Dazzling Data: 5 teacher innovations to enhance student success

Whether in the face-to-face classroom or online and blended learning spaces, teachers are always looking for ways to innovate. But it’s rare to find evidence-based innovations that can be repeated in any classroom and reliably impact student outcomes. Education research faces the challenge of dealing with many variables that can impact studies, such as class size, student characteristics, physical environment, noise and interruptions and even the time of day.

Overcoming variables with a lot of data

A huge meta-analysis on the impact of learning and teaching strategies on raising student achievement was concluded by Professor John Hattie in Visible Learning in 2009. This meta-analysis of meta-analyses consolidated over sixty-thousand studies of meta-data on millions of students to see what worked and what didn’t.

This research was based on classroom interventions and innovations for students aged up to twenty years, in developed English-speaking countries. However, these insights may be cautiously applied to adult learning contexts, given the breadth of this work and the lack of a study of equivalent scope in the field of adult education.

The findings unearthed from all this data were visualised using a “Barometer of Influence”. This shows the extent to which a particular innovation or thing will enhance student achievement.

1st insight – any innovation will probably help

Interestingly, it’s actually tricky not to enhance student success. Just having a teacher in a classroom will enhance student achievement. The average effect of any teacher innovation on achievement is about .40 on the barometer, as shown in the image below.



2nd insight – start with innovations that have big impacts

Since, on average, most things improve student achievement, Hattie argues that teachers should set themselves a higher standard for innovations, and just look to try the things that have a big difference, way above the average effect size. The below image summarises the top five innovations in the domain of teachers that have the greatest impact on enhancing student achievement.

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The language used in education research is far from universal, so let’s consider those top 5 innovations further using the glossary provided in Visible Learning as a reference.

Providing formative evaluation (feedback) involves assessing learning progress before or during the learning process itself rather than summatively assessing after the teaching is done. This means making the learning process very visible to the student – they must be able to see the goal, where they are currently in relation to that goal, and how the path ahead looks.

Micro teaching applies to teacher training and development. Typically, it involves teachers conducting mini-lessons to a small group of students while being recorded and engaging in discussions afterwards about the lessons. The videotaping allows for an intense under-the-microscope review of their teaching.

Comprehensive interventions for learning disabled students addresses challenges students face learning to read, write or do maths. The important components of instruction included “attention to sequencing, drill-repetition-practice, segmenting information into parts or units for later synthesis, controlling task difficulty through prompts and cues, making use of technology, systematically modeling problem solving steps, and making use of small interactive groups” (p. 217). An example of an intervention is a shift in pedagogy to use direct instruction coupled with strategy instruction – that is, explicitly teaching students how to succeed, whether through a process used for long division in mathematics or a series of questions to ask when interpreting an academic article.

Teacher clarity involves setting and communicating clear learning objectives, and providing engaging and clearly structured explanations, examples and guided practice. In addition to speech clarity, these key elements are all about making sure students have a clear understanding of their learning process.

Reciprocal teaching was devised as an instructional process to teach students cognitive strategies that might lead to improved learning outcomes. The emphasis is on teachers enabling their students to learn and use cognitive strategies such as summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting, and these are “supported through dialogue between teacher and students as they attempt to gain meaning from text”. For example, each student takes a turn at being the “teacher”, and often the teacher and students take turns leading a dialogue concerning sections of a text.

To learn more about these recommendations and data, visit http://visible-learning.org/

So, what are good innovations?

Well, highly effective innovations are not what you might expect looking at Pinterest pages and teacher blogs, which often associate innovation with technology.

It’s particularly interesting to note that the most influential innovations a teacher can make, according to Hattie’s research, are to reflect on your own pedagogical practice and to make the process of learning visible to students. Hattie strives to highlight the importance of students’ expectations and students’ visibility into the learning process.