Recently, Chris Smyth posted an interesting blog on Twitter via @smythww. It was titled “Is the meta–analysis of John Hattie really relevant for today’s secondary school teachers?” The full blog can be found at
Chris’s blog was posted after John Hattie and Deborah Masters presented over 200 leaders and teachers of schools in the Wagga Wagga Diocese of Catholic schools. The presentation reminded us of factors which have the greatest effect on student achievement in classrooms across the world. We were reminded regularly that the ‘effect size’ should be 0.4 or greater before we consider it as worthwhile. I commend Chris for taking the time to offer his thoughtful, reflective and, at times, provocative analysis of the data that was presented to us. It assisted with my reflection of the day and also resulted this follow up to Chris’s blog.
Firstly, Chris writes, “Hattie loves to tell the teacher audiences that class size has a 0.2 effect size when a positive effect should be greater than the average of 0.4. The contradictory looks of the 200 odd audience of teachers is enough to tell you that there are questions about this meta-analysis in the hearts and minds of young and experienced teachers alike.” Class sizes essentially are determined after extensive conversations held during Enterprise Agreement talks every three years. So, to an extent, schools and teachers will always have class sizes dictated to them.
The bigger the class the harder it is to ‘get around’ and provide regular, consistent and effective feedback. Therefore, the focus should be on ‘feedback’ with an effect size of 1.13; “Wow”! Chris writes, “Hattie’s preoccupation with learning intentions, success criteria and feedback is extremely positive.” The key is, as Hattie argues, “to build assessment capable learners”, probably through formative assessment (0.75). I look back at the (three-year) drive at our school on ‘quality assessment’ (more so on summative than formative), and acknowledge the increased learning among teachers as they talked and learnt from each other. Why couldn’t that model be replicated among students with a specific focus on formative assessment? Imagine the increased feedback within one classroom given by many rather than just one, the teacher.
Overall, I believe Hattie’s research to be strongly credible. I would be an idiot to say otherwise; after all, it is hard to argue with its validity considering the extensive nature of it. However, ultimately my concern about Hattie’s research is that the vast majority of it dates back decades with the majority of it referring to the ‘old paradigm of education’. This is confirmed when (as Chris reminded me) Hattie stated, “Learning is just bloody hard work and ‘engagement’ is a word used by those that think learning should be fun”. Hhhhhhmmmm.
The ‘new paradigm of education’ which includes agile learning spaces, mixed mode education, connected learning approaches and even online education, hardly got a mention. I did hear the word collaboration regularly throughout the day, but again, there was little input around ‘student choice and pace of learning’ and even less about ‘critical thinking, innovation and creativity’. I know the cynics may roll their eyes at the mention of these ‘buzz words of 21st century education’; however, emerging research from places such as the OECD research unit and P21 in the USA, strongly argue these 21st century skills (not content!) are required by students for future employees as they embark upon a very changeable future working life that will require a lot more than just finding answers on their phone, tablet or laptop.