Why ‘That Really Works’ is Never Enough

What do we mean when we say that something ‘worked in the class? After reading Dylan Wiliam’s ‘Embedded Effective Assessment’ and John  Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ it is a question which I’ve been considering a great deal lately. It could be a lesson that seemed to work. It could be a new strategy or a new resource or a text; or something that produced good work. But we do that don’t we. We tell colleagues that this ‘thing’ really worked and we would definitely recommend it. The trouble is, how do we know? How do we know that it really worked and what was the purpose in the first place?

When we construct (hopefully) excellent lessons for our students do we consider the criteria that will convince us that some thing ‘worked’? I’m not merely talking about success criteria here, which are important but not everything. If our classes achieve great exam results, can we say that it ‘worked’? If you collect in a set of excellent essays can you say that it ‘worked’? If it keeps that difficult class busy for forty five minutes, can we say that it ‘worked’? It worries me that, in essence, much of my blog seems to be about this topic.

If you think about it, in the context of education, our definitions of the word ‘effective’ can often be very vague. It can mean all of the above. It can mean there was some really good learning today. However, even that, out of context, is fairly difficult to gauge in the long term. I’ve been guilty of doing that at times. I blog about great lessons I’ve taught, great projects and great strategies but where I think I’ve failed is that I too often talk about the process rather than the outcomes. And when I say outcomes I mean real student learning, not a ticked box. So I’ve come to realise that it’s not enough to talk about shiny lessons; I need to talk about how students have learned from them. As Hattie says:

‘What is most important is that teaching is visible to the student, and that the learning is visible to the teacher.’

(Visible Learning for Teachers, p17)

Having jazzy lessons is all well and good, and I’m not deriding the glitzy lesson, but I’ve been thinking more about the effects of that. Not merely that students have responded to the lesson and successfully achieved the criteria for learning, but they have developed as learners and seen why the information and skills they have been working on are important to their lives. We can al tell tales of when we were on the top of our game in classroom and everything seemed to be clicking; but we never really know when it’s clicking for every kid in the class.

So we should be asking that question of each other in the staffroom. How did that work? What do we mean by ‘worked’? What makes something ‘effective’? It might prove to be the most effective CPD we could have. But what do I mean by effective….?

3 thoughts on “Why ‘That Really Works’ is Never Enough

  1. I completely agree – read them both in quick succession and felt the same. That ‘gut reaction’ or ‘feeling’ isn’t always realible, because our subjective view isn’t always borne out by the students’ learning. We are all creatures of habit and, with the best of intentions, we want to think that our habits work well.

    The issue is the time it takes to gain the evidence: student data and assessed work; student voice, peer observation etc. all take time. We are staring an iPad pilot this year and I want a really accurate picture of evidence so I think I will focus upon that, using a control group etc.

    It’s strange – I started to feel a bit Ben Goldacre with all the meta-analysis business! It didn’t sit right at first, being an English teacher, but it was similar to getting to grips with statistics and data analysis a few years ago. I actually quite enjoy all that now!

  2. Great post.
    Another major factor is the short-term nature of individual lessons. You can have a ‘great lesson’ that feels good but ten months on, what is the impact? A lot of the ‘longer term’ learning is not simply about conceptual understanding/skills (although that varies a lot across different ‘subject’ areas) but about the values, emotions, relationships, attitudes to and skills in learning that underpin a consistent longer term series of lessons.

  3. Pingback: The Final Countdown « callmeresponsible

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