Visible Learning for Mathematics

Visible Learning for Mathematics, K-12
by John Hattie et al
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This book is based on John Hattie’s research into making learning visible. Since 2009, he has compiled a database of educational studies to determine the impact of various educational influences on student achievement. His research is based on over 70,000 studies of 300,000 students and he has used this data to determine “effect sizes” that allow us to assess how important a given practice is for improving student achievement. In this book, the authors look at this research through a mathematical lens to determine effective practices for improving mathematics achievement.

The book is organized around three levels of learning: surface learning, deep learning and transfer learning. The book looks at effective instructional practices to support learning at each of these three levels.

Surface learning is defined as the important introductory phase of learning around a concept. It is not shallow learning – surface learning is not synonymous with rote skills and meaningless algorithms – it is helping students to begin to develop conceptual understanding and situating vocabulary and labels that will help students give their new understanding structure. This phase needs to include opportunities for students to consolidate understanding so they can retrieve information efficiently and use it for more complex tasks. Hattie et al remind us that while surface learning is essential, it is also essential to ensure that our students do not get stalled here – they need to use their knowledge to develop a deep understanding of concepts (deep learning) and to transfer this to new and novel situations (transfer learning). One chapter of the book is devoted to each of these levels of learning with instructional ideas and classroom examples (including video) embedded throughout.

In addition to focussing on these three levels of learning, the book also provides an in-depth focus on improving teacher clarity and learning intentions, using mathematical talk, effectively designing tasks and implementing assessment practices that are effective in supporting student learning.

This book also highlights the need for precision teaching – defined as knowing what strategies to implement when for maximum impact. The authors recognize that there is no “one right way” to teach mathematics and argue that teachers need to have a wide variety of instructional practices and need to know their students well. We know that effective teaching makes a huge impact on student learning, and this book helps us to think more systematically about some of the decisions that effective teachers make.

I found many take-aways in this book – having the research distilled into effect sizes for various instructional practices really highlights some things that should be a key focus in math class. Several practices that I intend to focus on in my classroom are: classroom discourse/discussion, self-reported grades, providing formative evaluation and feedback. This text provides a foundation for teacher self-reflection and improvement and provides concrete examples and suggestions for improving teaching practice.

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