There are now over 300 influences identified in the Visible Learning data base and the major task is to work out the underlying dimensions that best discriminate between the higher and lower influences.
I have identified two big dimensions: teacher expertise and teaching students’ various strategies of learning. Having a big impact on student learning is more about how teachers think than what they do, and we have been investigating the specifics of these ways of thinking.
We call it evaluative thinking, and it involves:
- reasoning and critical thinking in valuing evidence (from multiple sources) leading to ‘where to next’ teaching decisions
- addressing the fidelity of implementation
- continually checking for unintended consequences
- investigating potential biases in thinking that may lead to false conclusions
- being clear to colleagues and students about what we mean by impact and continually seeking to ‘know thy impact’
- understanding other (teachers’ and students’) points of view about impact leading to judgements of value or worth.
Such evaluative thinking leads to a more defensible balance of surface (content) and deep (relations, transfer) in lessons, assignments and feedback. A practice informed by evaluative thinking also makes learning more inviting to students to want to participate. When we then add listening, and responding with teaching of alternative learning strategies when the first one did not work, we have the essence of expertise.
I would argue that the discriminating value of certified Highly Accomplished and Lead teachers (HALTs) are they are more likely to think evaluatively, and we need to better understand how these teachers think, value, and make decisions.
Focusing only on what we do, sharing resources, and simply watching others teach, risks missing this depth of thinking. The simplistic notion that all we need is great lessons, and even a novice can become a great teacher overnight (or in 6 weeks), is a complete denial of the skills in developing evaluative thinking.
The major problem I confront, however, is that so many educators deny their expertise. They credit the student with being motivated, putting in the effort, and sustaining with high levels of grit and a growth mindset to complete the tasks. This is not the case. It is the teachers who improve the learning of students – yes with them, but they are so often the cause of improved learning. Until we scream this from the rooftops we will continue to be seen by others as caretakers, deliverers of lessons, replaceable by AI and computers, and deserving low pay and respect.
HALTs are a clear manifestation that we can and do recognise expertise. COVID-related online learning showed parents and carers that there are remarkable levels of expertise in teaching, so now is a great time to speak to, and invest in, educator expertise.