What curriculum should be used for effective instruction?
Should professional development be included when implementing a new program?
What will have the most impact on student learning?
These are questions that all teachers and administrators have asked when making instructional decisions, particularly when deciding on a new curriculum. The value of asking these kinds of questions lies in the due diligence it requires to make the right decision because making the wrong decision is costly. John Hattie, a researcher in education and esteemed author has synthesized over 15 years of research in his Visible Learning resources to provide educators with a variety of factors to consider (https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/Influences). Studying the positive indicators of influence on student achievement, allows educators the ability to make empowered decisions about curriculum programming.
Hattie’s research looked at the many facets of education from the physical structure, student body make-up, family environment and styles of learning to teacher competence, teaching and learning strategies and technology. Several of these factors had little to no influence on learning, while others had the potential to considerably accelerate learning. What was surprising was that the most common debates in education; money, class size, and charter schools had little to no impact on student learning. What he did find, however, was that a collective teacher efficacy, a shared belief by a group of teachers that they have the skills to impact student outcomes, had the potential to considerably accelerate student performance. Additionally, he noted several instructional strategies that have the potential to positively influence student outcomes.
The ability to summarize a text had the potential to “considerably accelerate” student achievement. In Hattie’s study summarization was categorized as a marker of reading comprehension that requires explicit instruction particularly for students who struggle with comprehension. By deleting unnecessary information, categorizing details and providing a topic sentence, students can learn to boil a text down to the most pertinent information. In addition, outlining and summarizing had the potential to accelerate outcomes. “It involves identifying the main ideas and rendering them in one’s own words. The core skill is being able to distinguish between the main ideas and the supporting ideas and examples.” The Empowering Writers resources from K-8 provide this kind of explicit instruction. A consistent summarizing framework for both informational and narrative texts is one tool that students learn and practice across content areas. This kind of vertical alignment allows students to internalize and master this important literacy skill. In addition, the annotation and analysis lessons highlight the importance of identifying the main ideas and details that support each main idea. Teachers invested in working together to make a significant difference in student learning, collective teacher efficacy, can in fact rely on these instructional practices. Furthermore, the methodology by which Empowering Writers teaches the skills of writing provides teachers with the framework to plan and execute direct instruction.
Direct instruction of skills that are objective driven increases student achievement. Direct instruction refers to instructional approaches that are structured, sequenced, and led by teachers, according to Hattie. In addition, it requires teachers to have clear learning intentions, in other words, objectives, and success criteria built in for students to rely on. Every Empowering Writers lesson plan is objective driven. There is never a time when students are “just writing.” The Empowering Writers methodology supports the findings in this study as it begins with reading and analyzing texts for a specific strategy, teacher modeling of the skill identified and student practice guided by the teacher. This leads ultimately to independent application of the skill. In Hattie’s words, “teachers use modeling and checking for understanding in their teaching; and engage in guided practice so that every student can demonstrate his or her grasp of new learning by working through an activity or exercise under the teacher’s direct supervision.” The fallacy that students can learn to write well by just writing quantities is in direct opposition of these findings. Students are supported and nurtured through the Empowering Writers methodology.
How do students know when they have applied a skill successfully? Success criteria must be established at the onset of learning so that students have a clear understanding of expectations. At Empowering Writers teachers and students are provided with skill specific rubrics that include targeted examples. By using these types of rubrics students can immediately see what they must do in order to attain mastery of a specific skill. Because the rubrics are skill specific, students can look at one part of a composition at a time which breaks an overwhelming task into bite-sized pieces. As students practice each skill in isolation, they can measure their performance against the criteria, get feedback based on instruction, and know exactly where they need to go in order to improve. Teachers across and between grade levels have a common language to draw from when providing feedback and as a result the efficacy of teaching is considerably elevated.
As schools grapple with curriculum decisions, the ability to determine what really influences student learning is critical. John Hattie’s work with Visible Learning synthesized over 60,000 research studies with over a quarter billion students to determine the influences on student achievement. Although his work focused on many aspects of learning, this paper focused solely on several teaching and learning strategies that make the biggest impact. Empowering Writers employs a methodology that Hattie’s work designates as having the potential to considerably accelerate student achievement. In addition, the explicit instruction of skills that include scaffolded learning at all levels, is also categorized as having the potential to accelerate student learning. Hattie puts it this way, “Explicit instruction is characterized by a series of supports or scaffolds, whereby students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose and rationale for learning the new skill, clear explanations and demonstrations of the instructional target, and supported practice with feedback until independent mastery has been achieved. Explicit teaching strategies typically involve instruction, guided practice, and teaching to mastery.” Empowering Writers is the embodiment of this type of instruction.