Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, by John Hattie and Gregory Yates, is unique because of what it spends so little time discussing: teaching.  A book designed to help teachers and schools maximize the achievement of their students, this edition of Visible Learning focuses most on student learning, specifically emphasizing the importance of paying attention to how students receive, connect and digest information.

A main theme of this book is the assertion that the educational community spends a lot of time and effort examining things like curriculum, assessment and classroom tools, and as a result, less time is spent discussing learning. In light of this, the authors explore if teachers become more effective by reprioritizing the act of learning; namely by looking at the learning process through the eyes of their students.  In order for this to happen, Hattie and Yates propose teachers strive to make learning visible.

What does that actually mean?

In Chapter 12, when the authors discuss expert teaching, they introduce the Diagnose, Intervene and Evaluate model as a method to both explain and move towards more visible learning.  Teachers diagnose the current level of student learning, intervene using their assessment, experience and creativity as a basis to make instructional decisions, and then evaluate the impact of the intervention.  You can imagine this model as a loop – as teachers become more proficient, the loop gets smaller and smaller – shortening students’ journey from surface-level understanding to a deeper, more conceptually-grounded understanding.

Thoughts and Reflections:

Making learning visible is a powerful assertion. Many classrooms still have a pedagogical approach in which teachers do the majority of the talking while students are passive participants.  In these classrooms, students only have the opportunity to share their learning during assessments. Considering this helps drive home why more visible learning might be extremely beneficial for students.

The good news is that a book with such potential to enact change is written in a way that makes it easily accessible and applicable across the educational landscape. It can be read multiple ways, and its interesting layout – the book is divided in short chapters within three distinct sections – allows much of the information to stand alone and still offer great value. Chapters within the first part focus on learning within the classroom, chapters in the second tackle learning foundation, and the final third is titled Know Thyself, focusing on how students understand their own learning process. With every chapter ending in study guide questions and reference notes, the book may also function well as the basis for training and assessment by administrators. Regardless, my general recommendation for approaching this book is simple: read it slow.

Quotes Worth Remembering:

“In short, real-world problem solving is strongly dependent on two major factors: (a) the availability of accurate knowledge and (b) the ease with which such stored knowledge can be handled within working memory.”  This quote is such a great reminder that problem solving is not a “new” or different type of learning.  It may be boring to some, but it still rings true – how students learn has not changed.

“What you already know determines what you can learn and how you think.”  While the book focuses on student learning, this quote is a reminder of the importance of curriculum.  Students are always going to come into a classroom with different experiences.  Thus, the reservoir of background knowledge they draw from varies with each student.  This is quite a challenge for teachers, and one that becomes exacerbated without a strong curriculum and alignment between grade levels.

Recommendation:

Hattie and Yates accomplish a rare feat with this book: providing practical advice to teachers about student learning while also spending a significant amount of time discussing the research that undergirds those conclusions.  I’d say this book would sit well on the bookshelf of most school leaders.  Most importantly, its focus on student learning can help teachers and school leaders conquer the seemingly endless distractions of the school day and remind them what’s really important.

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