So, what did you learn at school today? It’s an innocent question and very appropriate for any adult to ask a student. But why then do students consistently fail to recall what they learned? Often they just say, “Nothing” or “We read a book.” Visible learning changes that.
You plan instruction, write objectives on the board, deliver great instruction, and assess learning frequently. Is the learning visible for students? Do your students think about…
- …what task is required?
- …what they need to do to learn?
- …how well they learned it?
Wouldn’t that be awesome if students actually thought of these three things? Wouldn’t they be the perfect students, just ready to learn, learn, learn? Yes, of course.
That’s what student visible learning is. And your students can do it.
The Highest Impact Strategy for Learning
John Hattie reported the learning approaches with the largest impact on student learning. His 2009 research synthesis show the best strategies were metacognitive strategies (here’s a post on metacognitive strategies), self-reported grades, and formative evaluation.
He updated this list in 2015, so we could better understand those terms. In the update, he simply called these three strategies, “student visible learning.” This approach to learning had an effect size of 1.41…that’s big effect, but what does it mean?
It just means, that from 800 studies, there was not another student factor that had as big of an impact on learning. Student visible learning can be expected to help students achieve more than a year’s growth!
What does Student Visible Learning Look Like in the Classroom?
- Task: Students think about what they’re doing. They understand the task.
- Process: Students think about the methods. They are aware of how they are doing it.
- Reflection: Students think about their own expectations. What do I believe I really can do? How well do I do it?
Yep, there are only three items on that list, but isn’t it a list of important thinking strategies? That’s tough stuff. Can you see how this strategy could impact learning?
Visible learning doesn’t happen by accident. It occurs through teaching and learning about learning.
Visible learning in the task.
- Be clear about what students will do at the end, from the beginning. Posting an objective is the starting point, but explain the learning target in terms of what the student will actually do.
- Ask students to explain the task to each other before beginning instruction and again before beginning the task.
- Use scoring scales or rubrics (even simple ones) as much as possible. This helps your students to visualize what the learning looks like.
- Ask students to think about their own expectations before starting the lesson. What do you think you can do? What do you think will be hard for you here?
Visible learning in the process.
- Tell your students, “This is what great students do during instruction and during classwork.”
- Then model what it is by thinking aloud, “What did the teacher say to do? What did I write in my notes? What steps do I take?”
- Ask students to tell each other the steps needed to complete the learning task.
- Ask students to decide which steps they need to take next.
- Use checklists or rubrics, so students can visually evaluate their own learning during the work itself. Not just at the end.
Visible learning as reflection.
- Students are constantly gauging themselves against their own expectations. They wonder, “Am I doing this right?” Others think, “I can do this. I did it perfectly.”
- Help their reflection by asking them along the way, “What is it right now that you think you really understand well?” “What is one thing that we’ve done or said that is strange for you?”
- Give them feedback on their reflection. Let them know if their learning actually matches what they think.
- Don’t say, “Do your best.” Instead say, “What are you doing? How can you make it just one step better?”
- The learning happens most when students are aware of their own expectations and when they successfully move just beyond those expectations.
Examples of Student Visible Learning
Help Students Understand the Task. Make learning expectations visible before and during the learning.
In a 6th-grade science class, the teacher explains the states of matter poster before teaching about the states of matter. Students are asked to think, “Before I teach you anything, what do you think you could complete on your own?” Then the teacher shows the students an example of the poster.
During instruction, the teacher refers to the example poster and asks, “What vocabulary word does this drawing help explain? What state of matter is shown here?” This makes a visible learning link from the instruction to the task. It also builds students’ expectations of their own work. When they begin working, their understanding will be clearer, and their own expectations will be higher.
That was a big key: their own expectations will be higher for what they can do and learn.Visible learning is powerful because it raises students' own expectations!Click To Tweet
Making Learning Processes Visible. It’s not just what they are learning – it’s also about how they are learning.
In a 2nd-grade math class, the teacher shows students how to solve a multi-step subtraction problem. She creates an anchor chart during the modeling. After showing a step, she goes to the chart, writes down the step, and draws a quick picture to represent the step.
During small group instruction, she points the students back to the anchor chart. She asks, “What step are you currently working on? What is easy about this step? What is confusing?” She is scaffolding student thinking (here’s a post on Scaffolding Strategies). She is making the learning visible and helping them learn how to monitor their own learning.
Visible Learning as Reflection. Students can “see” their learning better if you incorporate self-evaluation.
This is when students really are thinking about their own learning. How well am I learning this? What did my teacher say? What are my next steps? It doesn’t usually happen automatically. You can teach it.
An 8th-grade reading teacher asks students to stop half-way through creating an essay on civil rights. He asks the students, “Do you remember the sample essay I showed you yesterday? What were the great parts of the essay?” Students think about it and talk for a moment. Then he prompts, “Here is a rubric that I’m going to use to grade your work. Why don’t you help me? Look at your essay so far and give yourself a score for each part. Use this highlighter.”
The students self-evaluate and make adjustments to try to increase their scores. The teacher walks around and affirms students’ evaluations and tells them the next steps to improve. At the end of the essay, students assess their work with a pen. Their scores should improve compared to when they scored it with a highlighter. Their learning is visible.
Metacognitive Strategies to Make Visible Learning a Reality
Metacognition – thinking about thinking. It’s powerful for learning. It takes your students out of the current challenge and prompts them to think about what’s going on.
Here are important metacognitive strategies to make learning visible:
- Become aware of your knowledge. Frequently pause during instruction and ask students to think about, talk about, and write about what they know so far.
- Become aware of the task. Take a moment to teach the vocabulary about a task. The genre (expository vs. narrative), the topic (geometry vs. computation), or the category (historical document vs. historical figures). This will help students to create links from their learning to academic words they read and hear frequently.
- Model. Explicitly model what you’re teaching – even in a project-based or inquiry environment. Human learning has always started with seeing and trying.
- Explain that remembering is not the same as understanding. And understanding is not the same as doing (i.e. understanding division is different than doing it accurately). Each is equally important.
- Explain that learning is not about doing. It is about asking questions, doing it again, and thinking about it again.
- Make student understanding visible to students. Ask them to reflect on what they know. What are they suppose to do? How will they know when they master it? What will they do if they don’t master it?
Using Question Stems to Guide Students to Visible Learning
Questions are great for scaffolding learning. They are excellent learning strategies – not just for testing! They also can shape student thinking.
With the following question stems, you can coach student thinking to help make their learning visible.
- What are you going to learn from this task?
- What do you already know about this?
- What is confusing you?
- How will you get help if get stuck?
- How will you find out if you get it right?
- What will you do when you are frustrated during this learning?
- Do you know what learning strategies you will use?
- Do you know what skills you will use?
- What tools do you need to learn/do this?
- What facts and information do you know that will help you?
15 Strategies to use Student Visible Learning in Your Classroom
In the next post, we’ll look at 15 visible learning strategies to use in any classroom. There will be 5 strategies for each of the aspects of visible learning. Classroom examples will be given to help you see how visible learning can impact students in the most positive ways.
What do you think? How do you already use certain visible learning strategies? How well do you think they work in your classroom? What new visible learning techniques will you use with your students this week?
- 15 Visible Learning Strategies Made 200% Growth in 9 Weeks
- Summarizing as a Thinking Strategy
- Organizing Thought: A Metacognitive Strategy
- Growth Mindset