Using Visible Learning in my classroom

My journey to become a better teacher has coincided with my discovery of John Hattie’s Visible Learning principles, and I thought I’d record how my introspective reflection has led to my use of effect size, SOLO Taxonomy and visible learning mantra within my classroom.

My journey began four years ago, with a simple student survey of my teaching habits.
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The previous year, I’d moved from Fitzroy Crossing DHS to Goollelal – from a remote aboriginal community school, to a “leafy green” metro school – and through an analysis of my repertoire of teaching strategies, geared towards engaging weaker, disengaged indigenous students, I identified that there were aspects of my teaching that needed to change.

I have always encouraged my students to be critical of my teaching habits.  The simple student survey I conducted was a reflective PMI towards the end of 2009.  It suggested I wasn’t providing feedback quickly enough for my students’ liking.  Although we negotiated suitable timeframes and guidelines at the time, I began to research the techniques and methodology that other highly effective teachers use.

I began engaging with colleagues in professional discussions – both within my school and utilising my online Twitter network –  and was given a range of starting points – one of which was the research of John Hattie. After reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning, and more recently, Visible Learning for Teachers books, I began applying some of the key recommendations to my own teaching – such as identifying the importance of self-grading and making explicit learning intentions.

If you are unfamiliar with John Hattie, he is an educational researcher from New Zealand who has spent the last few decades examining as many studies into learning as he can.  Based on his meta-analysis of over 60,000 studies, he has developed a quantifiable list of influential factors on a child’s learning.

When you look at the three main recommendations that come out of his analysis – making learning goals transparent for the student, making the criteria for success explicit, and providing explicit feedback about student progress – you get an idea of why his reasoning for maximising impact on learning has been labelled Visible Learning – it’s all about making the journey for success as visible as possible for the student.

So I integrated the concept of SOLO Taxonomy and its explicit nature of expressing success criteria into my teaching and learning programs, and worked with my students to help them identify what was required for their learning, and what success would look like.
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After attending a professional development presented by John Hattie on Visible Learning, I adapted what I had seen of the  New Zealand asTTle student feedback system, to meet my own requirements of my own feedback model for my students, providing them with an overview of gaps in learning and strengths and also providing them with individualised, explicit feedback sheets which they use to identify for themselves areas they need to focus on. The examples here come from pre-testing:Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 12.09.57 am.

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I utilised Hattie’s effect size measurements to measure the effectiveness of my teaching practices across all areas, using the data I gathered to refine my teaching style into one which I believe is highly effective.

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If you are unfamiliar with effect sizes, it is a measure of learning growth over a period of time, with the salient message being that if we as teachers are to make a difference with our teaching , we need to set our student learning targets at an effect size of 0.40 or better over the course of one year or a unit of work. This is a fairly simplistic summary of effect sizes – I thoroughly recommend reading Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers.  Some light bed-time reading!

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Using the SEN Tool

I was fortunate enough to recently take part in a professional development session to use the Students with Educational Needs Tool (SEN Tool – found in the DoEWA Portal under Reporting to Parents), run by the SEN Autism team.

It allows teachers to develop Individual (and Group) Education Plans for their students using standardised objectives – meaning they can be transferred easily from school to school when a student’s Integris data is transferred.  The ease of its use, the professional look of the resulting document, and the ability to use it for reviewing and developing alternate reporting processes for those students for whom the mainstream formal reports are inappropriate makes it an amazing tool… and yet I can find very few cases of it being used in schools!


This week, we rolled it out across our school.  Having added all bar one of my IEPs to the system last term, I demonstrated the ease of adding an IEP to the system for the staff by using my remaining one.  Teachers were then given the opportunity to work together within the library lab setting to add their own IEPs – across the course of the afternoon, our school can now boast to not only having all IEPs up-to-date, but also using clear learning intentions and objectives that should be transferrable across all schools (they are based on Australian Curriculum for literacy and numeracy, and the K-10 Syllabus for Health).

The power of the process comes in the reporting, however.  The ability to go into the Reporting to Parents interface, change the drop down menu from K-10 Curriculum to SEN, and then report on the progress of the IEP for each student is a clear, accountable way for teachers to demonstrate they are catering for all students within their class.

If you are in a Western Australian government school, I recommend you check it out:
Learn more

Just as a side note, working with the kindy and pre-primary teachers, we have come up with a way of also using the SEN Tool to create a formal report that looks similar to the Years 1 to 7 reports, but without fiddling with Word Templates, and also being able to maintain a permanent record – and yet allowing the teachers to report against some of the fine-grain points from the Foundation level curriculum.

Linking Assessment with Reporting to Parents

A recent staff meeting discussion got me thinking about how teachers link their assessment to their formal reports.

With a mind to reporting time, staff were questioning the current Department of Education guidelines regarding the allocation of A to E grades. There were quite a range of opinions floated:
[quote]…an A is given to students who are working two years above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are working one year above current year level.

…an A is given to students who are achieving well above their current year level[/quote] It really hit home a couple of points for me: firstly, teachers really should be all on the same page with reporting, and have a clear understanding of what each of the A to E grades looks like; secondly, thanks to the numerous exemplars and descriptors about what a “C Grade descriptor” looks like, there is little in the way of what a B or an A looks like (discounting isolated exemplars, which while extremely useful for quantifying grades, only give you very small snapshots of the curricula).

Outcomes for Assessment (2006)

One of my first Assessment Profiles – based on the levelled Outcomes and Standards Framework from 2006

Academic Profile (2009)

Outcomes for Assessment Map 2009

For me, it’s really important that there is a seamless transition from my assessment to my records and then on to my grade allocation.  I want to be able to sit down already knowing where my students sit, and have the evidence to back it up without having to explain complex marking systems or the like to parents who enquire.  Being a primary teacher, I use a criteria-based assessment to judge my students.  I have tried adapting criteria-based assessment to numerical methods in the past (mainly to force my square-peg method into the round-hole solutions of Edmodo or spreadsheet record-keeping), but always end up drifting back to what works best for me – a document for each student which lists the outcomes, and allows me to record when and how often they demonstrate their understanding of these outcomes.

Getting back to the staff meeting conversation… I began to reflect on my understanding of grade allocation.  Three years ago, when I was team-teaching with a colleague in a Year 6/7 class, I redeveloped my assessment techniques to produce an “Outcomes for Assessment” document so we were both on the same page with assessment.  It followed the reporting guidelines at the time – students working AT their year level were a “C”, students working in aspects of the year above were a “B”, students demonstrating success in all (or most) of the year above were an “A”.  My document outlined the outcomes necessary for each student both above and beyond their year level (eg a Year 7 student would have Year 6, 7 and 8 outcomes listed), so I could record achievement of At, Above and if necessary, below so I could demonstrate where a student was sitting and what they needed to do to move forward.

It worked, and I was happy.  Come reporting time, my document showed very clearly which students were at a Year 7 level, and which students were above and below.  And I hadn’t really changed in in three years except to re-create it to reflect the Australian Curriculum outcomes for English, Maths, Science and History.  I even adapted one for the draft Geography outcomes just to see how it fit.

So, heading to the DOE Curriculum Support page, I was a little shocked to see that I sat in the “wrong” corner of my grade allocation thinking.  I felt a little cheated… why hadn’t anyone told me!!! More to to point, why hadn’t I kept abreast with things and checked more regularly to see if what I was doing was correct? My bad.  This document was updated in May 2012, so I actually missed the boat for last semester’s reports…

Department of Education Grade Descriptors

A  – Excellent
The student demonstrates achievement that has greatly exceeded the expected standard. Their achievement is well beyond what is expected at this year level.

B – Good
The student demonstrates achievement that exceeds the expected standard.

C – Satisfactory
The student demonstrates achievement at the expected standard. The student is able to progress to the next level of learning.

D – Limited
The student demonstrates achievement below the expected standard. The student demonstrates a quality of learning that is adequate for progression but will still need additional support or assistance to progress.

E – Very Low
The student demonstrates achievement below the minimum acceptable for this year level.

And more to the point, this extract from the Frequently Asked Questions section:

Assessment Overview (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment Overview, based on Australian Curriculum – 2011

[quote]In order to gain an understanding of what constitutes an A or B in a year level, should I refer to the C Grade Descriptors and A-E Exemplars in the year above the one I teach?
No. The award of a final grade in each learning area is dependent on content knowledge and an understanding of the concepts, and competence in processes and skills relevant to that particular year level. For example, a student does not need to be achieving at a year 7 level to be awarded a grade of A in year 6. A grade A (excellent) in year 6 should be determined by the work done in that particular year only. The awarding of an A or B does not necessarily indicate that a student is working at the year level above, rather it indicates that they are exceeding the standard set for the year level they are in.[/quote]
Outcomes for Assessment (2011)

Electronic Outcomes for Assessment input sheet, 2011

These are very different interpretations, and require different thinking about assessment and reporting.  My first thoughts were that it doesn’t change my classroom teaching methodology at all – I’m still scaffolding my students like I always do – but what I’m measuring and the feedback I’m providing to my students and parents is going to need to change.

I began researching.  I found very, very little on-line conversations from West Australian teachers about their interpretations.  Victorian teachers from my understanding were making the same transition. My big question still remained however: What measures can I use to indicate my student is exceeding the standard set for the year level?

The Department only puts out C Grade Descriptors. Am I again to be left to my own judgement to decide what constitutes an A or a B?  I think my answer has come from (somewhat remarkably), a parent forum at, by the user HOWDO (09/06/12 12:12pm):

In all cases a grade is given against the year level they are working at. As are given for higher knowledge and understanding and application to the learning in new contexts.

For example completing a sheet of multiplication algorithms is not a new context. It is showing that the students can repeat the same operation in the same way and perform multiplication. Using multiplication to solve a problem involving a new situation/s and scenarios enables the child to show higher order thinking skills and *that* is actually what is expected at grade level. The more you show you understand this grade level expectation and in more complex ways the more likely you are to move to As and Bs.

The General Capabilities are what students are required to demonstrate understanding and a high level of competence in to receive an A grade. So in mathematics, to get an A, students will be able to compare, contrast, evaluate and so on and demonstrate that understanding in new contexts. It will still be at year level however in that if the requirement at year level is to work up to 10 (Foundation) then the child doesn’t get an A simple because they can count to 100. Getting a A involves being able to work with the numerals 0-9 and count correctly, subitise, connect them to the names in words and use the numbers in increasingly complex ways and in new situations. For example if a child can count to ten and point to each numeral and word as you ask them they are working at D level. There is no new application there. If they can talk about, explain and apply their number knowledge to a new situation, for example count the number of spots on a ladybug out in the garden, then they are beginning to work at C level. When they start to talk about how many is in one group and how that differs to how many is in another group and find number in the world, subitise in real life situations then they are beginning to work above C level. They are still working with the same set of numbers and skills but applying them in increasingly different ways and in new situations.

This appears to me to link closely to what the WA Department documents are stating, and give me some direction for not only how to incorporate the General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum into my planning and assessment.  It is time to change rewrite my “Outcomes for Assessment” document to reflect this thinking, and this could well be the direction to take.

In Year 6, students MUST BE ABLE TO:  achieve this aspect
In Year 6, students MIGHT BE ABLE TO: apply it to these contexts
If students apply this aspect to some of the contexts, they are exceeding the expected standard.  If they can apply it to all or most of the contexts, their achievement is well beyond what is expected at that year level. A diagnostic plotting map like this would allow me to identify where my students need improvement, and target students’ next progression.
Questions that arise from this reflection:
  1. Am I on the right track?  Will this allow me to correctly assess and report on my students according to the West Australian Department of Education guidelines?
  2. The General Capabilities are organised into bi-yearly statements – does this affect how I should view Year 5 or 7 achievements?
  3. Is this a valid use of the General Capabilities?
  4. Is there a concern that this style of assessment “caps” the learning of students?  Will teachers stop teaching gifted students content from above their year level because they look to find more and more contexts for the students to demonstrate achievement in?

feature image source: wikimedia

Academic Profile Assessment Tool

A key focus of my student records is trying to make the process as seamless as possible from assessment to reporting to parents. Over the last few years, I’ve developed my assessment process, and this year, adapted it to the Australian Curriculum.

I start each year with the student reports from the year before.  The WA Department of Education guidelines stipulate that a “C” grade is awarded when a student achieves all outcomes for their year level.  A “B” grade is awarded when a student also shows evidence of achieving outcomes from the year level above. An “A” grade is awarded when a student achieves all outcomes from the the year level above.  Based on this feedback, I am able to make a start on filling in a student’s academic profile.


Science Academic Profile
English Academic Profile
History Academic Profile

Through the course of the year, each time a student demonstrates an outcome, I place a tick in the box, and when I have seen enough evidence, stamp the outcome “Completed”.

As I prepare for semester and end-of-year reports, a quick glance at the stamps and ticks allows me to make a quick assessment of a student’s grade.  I also use the academic profiles during student-teacher conferences when discussing with students the outcomes they have achieved, and areas that require more evidence.

Microsoft Word DOCX versions (with Mailmerge XLS file with class list to print a class set of profiles), and OSX Numbers electronic versions are available on request.

feature image source: DaveCrosby @ flickr

Student-Led eFolios

Improving student assessment

Through my reflections, I’ve identified that my assessment is an area that could be improved upon.

That’s not to say I don’t assess; some at my school would say that my assessment records are even over the top!  However, reading through the Level 3 Teacher competencies, I can’t help but feel that I’ve become pigeon-holed in the range of assessment types I offer to my students.  With the advent of all the technology in my room, such as the TurningPoint system, and the use of Google Doc forms, a lot of my assessment has become test-driven, rather than opportunities through rich tasks.

Competency 2: Employ  consistent exemplary practice in developing and implementing student assessment and reporting processes.

Digging further into this competency are two key points:

1. Uses a range of appropriate assessment strategies: Provides a range of planed, meaningful opportunities for students to demonstrate progress and autonomous and consistent achievement of outcomes, using valid and reliable assessment methodology.

2. Provides explicit information about student assessment: Negotiates explicit criteria with students for assessment, based on intended learning outcomes and provides formative information to enhance student and teacher reflection.

Thus the idea of an eFolio appeals to me on a number of levels – one, it should encourage me to plan for a wider variety of assessment forms; two, it will give my students a greater opportunity to take control of their own self-evaluations.

What are the eFolio options?

I’m very familiar with the WordPress platform, and my initial thought was to use that… but would that be too much extra work?  Would the extra time spent using it in class mean better outcomes for my students?  So I made a short-list of possible options for student folios:

  • WordPress
  • traditional display folder/scrapbook
  • PowerPoint
  • Publisher
  • Word
  • Google Documents

My wife is an early-childhood  teacher, and I’ve seen the hours and hours of extra work that goes into producing “traditional” paper-style portfolios… usually by the teacher (especially in PrePrimary)! I also don’t want the students’ folios to be simply work sample books – I want them to show continuity, reflection and growth – and be truly student-centred pieces, and I’m worried that by going this route, student work sample books is what we may well end up with.

The Microsoft Office and Google Documents options also did not appeal… the file would become cumbersome over a year, and would not allow the flexibility of adding video or audio easily into the files (and keep the file size minimal!).

The Shanghai American School approach

WordPress appears to be the best option.  But have any other educators had success in using WordPress? How do they use it?  One of the first blogs I came across was The Thinking Stick, by Jeff Utecht.  His article, True eFolios for students, outlined how he drove a whole-school approach toward each student having a wordpress-based eFolio, at Shanghai American School.  A student example can be found here.

In summary, Utecht approach towards this was that:

  • every middle-school student had a blog that was visible to the whole Internet;
  • by making the blogs public, it gave students a powerful sense of writing for an audience;
  • blogs run in chronological order, following the school year, making it a perfect vehicle;
  • students set up categories in subject areas, allowing for quick reference to specific areas;
  • students used a “Student-Led Conference” category to refine a range of posts that they could  use at parent meetings.

Adapting the ideas to my classroom

On balance, I wholeheartedly agree with the Shanghai American School approach – the concept of students being able to quickly pull a reflection from three years earlier, and compare it to a current one is brilliant – what better way for students to measure their own growth?  In my classroom, students should be able to do the same thing, even if only over the course of the single school year, before they move on to high school.

I would happily dedicate sections of the school day or week to students reflecting in-class.  The opportunity for students to record themselves reading in Term One, and again in Term Three, and reflect themselves on improvements in fluency and understanding of the texts they are reading have the potential to be extremely powerful.

My only reservation is the public nature of the eFolios.  The Department of Education has clear guidelines and expectations around student images and the like on the public domain, which would have the potential to severely impinge the types of information that could be posted.  I would also think twice about feedback I wrote on the blog, in the form of comments.  On the other hand, I also agree that a degree of “writing for an audience” is essential to maintaining enthusiasm and vision.  It would be a wonderful experience if students got into the habit of being able to go home each evening and log onto their eFolio to show their parents how they were going at school.

This is a question that needs to be tackled in conjunction with the parents and administration.  I feel we can get past the issue by individually password-protecting the blogs – allowing students to share a password with people they trust (i.e. family members), but keeping the general public out of information that is potentially confidential.  It would also require clear explanation to the parent group to get permission to go ahead with the project.

If the general feeling within the school is that it is too much a risk to student privacy, then the next option would be hosting the WordPress sites on the school Intranet, thereby restricting students’ ability to reflect out of school hours, but ensuring student privacy.

In summary

I believe student-led eFolios have the potential to truly enrich my students’ learning.  Half of my class (whom I will teach again next year), are already familiar with WordPress, which will make the upskilling a combination of teacher-led learning and peer tutoring.

Down the track, I believe it also has the potential for students to drive their own learning – by looking back on the outcomes they have covered so far, and identifying the outcomes that they would like to focus on next, and then through teacher-student conferences, develop activities and rich tasks that will help them achieve those outcomes… but let’s get the whole thing off the ground first, eh!?!

Feature image source: wikipedia