What Influences Learning?

From the Headmaster's Desk, November 22, 2018

Last week at the TEDx event in Way Hall we heard about plenty of research.  Research about human slavery, statistics about the probability of aliens in our galaxy and worrying statistics about the amount of plastic in our oceans.

This morning I want to focus on some of the most famous research in education, which has been around for years, but the most recent findings have made headlines in recent months.

John Hattie runs a research project called ‘Visible Learning’, which is based on data from 300,000,000 students.  (Three hundred million is correct – that’s not a typo!)  What he has done is what is called a meta-analysis, which is a large-scale analysis of thousands of research projects around learning and achievement.  His research is spread across Australia, USA and UK, and the focus is on how much growth students make in a year of school.

His latest research looks at the 250 most important influences on student achievement.  There are positive and negative influences, and he rates 250 influences.  In the best category are ‘things that considerably accelerate student achievement’ and the things to avoid are influences that have a ‘negative impact’.

You will all be relieved that I’m not going to run through all 250 influences this morning.  However, I have always loved top five lists, so this morning I’m going to reveal the top five influences on student achievement, both positive and negative.

Let’s start with the negatives.  The numbers are in relation to the amount of negative impact that this has on a pupil – zero being the normal rate of progress.

5. Lack of sleep (-0.05)

  • You cannot concentrate when you’re sleepy and your memory does not work properly. If you want to be at your best and make the most of every day in school, then you need to be well rested.

4. Television (-0.18) and students feeling disliked (-0.19)

  • Television, with some exceptions, is often mind-numbing and the act of slouching on the sofa, unsurprisingly, does not help you make good progress in school.
  • Being disliked – this is important and links to bullying. When your emotions are heightened, because you are very upset, angry or hurt, you will not be able to learn properly.  And as I noted earlier in the term, emotions are heightened in the teenage years, more than at any other stage in your life.  You feel things very intensely, and when you feel disliked, you cannot focus on learning.  It is important that we are all kind to each other and resolve any issues quickly, so that we can get on with learning.

3. Corporal punishment in the home (-0.33)

  • Physical punishments have long been illegal in school for many years now. Only ‘moderate and reasonable’ punishments are permissible at home.  I do hope that this is not an issue for anyone at Blue Coat, and if it is, that you will quickly tell someone in the School.

2. Depression (-0.36)

  • We take mental health seriously here. We are concerned about when you are sad or upset.  Talk to someone, ask for help.  My previous assemblies this term have focussed on positive psychology and mental health first aid. There is always help here if you need it, be it a physical ailment like a twisted ankle, or a bad day in terms of mental health.

1. Boredom (-0.49)

  • This is not as simple as saying that teachers have to inspire you. It is a two-way street here.  You need to come to lessons with the right attitude, and with this effort, then the teachers can help you achieve.  Together we can all ensure that learning is never boring.  It can be hard work, but it is exciting and inspiring to learn new things.


5. Deliberate practice (0.79) and effort (0.77) and seeking help (0.72)

  • No surprises here. Practice makes perfect.  Work hard.  And seek help when you need it.

4. Interventions for students with learning needs (0.77)

  • Our learning support department offers great help to pupils with specific learning needs. Last year almost a third of our Year 13 leavers had some sort of Access Arrangement on the SEN register.  We can help pupils with specific needs, help you learn how you learn best, and empower you with strategies that will ensure you are the very best that you can be.

3. Teacher credibility (0.90) and Teacher clarity (0.75)

  • This seems rather obvious. If you believe your teacher knows what they are talking about, then it helps.  Interestingly, it’s not teacher subject matter knowledge, which has a much smaller impact (0.11).  It’s just the teacher clearly explaining what you need to do.

2. Self-efficacy (0.92) and self-reported grades (1.33)

  • Self-efficacy might not be a word you have encountered before, but this is such a big influence that I want to explain it properly. Good students take ownership for their learning, know their strengths and weaknesses, and work to develop and improve.  Students need to know what progress looks like, where they are going and what the next step is.  They understand how assessment works and know how to achieve well in a test.  Self-efficacy is self-awareness of how to learn.  These pupils seek feedback, receive it and act on it.  They understand how to learn and they teach themselves.  Pupils who become autonomous and take responsibility for their own learning will be successful.

1. Collective teacher efficacy (1.57)

  • The most important aspect of ‘collective efficacy’ is teachers that believe they cause learning. It is about teachers knowing that collectively, working together, they make a difference. At its best, this involves collaboration and conversations about what happens in the classroom.  Teachers need to support each other, and work together.  They must be open to feedback from each other, take risks and solve problems.  If teachers believe they make a difference, and constantly try to have a bigger impact, collectively, then they will.
  • Some of you may not be aware of exactly what Dr Magill does in his role of Deputy Head (Staff), but his main focus is on this idea of collective efficacy. That’s why he works with colleagues who are engaging with research, and helps to organise training days for staff, which we have at the beginning of every term.  We are even a regional training centre for new teachers at other independent schools, and we have our own teacher research group.  Be reassured that there is plenty of collective teacher efficacy at Blue Coat.

The interesting thing about these positive influences is that they are all about people.  They are about teachers and pupils, their attitudes and efforts.  We do not have to worry about air pollution, as some schools do in places like Beijing.  Nor do we have to worry about noise pollution, like schools underneath an airport.  We almost take for granted that we will be hydrated, have adequate lighting, and small class sizes.  We also benefit from positive peer influences and strong teacher relationships.  Indeed, we are all very lucky to be in this wonderful school. Have a great week and I hope you all make excellent progress.

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