The goal of education is to make an impact on student learning in the classroom.
There is little disagreement about that. Where there is debate amongst educators and academics is how to achieve that impact. What truly influences student learning and achievement in the classroom? What makes the biggest difference? The answers to those two questions are the holy grail of education.
Perhaps the closest we’ve come to uncovering those answers is an extensive study by Professor John Hattie, Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne. Hattie spent 20 years collecting every study he could find that related to what makes a different to student learning. His meta-analysis incorporated around 80,000 studies, amounting to a quarter of a billion students. What did his research find? Some factors make a difference to student learning, others do not. Two of of the most influential factors were teachers and feedback.
Teachers make an impact. Feedback is vital.
Teachers need to have a clear understanding of what they mean by “impact” for their series of lessons; a sense of the desired magnitude of their impact; and how many kids they are going to have that impact on.
One example of what works best is feedback. The important part is not how much feedback the teacher gives a student, but how much feedback a teacher receives about the impact of their practice on student learning. And so part of the work I do is summed up by the phrase, “Know Thy Impact”.
Teachers make a difference
Teachers account for about 30% of the variance in student achievement and is the largest influence outside of individual student effort (Hattie, 2003).
Research has provided solid evidence for what we have all felt – other than individual student effort, teachers are the most influential factor for student learning outcomes. This means that teacher professional development is truly the key to increasing student academic success.
During professional development and in their classroom, there is great benefit in teachers thinking more in terms of evaluating their impact rather than their students’ impact. When teaching practice is not having an effect on student performance, the teacher must adapt and change.
For teachers to be able to regularly evaluate their impact in their classroom and adjust their teaching methodology in response to what they see, their classroom needs to be made visible. The concept of seeing clearly what teachers are teaching and what students are learning is known as Visible Learning.
The next question is how can a teacher see their impact in the classroom? That is where Visible Classroom comes in.
The foundation of Visible Classroom
In 2011, the Victorian Deaf Education Institute conducted an evaluated trial into the use of real-time captioning in classrooms with the aim of improving the access to learning materials for secondary deaf students. Ai-Media were awarded the tender for providing the live captioning, with the evaluation of the trial being awarded to the University of Melbourne.
What we found
“We found captioning not only helped deaf children but helped teachers too.”
Whilst evaluating the effectiveness of live captioning for students in this trial, the University of Melbourne noticed something interesting. They observed that the teachers in this trial were changing the way they taught. The catalyst for teacher change was a copy of a transcript from their lesson which teachers were reviewing and self-assessing.
Following this discovery, the concept of Visible Classroom evolved as a partnership between the University of Melbourne and Ai-Media exploring the potential of live captioning and transcription to facilitate the professional development of teachers, and students engagement in learning.
Using evaluation to improve teaching practices
“How can we help all students learn?”
The pedagogical model is based on providing useful real-time evaluative feedback for teachers, and fits with models of best teaching practice outlined in Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning. Hattie notes that teaching and learning is too often hidden, characterised by high levels of teacher talk, but little reflection on the impact of teaching on students.
The focus of the Visible Classroom program is the notion of embedded evaluation within the technology, in order to encourage teachers to critically assess what they have done and what their students have learned. The aim is that teachers can see their impact and make subsequent evaluative, evidence-based adjustments to their teaching to support improved student learning.
Tools provided to teachers
“Real-time teacher feedback – content, questioning skills, speed of talking…”
The program was first piloted across mainstream schools in the United Kingdom in 10 schools covering 35 primary teachers serving primarily disadvantaged students, and was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation. In addition to the live captioning and transcripts that were a key feature of the intervention, a range of tools were developed to provide teachers with feedback about their practice and impact on students.
These include the online dashboard providing teachers with visual information about their teaching for each lesson in real-time. This includes proportion of teacher talk to student talk, number and type of questions, and their talking speed.
Following the successful UK trial, Visible Classroom has been launched commercially in schools in Australia, the UK and the USA. Secondly, a rubric was developed from the evidence based on effective teaching practice and classroom observation schemes that was subsequently used as a tool to code transcribed lessons and provide in-depth feedback on teaching practice. The model underpinning this seeks to encourage a balance of deep and surface learning, promote critical thought and encourage knowledge construction.
The Evaluation Report into the pilot study concluded that the Visible Classroom approach is feasible and has the potential to make an impact on teacher practice that may lead to benefits in pupils learning.
What educators say about Visible Classroom
When someone observes your lesson, you don’t necessarily get feedback on things like how fast you’re talking and the different kinds of questions pupils are asking. With Visible Classroom we received feedback on this immediately after lessons.
Our teachers find using the technology helps them to identify aspects of their teaching they want to work on, improving their focus on their pupils’ learning, all without the pressure of a formal observation.
I have managed to make my instructions much more succinct and precise, allowing the learners to focus more on the content of the lesson rather than just understanding what I tell them to do.
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