You’ll probably agree with me when I say, “200% more growth than peers” is quite a stretch.
Or is it?
In our recent nine-week action research, students who focused on visible learning strategies outperformed their peers on district standardized tests. But that’s not all. They achieved over 200% more growth than their peers.
We’ll get into our results more, but first how? What are visible learning strategies?
We used a handful of visible learning strategies and helped our students take control of learning. Their teacher gave them a few strategies that allowed them to take ownership in their learning. They only used three of the 15 strategies below, and achieved amazing results!
Only a handful of visible learning strategies produced 200% more growth in our action research!
You can think of visible learning in three areas of your teaching: student reflection, the task, and the process. We’ll break down the teaching strategies using these three categories.
Visible Learning Strategies through Reflection
There are so many ways to make learning visible during reflection. I think these five are among the most essential to help students see their thinking and learning. Reflection also helps students to view themselves as their own teacher – responsible for their own efforts and learning.
I Used to Think, But Now: This is a prompt that students can discuss or write about. Use it halfway through any lesson or unit. Ask students to pause and think about this prompt: I used to think ____, but now I think ____. A simple T-Chart will help them make a quick list to see how their thinking is changing as a result of their work. Have the students revisit their T-Chart or writing at the end of the assignment and add to it.
3-2-1 Bridge: Use this for any learning target. At the beginning of a lesson, ask students to write down 3 ideas/facts they know, 2 questions they have, and one analogy (or connection) they can make. At the end of the learning ask them to do the same activity. Their 3-2-1 will be different at the end based on the amount of learning they achieved. They will bridge that learning by writing one sentence to summarize how their efforts created learning. If there is no difference, students will reflect, What can I do differently to learn more?
Self-Evaluation: As much as possible use a rubric or a scale. The best scales tell students what the learning looks like in specific actions and concepts. During and after learning tasks, ask students to evaluate their own learning. Where do they think they fall on the scale? Ask students to briefly explain why they evaluate their own learning at that level. Then ask what they need to take it to the next level on the scale. It’s a simple strategy, but its impact is immense.
The Grit Reflection: This is used at the end of a learning task to boost confidence and resiliency. What challenges did you face? What parts of the learning were hard for you? Where did you get stuck? What did you do to make it through the challenges? On a scale of 1-10, how much effort did you put forth? What strategies did you use? How has this helped you to be a stronger learner?
The Extension Reflection: This is another reflection for the end of a lesson. Visible learning includes raising student awareness of motivation and emotional engagement. Ask your students to talk and then write about these questions. What is one part of this lesson you never hope to see again? What is one part of the learning that you would like to spend a day in class studying more about? How can this help you as a person? How can it help you in school or in your future? Why would you like to learn more about it?
What are your students doing? Visible learning helps them take ownership of what they are doing – the task. It helps them “see” the learning inside of their class work.
Why are we doing this? Visible learning helps students understand what learning they are expected to gain from any task or activity. Here are 5 strategies to achieve learning results!
Understand What to Learn: It’s more than just classwork, it’s about learning. After a quick discussion of the learning goal, ask students to write the learning in their own words. It might change a bit from what you intended. That’s great! Students are expressing what they think they need to learn. You can use this to bridge the gap between their expectations and your expectations.
Connecting to Learning Targets: Each student has to see themselves as their own teacher during a task. They are not doing work, just to “get a grade”. They are working toward a learning target. This is more than simply posting an objective. Could you imagine a track athlete going to practice each day, but not knowing what race they will run? Not know how they will be measured in the race? Throughout any lesson, have students pause and ask them, “How is this work helping you understand [the learning target]?” “What do you need from me so you can understand this better?”
Think-Pair-Share the Target: Ask students to think about what they will learn from this task. Pair up and share up their thoughts! The peer discussion will broaden what they expect to learn. Some students expectations are right on target with yours. Other students will be thinking about a very specific piece of learning. Think-pair-share will help each student broaden their expectations. Then ask a few students to share with the whole class.
Advance Organize the Concepts: What key concepts will be required in the task? Make a short checklist of those concepts, so students can use it as a guide in their own learning. In a lesson on long division, a 4th-grade math teacher lists: quotient, dividend, divisor, subtract, regroup. Students glue this list into their learning notebooks and check off the concept as they find them in the lesson. If there is any uncertainty about a concept, the student marks it with a symbol such as a question mark or star. Their job is to ask you or a peer about the concept during the task. They must learn about it. Now the work is about learning…and becoming their own teacher.
Make Connections: In any task, ask students to make connections to previous learning. The key is learning, not work. Students typically default to relating today’s work to another task they did. They usually don’t think of the learning. Teach the difference between work, and what we’re learning. In a reading classroom, a student might connect today’s reading by saying, “I’m learning how to infer a character’s thinking. This was like yesterday when you read Tough Boris to us and asked us to think about how the pirate felt.” This strategy is powerful because it asks students to make learning links from one day to the next.
These five strategies help students to take ownership of what they are doing. Even more, these strategies help learners view the work as something they can learn from…not just work to do.
The task is what the students do. The process is how they go about doing it. There is learning in the process itself, and these strategies will enable students to benefit from the process.
The goal of visible learning during the process is to create strategic learners. They approach the task with a plan. They make decisions about how they will learn.
Create Thinking Routines: The best classrooms have routines for everything – pencil sharpener, paper, restroom, etc. But do you have routines for thinking? Build routines around different types of thinking. Where do students go when they forget what they are supposed to learn? What do students do to learn more about a concept? When a student forgets how to do a skill, how do they get specific help on that? If a student has an urge to delve deeper in a topic, what do they do?
Choices in How to Learn: Skinning a cat? More than one way. Learning about energy webs in science? More than one way. Give students at least two options to choose from when learning any skill or concept. You’ll need some core learning options. These choices are established tasks that student readily can do. Some students will always choose the same task – they’ll need some encouragement to try other choices. Other students will try anything new just for fun. They’ll need to be refocused on the learning targets.
Decide and Justify: Help students make better choices in how they are going to learning. It’s not enough to provide students with choices. Help them make an informed decision and then justify that learning decision. Start with two questions to guide their decisions and justify their learning process. 1) What will you do to complete this work? 2) What do think you’ll learn by doing it this way?
Question the Start: Use this strategy at the beginning of a lesson or 2-3 day unit. It will help students think about how they are going to learn. Have students ask and answer 3 of the following questions:
A) Why am I doing this?
B) How will doing this help me learn the target goal?
C) What other ways could I do this?
D) Why did I choose to do it this way?
E) What challenge will I face doing the work this way?
F) What will I need to make it through the tough or confusing spots?
Interrupt Me! This strategy is simple. Ask students to interrupt you. The feedback they give you is the most important feedback. Whenever they are confused and uncertain, you want to know about it. You want to see the learning through their eyes. That is the zone of development where learning occurs! During reading, during lecture, during modeling…anytime. Ask students to interrupt me!
Visible Learning, Real Results
This post started out claiming 200% greater growth. This was the result of an action research study (described below) where we used only a handful of visible learning strategies.
There is ample evidence (see the research here) that visible learning strategies produce massive results! You may already use some of the strategies above. Here are the strategies we used and the results we achieved.
Nine Weeks of Visible Learning
Approximately 40 third-graders used visible learning strategies for a nine-week period. During the same time, another 80 third-graders did not use these strategies. A 25 question reading comprehension assessment was given at the beginning of the period and a similar test was given at the end.
During the nine-week trial, our 40 students used these strategies:
Choices in How to Learn
Our implementation was not great. We made connections 3-5 times a week, gave students choices 3-4 days per week, and engaged students in self-evaluation 4-5 times during the nine weeks. We could have done so much more!
But that is the incredible part. Just three of the 15 visible learning strategies – not even well-implemented – and great results!
Visible Learning Results
We will continue our action research for another nine weeks. This time with the bold affirmation that the strategies are working. Only this time, we will use the strategies better. And we will implement more of the visible learning strategies!
The students without the visible learning strategies increased an average of 5% in the last nine weeks. Our students’ scores increased 10%! That’s twice the learning. We fully expect that we can achieve this same accelerated rate of learning for another nine weeks!
How Will You Use Visible Learning Strategies?
I hope you were encouraged by these visible learning strategies and the results they gave us at TeamTom Education. How will you use these strategies? Which strategies do you already use? Are you also seeing similar results? What do your students think about making their thinking visible?