How does one become a lifelong learner? How do we develop a love of learning? Hattie, Fisher and Frey (2017) argue that making learning visible assists teachers and students to become lifelong learners with a love of learning. I am proud to say that I am a lifelong learner (as signified in the name of my blog).
After reading the first chapter of Visible Learning for Mathematics, I spent some time considering how my passion for learning came about. I came to the conclusion that I was lucky enough to enter a profession that I love: one that involves constant re-invigoration and one with which I have a natural affinity. I was also lucky to have two brilliant mentors in my education: my English teacher in year 11 and 12 (Mrs Kay Gardiner) and my Children’s Literature lecturer when I completed my Bachelor of Education (Professor Kerry Mallan).
The above-mentioned ladies were instrumental in my love for English and literature and yet I ended up spending four years of my career specialising in numeracy and mathematics. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have always loved the challenge of mathematics but was never very successful in my P-12 grades. My experiences were very much ‘chalk and talk’ and the learning of procedures and formulas. I then struggled when it came to applying those procedures and formulas in a test.
Hattie, Fisher and Frey stress the importance of teachers erasing many of the ways they were taught mathematics and replacing this with intentional instruction, collaborative learning opportunities, rich discussions about mathematical concepts, excitement and persistence when solving complex problems, and applying ideas to situations and problems that matter. I can certainly concur with that – my understandings, application (and marks) would have improved considerably in a classroom such as this.
The first chapter of Hattie, Fisher and Frey’s book looks at making learning visible for both students and teachers; the debate between direct instruction and dialogic approaches; and the balance of surface, deep and transfer learning.
Hattie, Fisher and Frey write that visible learning:
- helps teachers identify the attributes and influences that work.
- helps teachers better understand their impact on the learning of their students.
- helps students become their own teachers.
When it comes to the two approaches of direct instruction and dialogic, both focus on students’ conceptual understanding and procedural fluency and neither advocates memorising formulas and procedures. Both models suggest:
- designing mathematical instruction around rigorous mathematical tasks.
- monitoring student reasoning.
- providing many opportunities for skill- and application-based experiences.
Differences include types of tasks, role of classroom discussion, collaborative learning and role of feedback. Hattie, Fisher and Frey (2017) have put together an explicit table that explores the similarities and differences of both approaches and how ‘knowing what strategies to implement when for maximum impact‘ is precision teaching (p26).The authors state that it is not a choice of one approach over the other. Both have a role to play throughout the learning process but in different ways.
Finally, Hattie, Fisher and Frey address the balance of surface, deep and transfer learning. Surface learning provides the toolbox of conceptual understandings, procedural skills and vocabulary and labels of a new topic. It helps students develop metacognitive skills and can be used to address student misconceptions and errors. Students need this toolbox but there is often an over reliance on surface learning and the goal is much more.
Deep learning is where students begin to consolidate understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures and begin to make connections among ideas. This is often accomplished when students work collaboratively, use academic language and interact in deeper ways with ideas and information.
Transfer learning is the ultimate goal. Students have the ability to take the lead in their own learning and apply thinking to new contexts and situations. They are self-directed with the disposition to formulate their own questions and the tools to pursue the answers.
As a classroom teacher, I was eclectic. I believe I used different pedagogical practices and had a balance of direct and dialogic approaches but it was more instinctive rather than intentional and precise. I believe I spent too long in the surface learning. Deep and transfer learning would have happened to some degree but I don’t believe it was always intentional.
As teachers, we have choices. Understanding these phases of learning assists us to make instructional choices that will impact student learning in a positive way. Hattie, Fisher and Frey’s text helps with precision teaching and my next blog will look at the second chapter that focuses on teacher clarity. Until then…