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Important work? Yes. Highly recommended? No.
on 23 October 2014
Before I bought and read Visible Learning for Teachers, I read some reviews, mentally endorsing the positive and dismissing the negative as being written by anti-intellectual teachers looking for no more than ideas to put into practice on Monday morning. However, the negative reviewers really do have a point. The research which Hattie describes and distills, both his own and the many other studies of what works best in schools is undoubtedly very important. The idea of effect size and the key message, summed up in the three simple words "Know your impact", should be the basis for the change of mindset which Hattie advocates in both individual teachers and whole schools. The book also has very good pieces of advice, thoroughly practical and implementable, scattered throughout (put the "hook" at the end, not the beginning of the lesson; start off with a test before any teaching; don't give feedback intended for one student to the whole class - it will be heard by none). Yet despite this I encountered a sense of incoherence in the book. I felt that I was standing by Prof. Hattie's desk randomly picking up ideas written on index cards. The major section of book does follow a lesson sequence (preparing, starting, flow and end of lesson), but when reading I found it hard to identify any developing argument or be aware of what section I was reading. Also contributing to this experience of incoherence was the way that the same works can be discussed more than once in different parts of the book with no reference being made to the fact that the writer has previously introduced these ideas.
The main reason why I would not wholeheartedly recommend this book to colleagues is not, however, the incoherence. It is more the way that Hattie's "solutions" frequently present an unbridgeable chasm for classroom teachers, requiring more than just a change of personal mindset, but also a change in the way schools are organized (to give, for example, more collaborative planning time). In fact the final "mind frames" part of the book seems to be directed more at school leaders than teachers. Certainly more so than ought to be the case in a book with "for teachers" in the title! In addition, the solutions can be so frustratingly opaque. Take this example: In citing work identifying right and wrong "drivers" of change, Hattie gives one of the wrong drivers as "assuming that technology will carry the day". Fine. I can get that. But what are the right drivers? The first is "creating a powerful centrality of the learning-instruction-assessment nexus". I'm sorry, but that does not move me forward at all.
However, despite the reservations, when I look though the notes I made on the book I realize that it is a rich source of interesting and powerful ideas, and will merit re-reading. A good book? Yes. Important work? Undoubtedly. A "must-read" for classroom teachers? No, I wouldn't say so.