be to get teachers saying 'I can do that' and 'What do I need in order to do that?' Once they start recognizing that they can do some of these amazing things with their students, they will be the ones pushing for changes to the system that allow them the freedom and autonomy to push forward with new assessment practices, inquiry based learning, etc.

    Thanks for posting!


  4. Aaron, your comment hits the "nail on the head". We all need to see the merits of something before we buy in. This is the "art of persuasion" rooted in understanding and communicating our "why". Thanks for reading and commenting