John Hattie Debunked

Teachers are often lectured in their professional development about researchers who claim to have found the Holy Grail in education: that magical panacea that will make all students learn and achieve brilliantly on tests.

One such researcher is Dr. John Hattie, a New Zealand professor who spent decades formulating theories and testing them on lab-rat classroom children until he came up with his Visible Learning approach to teaching. He has written several books on the topic, all of which can be found at https://visible-learning.org/category/books/. He is perhaps most famous for his 252 influences and effect sizes that determine achievement. (https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/) I’d compare his ideas to those of a snake oil salesman.

According to one analyst, “ No one should replicate [Hattie’s] methodology because we must never accept pseudoscience”. (Pierre-Jerome Bergeron, 2017). Many others have debunked Hattie’s research, as well, yet lots of school districts hold firm to his ideas. Perhaps because it’s embarrasing to admit you made a mistake. What a different world we would live in if more people did that. Admit their mistakes, I mean.

But I digress. John Hattie’s Visible Learning is just one reason teachers roll their eyes at professional development: it often ignores the obvious — what we see in the classroom. Yet we must sit in our meetings and pretend we aren’t gagging.

So just what is Visible Learning? In addition to those 252 effects on achievement, VL is a catchy phrase that can be boiled down to “make everything you’re doing and why you’re doing it obvious to students”. On the surface, this sounds good. In practice, maybe not so much. Here’s an example of what Visible Learning says elementary teachers should post in their classrooms daily:

Visible Learning

This chart is taken from my own classroom circa 2013. The Learning Goals represent the district’s curriculum document. The Learning Targets are decided upon in collaborative planning with one’s grade-level colleagues, and the Success Criteria (also decided upon in collaborative planning) are what students are expected to do in order to share their understanding of the material.

If you’re a 4th grader (or worse, a 6th grader), how much do you really care about the Learning Goals? This chart ends up looking like someone decided an essay response was necessary to a simple question like “Can I use the bathroom?”

The real purpose for Visible Learning appears to be two-fold:

Research Hattie for yourself, using the websites above as a starter. Then search for John Hattie Critiques, and you’ll find a plethora, including this that I used in my book: https://ollieorange2.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/people-who-think-probabilities-can-be-negative-shouldnt-write-books-on-statistics/

Education researchers and politicians have done their best to mislead everyone into thinking learning issues can be solved with “cutting-edge” recipes for success and legislation that requires teachers to do things other than teach.

I wrote my book Chaos in Our Schools after several years of dealing with deplorable education research touted as sacrosant and evaluation policies that encourage fraud (yes, FRAUD). And yes, there is a chapter detailing the flaws with Visible Learning.

Now on Amazon

You can find Chaos in Our Schools on Amazon. Listening to what those in the trenches have to say is a really good way to find out what’s going on in our classrooms. Listening to “researchers” who set up sound stage classrooms…not so much. That’s like asking a trust fund kid what his favorite bank is — you won’t get any result that surprises you.

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T.L. Zempel

Author of two books about education, one a novel and the other definitely not. Visit me at www.SchoolMattersFoundation.org.