5 Takeaways from Visible Learning for Literacy

Dr. Natalie Saaris
November 8, 2016

Here at Actively Learn, we like to stay on top of the latest research on reading comprehension. We peruse countless blogs, studies, and books to inform our pedagogy and encourage teachers to adopt best instructional practices. To that end, we wanted to share our takeaways from one of our recent resources: Visible Learning for Literacy: Implementing the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning (Fisher, Frey, and Hattie, 2016).

Background: The authors of Visible Learning for Literacy seek to cut through the myriad theories on instructional practice and figure out what actually accelerates student learning based on research. They review 150 different instructional strategies and rank them according to their demonstrated effect. This particular book advances the thinking first set out in John Hattie’s Visible Learning Meta-Study (2009) and applies it to the specific context of literacy. The Actively Learn instructional team is a big fan of John Hattie: we’ve relied heavily on his metastudies to develop our approach to feedback.

5 Takeaways from Digital Learning to Literacy
Takeaways influenced by John Hattie's Visible Learning Meta-Study and Fisher, Frey, and Hattie's Visible Learning for Literacy

Our Main Takeaways:

TAKEAWAY #1: The impact of an intervention can and should be measured

Teachers are bombarded with literature on what works in education, from blog posts to white papers to PD sessions. But they can’t possibly adopt every intervention in their classroom, and their choices should not be guided by anecdotes, fads, or blind instinct. Visible Learning for Literacy argues that teachers should be guided by research, and that interventions need to be measured in order to be considered significant and worthy of widespread adoption. 

TAKEAWAY #2: “Progress” is not enough

Literacy research too often assumes that anything that leads to progress is good, but that isn’t sufficient to suggest that it’s a worthwhile intervention. Visible Learning for Literacy argues that practically every intervention extends student learning, because students generally make academic progress over the course of a year. In order for an intervention to be notable, its gains need to exceed the progress that students would normally make over the course of a school year.

TAKEAWAY #3: Teachers are paramount

Visible Learning for Literacy affirms our longstanding belief that teachers are a critical component to successful outcomes for students. If you’re hoping that this book suggests an autopilot curriculum or software that sidelines the teacher but produces meaningful results, you will be disappointed. Some of the most powerful instructional effects result from teachers setting expectations for students, creating clarity around instruction, demonstrating credibility, and giving effective feedback. The teacher-student relationship is a key ingredient for learning.

“If we want to ensure students read, write, communicate, and think at high levels, we have to develop positive, trusting relationships with students, all students.” 

TAKEAWAY #4: Most learning stops at the surface level

Though the authors of Visible Learning for Literacy acknowledge that surface-level learning is a necessary prerequisite to deeper learning, they point out that educators spend far too little time emphasizing depth. And while teachers generally preach deeper learning, their instructional practices do not push students beyond surface-level skills.

“Up to 90% of the instruction we conduct can be completed by students using only the surface-level skills.” (Hattie, 2012) 

TAKEAWAY #5: The research on best practices continues to grow

Hattie has revised his list of best instructional practices several times with new editions of his books. This is because we're constantly learning about what works in the classroom, including recent practices that were perhaps not on the educational radar at the time of earlier editions. Hattie's willingness to update his list reflects his commitment to evidence rather than to any one particular pedagogical theory.

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