Friday, November 12, 2010

Making Learning Visible

As I said last blog post, I’m reading 'Visible Learning' by John Hattie… Hattie talks about the need to make teaching and learning visible.  Of successful classrooms, he says:

What is most important is that teaching is visible to the student and learning is visible to the teacher.

To me that sentence is HUGE! How can I make my teaching visible to my students? How can I make their learning visible to me?

I’ve spent this last week really thinking about making the education process more visible.  Having been lucky enough to spend time in discussion with (and in the classrooms of) many teachers K-12 over the last few years, here are what I’ve seen is working to make both teaching and learning more visible.

Lesson Chunking: Breaking the lesson into smaller chunks, not by time but by skill. We don’t learn to ride a bike at once.  We have training wheels or a helpful older person so we can practice one skill at a time: pedaling, then steering, then balancing.  If we do the same chunking in our lessons our students are able to see the isolated skills that come together to form the big skill we are trying to impart. I’ve seen this done well in a Language Arts class where a teacher had students create thesis statements to finish off an otherwise complete introduction paragraph. When they mastered that skill, she reversed it and gave them the thesis statement to create a paragraph around.  She then did similar with the thesis statement versus body paragraphs. Constantly asking herself what individual skills went into essay writing and creating mini-lessons and practice around each of the skills.

Sharing Outcome/Standards and Student Self-Reflection
Rick Stiggins speaks of the need for our students to have clear, unmoving, targets. When you were growing up did you ever play a game of pickup soccer/hockey? I remember playing against another team that said I didn’t score because the ‘goal’ wasn’t where I thought we had decided it was.  I was angry and frustrated the rest of the game.  Our students feel like that if we’re not clear about their learning goals.  If they don’t know what they need to do to be successful they aren’t always willing to play the game.  Sharing outcomes/standards can come in the form of ‘I can’ statements posted on the board for the day or on the first slide of our lecture notes.  I’ve also seen them at the top of assignment sheets so students can be reminded of the goal of their work.  I love learning targets with pictures of the learning goal in them for lower grade levels.

While sharing the outcomes/standards naturally causes some of our students to self-reflect on their progress toward the goal, some of our students need more guidance. Later, in high school, I played defense in soccer and I prided myself on the fact that I knew, without looking, exactly where the goal posts were at all times (no one was going to trick me again!)  I felt like I had good situational awareness on the field.  Many of our students don’t have that ability yet, they get in the middle of their learning and lose sight of the learning goal.  Guiding their self-reflection can help them gain better awareness of where they are in relation to the goal.  

I use a student goal sheet in my class that has all of the outcomes/standards for a unit listed in a column. To the right of that is a column that says… How I learned this… In this column my students are expected to explain to me what they did to learn each outcome.  They write things such as took notes, did a lab, quizzed with my mom, watched youtube videos.  I’m not concerned with the actual learning strategy the student used to learn the material, my goal is make sure they know it was their job to learn it.  They were responsible for their own learning. I’ve seen teacher tape a learning target on each of her grade 1 student’s desks and she would periodically ask them to put their finger on the part of the target they thought they were at.  This comes after practice and modeling but it’s time well spent since the students can begin to take more ownership of their learning.

Reflection and Collaboration
Part of the process of making teaching and learning more visible is taking the time to reflect on and grow from based on what we see.  As the lone Physics teacher at my school, I didn’t have anyone to discuss content with on a regular basis but I was more than lucky because I had Terry Kaminski and Jared Nichol in the building with me.  On a formal and informal basis we discuss the skills we need to master in order to be the most effective teachers we can.  Content becomes secondary in those types of discussions because we share the same language of visible teaching and learning.  These conversations allow me to reflect on the learning (or lack of it some days!) that takes place so that I can adapt and change to the students needs in my class.

I've read enough of the book to make sure this post isn’t completely off base but I'm no where near finished and I definitely didn’t hit on all that Hattie includes as effective ways to make teaching and learning visible.  What other things do you think are part of ‘visible’ learning? What are some examples you’ve seen that help make teaching visible to our students and their learning visible to us?

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