John Hattie’s meta-study, Visible Learning (2009), changed the way we think about what works in the classroom. His analysis of 50,000 educational studies involving more than 80 million students gave us vital information about the relative effectiveness of different teaching practices on student achievement. However, all of these great practices were so numerous and time-consuming that successfully implementing visible learning was often overwhelming for teachers—but can today’s technology mitigate those time concerns?

Why Teachers Should Turn to Visible Learning

Visible Learning changed our practices away from activities that are actually harmful, like grade retention. It changed our beliefs about things like ability grouping and whole language reading, showing their impact to be negligible. And it gave us guidance about which classroom practices we should embrace, like Response to Intervention (RtI) or acceleration, because they provide the most benefit to students.

Yet, historically, the most effective teaching practices have also been among the most time-intensive for teachers to implement—and it’s not as if teachers don’t have enough to do.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average public school teacher in 1991 spent 46.3 hours working. 2012 data showed we’re closer to 53 hours, but the number of instructional hours in a school day hasn’t changed. That means the administrative overhead of teaching increased almost 41 percent (given 30 instruction hours in a week, on the higher end).

How can we ask teachers to spend even more time outside contract hours?

Using Today’s Technology to Make Visible Learning Easy

In short, we can’t (or shouldn’t, if we care about teacher retention).

However, the advancements of the Information Age have shifted what’s possible in teaching and learning. Since Hattie first published his analysis of research going back to the 1980s, our world has changed substantially. Technology is now ubiquitous, and most of our students today would consider our 80’s technology to be a hardship similar to that of walking the Oregon Trail (like an actual pioneer, not like the 1970’s video game).

The Apple App Store wasn’t invented until 2008, the iPhone in 2007, Google Maps in 2005, Facebook in 2004—before 1999, most laptops didn’t even have wifi. Now there are internet-connected devices in almost every classroom.

What once wasn’t possible for a single teacher to manage has entered the realm of the possible, if we’re deliberate and thoughtful about the interventions and tools we use.

(Next page: 3 tools and interventions for easy visible learning)

3 Tools and Interventions for Easy Visible Learning

1. Software for RtI: Consider one of Hattie’s top performers, Response to Intervention. RtI once required binders full of intervention plans and folders full of tracking graphs to manage. Now we have software to make content searchable and shareable, not to mention data tracking tools that graph progress over time (with slope) for us. What once took teams of educators, reams of paper and hours of time can be done with the click of a trackpad.

2. Personalized Learning Programs: Another impactful intervention is acceleration. It’s a given that our classrooms are not homogenous. Each student progresses through curriculum differently and we know the ideal would be to individualize time, place, path or pace for each student. In the past, we’ve been hampered by our ability to manage 30 different students’ learning pathways. Many of us would provide depth or breadth material for students to consume in isolation. Today, software scaffolds our teachers’ professional insights by allowing students to move through pre-planned, rich, engaging and rigorous curriculum when the individual student is ready without requiring the teacher to pause the whole class.

3. Online Learning: Finally, consider classroom discussion. Hattie’s research made clear that peer discussions are one of the most impactful activities that can happen in a classroom, but the management overhead for teachers can still be daunting. How do we ensure everyone participates, is engaged, stays on task, doesn’t become a behavior problem and feels safe expressing their views? A typical class period might only allow enough time for a handful of students to speak out loud. Online forums, however, enable the kind of back-channel chat where everyone can have a voice. We can even extend the discussion outside regular class hours and beyond the walls of the school.

Our teachers and students do so many amazing things in our classrooms every day. We also do a lot of things just because we’ve always done them that way.

Our challenge today is to take what Hattie has shown us works best and examine our practices in the light of what’s newly possible. Small shifts day-to-day could lead to dramatically enhanced achievement for students and better work-life balance for teachers.

Not a bad deal, when you think about it.

About the Author:

Hilary Scharton is VP of K–12 at Instructure.