Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More Value For Your Tech Dollar?

We spend a significant amount of money on technology at our school.  We are weeks away from having digital projectors in every classroom.  We have pods of android tablets for each of our departments, we have a couple of classrooms with interactive whiteboards. We are transforming our library into a learning commons that will be rich with opportunities for technological access for our staff and students.  We have created a Learning Coach to grow the culture of our faculty and students using technology to augment teaching and learning.  We have wi-fi access in nearly every part of our building.  We are moving in this direction because we believe that it will make a difference in creating teachers and learners who are both highly engaged and better prepared to meet the rapidly changing world around us.  It is positive. 

But does come at a cost.  

And yet if someone asked me whether it was really making a positive difference to student achievement, at this point, my honest answer would be “I think so, but I’m not sure.”.  I just don’t have the research or data to qualify or quantify positive or negative effects on any level at this point.

Two weeks ago, I was in Phoenix at the Professional Learning Communities Summit, and I was pleased to see that one of my all time favorite educational reads, Visible Learning by John Hattie#, was referenced on dozens of occasions throughout a number of different sessions.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about this amazing synthesis of research on factors relating to student achievement:  I referred to this book as educational “B.S. repellent” because it allows the reader to access endless amounts of research on the effects of different educational strategies rather than solely relying upon the “what works for me” style of endorsement.

After the conference, I decided to re-read Visible Learning through the lens of searching for high-yield strategies to improve pedagogical practice.  If you have not read the book, Hattie defines a term called the "hinge point"--this is the point at which it can be said that a factor or innovation has a significant impact on student achievement, and is the average #impact of all of the factors/innovations in the six categories of student, home, school, teacher, curricula, and teaching.  The numerical value of this "hinge point" is 0.4.  Hattie goes on to say that we need to find strategies that go beyond these typical effects at the hinge point:  high-yield practices that move into the “zone of desired effects.  As a frame of reference, the factor with the highest impact on student had a value of 1.44, and the factor with the lowest (and in fact deleterious) effect was -0.34.  

After re-reading much of the book, several strategies jumped out at me:

Teacher Education Programs
Description:  The teacher training that occurs at colleges and universities.

What the research says:  Of the 138 factors of the meta-analyses done, this was ranked as #124 in terms of effectiveness (low), and had a impact factor of 0.11, well below the hinge point of showing notable positive impacts in student achievement.  This is based on the meta-analyses of more than 50 studies.

My thoughts: While they might be potentially effective, I should not be solely reliant upon teacher training programs to create teachers who are effective in improving student achievement in their classes right out of the gate.  This does not come as a complete surprise:  my own experiences with teacher training in university were quite limited in scope.  In speaking to colleagues, the common phrase that I come across is “my teacher training did nothing to prepare me for the classroom”.  In talking to our student teachers who do practicums at our school, th#ese sentiments are echoed.  Perhaps this might be harsh, however, the ineffectiveness of teacher education programs seems to be a common perception.

Description: Hattie describes the process of micro-teaching in more detail: ”Micro-teaching typically involves student-teachers conducting  (mini-) lessons to a small group of students, and then engaging in a post-discussion about the lessons.”#.

What the research says:
Of the 138 factors, this strategy ranks #4 (high) in effectiveness for improving student achievement according to the analysis of more than 400 studies.  

My thoughts:  This doesn’t surprise me at all, and to me, this can apply to all members of the educational community, not just student teachers.  Newer teachers, master teachers, even administrators could all benefit from this sort of intensive look at their practices.

Providing Formative Evaluation

Description: Giving feedback to teachers on the purposes of innovations, fostering a willingness to find evidence on where all students are doing well and not so well, and cultivating a curiosity and openness to provide new experiences for their students.

What the research says:  Out of 138 effects, this ranks as #3 (high) over meta-analyses of 30 studies of more than 3800 people.

My thoughts:  Again, this doesn’t surprise me.  But how can we give quality, consistent, rapid and formative feedback to our teachers within the school day?  We have our collaborative time, and in the last six years since we have placed this time for teachers to work together in our timetable along with our intervention strategies, we have seen a consistent drop in our failure rates.  

Failure rates continue to drop!

Yet in terms of our groups being able to drill down to the pedagogical practices that most effectively lead to the learning of the skills that we want for our students, we still struggle to provide those authentic opportunities.  Hmmm....

So what if we created a mechanism that allowed teachers to get this rapid feedback?  That made allowances for those staff members who were very comfortable being observed teaching their lessons as well as those who were a bit more unsure about having peers observe them?  And considering what we spend on technology, what if we invested some of our technology dollars in a different way that allowed for these research-based, high-yield strategies to occur? 

What if we gave teachers the opportunity to see themselves teach?  What if we equipped a classroom with three or four closed-circuit cameras from various vantage points that could show the actions of the students and the teachers?   With microphones that would allow teachers to hear what they are saying to students, and remember what students were saying in response?  What if we equipped this space with an interactive whiteboard that would allow teachers to recall the points that they might have put on the board, the multimedia pieces that they utilized to emphasize points, and the methods by which they engaged students?  

And once we created this space that we called a Learning Lab (or something way cooler), what if the teacher was able to book into this Learning Lab, record their lessons for themselves, and then go home and reflect upon their practice through the lens of a problem of practice (like that in the Instructional Rounds process described here)  that they wanted to pursue.  And once they became comfortable with that, they could share their lesson(s) with a colleague to look at through a similar lens.  Then with their department if they became even more comfortable.  And what if these sorts of observations became the topic for collaborative team meetings?


I am going to investigate this concept of a Learning Lab.  I am certain these spaces exist already, and I think such a space has the potential to bring together all of the pieces for our school around our collaborative teams and reflecting on positive practices.

And I think this might be a way to invest some of our tech dollars in a highly effective, research-based set of strategies that actually can change the learning environment for kids and teachers.

If you know of such a space, or have other ideas about this type of a space and what could be included, please comment!  


  1. Hey Pal,

    Check this out:


    Good bit from Larry Ferlazzo.

    Hope you're well,

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