Did you know that Dr. John Hattie's research, a synthesis of over 800 meta-studies, and one of the largest evidence-based studies ever conducted identified key indicators about what works best in education? Described by the Time Education Supplement as nothing less than "teaching’s holy grail", Hattie's meta-study "Visible Learning" found that learning occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students helping them to become their own teachers.
Influences that yielded at least twice the average effect include:
- Teacher Clarity (.75): Teachers clearly communicate success criteria, know how their students are doing, and know where to take students next.
- Formative Evaluation (.90): Assessing students’ progress towards mastery before the end of teaching.
- Self-Reporting Grades (1.44): Give students opportunities to predict performance on tests/assignments and then challenge students to push further and go beyond their own expectations.
While reflecting upon these high impact strategies, I immediately was reminded of my high school football coach. I was heading into my junior year and to be honest, I was lacking in confidence not thinking too highly of myself. The previous two years, I had a coach who had run the program for over two decades. Truth be told, there were a lot of "games" and politics being played out, and I found myself very quickly on the "outside looking in". I was quick and athletic, but skinny and scrawny, and rarely advocated for myself. I was the “nice kid” on the team and while that was “nice”, it wasn’t exactly getting the most out of my true ability. I had no idea what was expected of me, no idea where I was or how close I was at meeting the coach’s expectations, and no clue throughout practices if I was "on track", "off track", or anywhere in between. In reality, I wasn’t being monitored much at all and felt quite helpless in having any hope at getting a shot to play a game that I loved at the varsity level.
And then it all changed the day that the new coach came into town. He brought a fresh perspective, had no agenda, and was excited to have the opportunity to take the program to the next level. He had a vision and he clearly articulated that vision to the parents, to the booster club, and to his players. I’ll never forget the first conversation I had with him one on one. He called me into his office, told me he expects me to be a two-way starter on offense and defense and step up and be a leader on the team.
You see, he did his homework on me, asked other teachers about me, gathered all kinds of data, and then leveraged that information to instill confidence in myself while also setting forth a high expectation for me both as a player and leader on the team. Never before was I more motivated to excel in my academics, workout/train, and practice, practice, practice! The new coach believed in me, he set high expectations for me, and he continuously monitored my performance throughout my final two years of high school. He knew when to push me and challenge me and he also knew the value of giving me voice. He asked me a lot of questions and forced me to self-evaluate and adjust "on my own".
When you think about what my coach did with me, you can see the parallels of what Hattie’s research uncovered. I had a very clear understanding of where I was headed and what was expected of me (Teacher Clarity). Beyond question, I was continuously receiving feedback on my performance (formative feedback) with a high emphasis on self-reflection/evaluation as the coach used questions to draw out of me what was needed in order for me to improve. And finally, in what was the most impactful was the coach's high expectation of me. I felt as if I was always been stretched and challenged to be better than what I thought I could be. The moment I thought I had "arrived" and was at a "good place" he pushed me and challenged me to go further in my abilities as a player (Self-Reported Grading).
We can all recall teachers and coaches that have impacted us in similar ways. So how can we empower today's educators with tools that open up more opportunities for them to provide formative feedback, to consistently clarify learning targets, and to stretch students by asking the right questions and forcing them to self-evaluate and understand their own abilities and performance?
Today’s teachers are inundated with so much and are expected to often do "more with less". As an education consultant with FocalPointK12, I am excited about the ways that our software can enable teachers to do what my coach did for me through a medium that is efficient, engaging, and effective. What better way to clarify and communicate standards, to deliver timely, and descriptive formative feedback to students, and to promote self-directed learning and self-reported grading using a next generation personalized learning management system such as FocalPointK12? While I certainly embrace adaptive learning technologies and believe that their is a great need for programs that allow students to work independently inside of software without any teacher guidance or instruction, I love the way that FocalPointK12's system empowers teachers to play the role of "facilitator" and "coach". Teaching is an art that requires taking a deep look at the social, academic, and emotional needs of each student and providing learning experiences that reach the heart of kids while systematically meeting their unique academic needs. Teachers, more than ever, need digital learning resources and tools that can support student-centered learning where they play the role of "coach" making learning visible and impactful to the students they serve.