Role and Contribution of Visible Learning to Secondary Physical Education
Most young people participate in some type of organised Physical Education (PE) during their secondary school education. Effective teaching and the use of time in PE is considered important for many reasons; it helps young people make informed lifestyle choices, develop proficiency in movement skills, and encourage lifelong participation in physical activity (Bailey, 2006; Kirk, 2005). The purpose of the following inquiry is to investigate the leading educational idea of visible learning, and its potential to be meaningfully applied in the secondary Physical Education curriculum. The inquiry takes the form of a literature review drawing largely from psychological literature on education with particular attention to try and relate back to the draft F-10 Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (ACARA, 2013), and what it f mean for my own teaching practice. Through this inquiry, opportunities for teachers and students to set appropriate and challenging goals, and what the different effect size influences would look like in the context of PE will be identified and analysed. By looking at teaching through the eyes of the learning, it is hoped that PE students can ultimately become the teacher of self. This would not only empower students but foster leadership in students, allowing them to achieve better outcomes.
Efforts to enhance teacher effectiveness and the idea that professional practices such as education should be become evidence-based continues to capture the imagination of many politicians, policy makers, practitioners and researchers (Biesta, 2010). One of the most comprehensive attempts to come to grips with this evidence-base approach has been a 15-year project by Professor John Hattie, who classifies and summarises more than 800 meta-analytic studies of teaching. The scope of the synthesis include over 50,000 studies and an estimate of over 230 million non-unique participants (Hattie, 2009). Hattie’s work has been recognised as making a significant contribution to our understanding of the factors that influence student learning and facilitate effective teaching practice (Carter, 2009), and can be considered a leading educational idea.
In the book Visible learning, Hattie (2009) explores the topic of what leads to success in learning. He proposes the short answer to this question is visible learning, defined as “teachers seeing learning through the eyes of students, and students seeing teaching as a key to their ongoing learning” (p.22). Based on a positivist paradigm, Hattie uses evidence-based data to conclude that there are a number of interventions in the classroom that can make a difference to student learning. In the result of his analysis he distilled out 138 factors for successful learning and shows their effect size. An effect size is a measure of how big or small, a relationship exists between an intervention and an outcome. Hattie (2009) argues that an effect size of less than zero are thought to have a negative impact on student achievement. An effect size between zero to 0.15 are what a student could typically achieve without schooling through maturation, while an effect size between 0.15 and 0.4 are what can be expected, on average, in a typical year of schooling. He also proposes a hinge point of 0.4, as the zone of desired effects occurs above this point. He argues that many things that teachers do promote student learning, but some things work better than others. Therefore, the reference point for comparisons should be at 0.4, above which an instructional intervention may be worthy of ongoing investigation, resources and implementation.
The 138 factors for successful student achievement are arranged in six groups: contributions to school learning from the student, the home, the school, the teacher the curricula, and from teaching approaches. The vast majority of the documented factors have an effect size varying between 0.05 - 0.8, and 95% of all effect sizes are positive. That is, nearly all included factors have a positive effect on student, but to different degrees. However, out of the sex groups of factors, teacher has the strong effect. Hattie concludes: If one takes two students of the same capacity, it is for their future learning less important which school they attend, or the types of curriculum taught, the influence of teachers is stronger (Hattie, 2009). What Hattie concludes is in line with similar research, which found teachers are a significant influence on how children perceive the environment in educational settings (Goudas, Biddle, & Fox, 1994). Teachers can structure the class environment in ways that foster adaptive patterns of motivation that lead to achievement outcomes (Fredricks & Eccles, 2002). What teachers do has a powerful effect on students’ engagement in class activities.
Visible Learning has some limits and Hattie mentions that the book does not deal with circumstances in and out of the classrooms which cannot be influenced by the school. Critics suggest some difficulties with meta-analytic studies and how they should be interpreted (Snook et al., 2009a). Qualitative studies are not considered, and methodological problems and debates are neglected. This statistical procedure therefore cannot adequately capture the complexity of the social world (Glass, 2000). Other critics suggest that, since the majority of the studies include have taken place in the US, the results obtained may not be applicable elsewhere (Smyth, 2009a). Most of the meta-analyses Hattie uses stem from the 1980s and 1990s, thus making the greater part of the original dada base not current. As Therhart (2011) suggests, ‘this might explain why, for example, studies on the effects of content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers have not yet been integrated’ (p.428).
Making Learning Visible
Hattie (2009) argues it is critical that the teaching and learning are visible: ‘what is most important is that teaching is visible to the student, and that the learning is visible to the teacher. The more the student becomes the teacher and the more the teacher becomes the learner, then the more successful are the outcomes’ (p.25). Visible learning occurs when learning is the explicit goal. These purpose need to be appropriately challenging, and there is an active, deliberate practice aimed at mastering the goal, both by the teacher and the student. Hattie’s theory of learning is connected to Karl Popper’s theory of the three worlds of knowledge: the physical things world, the subjective ideas world, and the objective knowledge world. He suggests the need for the move from first and second world (the over reliance on surface information or physical things, or the subjective ideas and misplaced assumption that the goal of education is development of thinking skills), towards a balance of surface and deep learning leading to the objective knowledge world, where students construct defensible theories of knowing and reality. A dedicated didactic strategy to foster student thinking is rejected by Hattie. Instead, teaching has to connect itself to the already existing concepts and ideas of the students. This notion seems to rely upon a constructivist approach to knowledge building, whereby learners acquire knowledge and understanding through an active ‘building’ process (Snowman et al., 2009). This is in line with the draft F-10 Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (ACARA, 2013), where a strengths-based approach is adopted. This affirms that all children have particular strengths and resources that can be nurtured to improve their own and others’ competence and participation in Physical Education. However, Hattie explicitly turns against constructivist teaching:
Constructivism too often is seen in terms of student-centred inquiry learning, problem-based learning, and task-based learning, and common jargon words include “authentic”, “discovery”, and “intrinsically motivated learning”. The role of the constructivist teacher is claimed to be more of a facilitation to provide opportunities for individual students to acquire knowledge and construct meaning through their own activities, and through discussion, reflec- tion and the sharing of ideas with other learners with minimal corrective inter- vention… These kinds of statements are almost directly opposite to the successful recipe for teaching and learning as will be developed in the following chapters. (p. 26)
Hattie’s ideal teacher is very well informed about he learning abilities of his students and is able to engage again and again in the task of supporting his students in their learning. The teacher can put himself in the position of his students and their learning tasks and learning difficulties, he can see through the eyes of the students. This teacher is interested in obtaining information about he students’ learning and thus getting feedback concerning the results of his educational activities.
This theoretical approach to teaching and learning resonates in Physical Education, where National Association for Sport and Physical Education in America states that ‘the primary goal of assessment should be seen as the enhancement of learning, rather than simply the documentation of learning’ (Collier, 2011). An important goal of school Physical Education programs is to develop children to have the skills, knowledge, positive attitudes and confidence to enjoy a physically active lifestyle (Zhang, Solmon, & Gu, 2012). By visibilising learning in Physical Education, it is hoped that student outcomes would increase.
Surface, deep and constructed learning
Referring to Biggs and Collis’s SOLO model on student learning, Hattie (2009) argues that successful learning involves a balance between surface and deep learning. Surface learning involves the knowing of content or ideas. Deep level learning concerns with the understanding and the ability to relate and extend ideas. From these surface and deep knowing and understanding, the learner can construct notions and ideas that then shape the way they engage in constructed level of learning. In Physical Education, surface learning could be thought of as the fundamental movement skills (e.g. throwing, catching, hitting, dodging, etc.), and deep level learning could be referred to as the strategies and tactics one would employ during a game (e.g. moving into space, drawing a defender, etc.). The goal of a Physical Education teacher should therefore be to improve skills (technique under pressure) and promote effective decision making. There needs to be a balance between the two for a learner to be effective in any game situation. For example, a student could have the perfect throw in cricket while fielding. However, if he did not have the tactical knowledge of where to throw the ball after the batter hits the ball (the stumps), the batter would make it safely past the crease for a run.
Since a visit by Rod Thorpe to Australia in 1996, there has been a gradual push within the Physical Education curriculum to change from a skills and drill based method towards a game sense approach. The ‘Game Sense’ approach to teaching can be described ‘as the use of games as a learning tool that allows for tactical and strategic learning with skill development’ (Evans 2006). Rick Shuttleworth (2006) describes skills as ‘movement patterns performed under pressure’. It relates well with Hattie’s vision of constructed learning. The idea of game sense in a Physical Education class is conceived as by having a teacher manipulating various constraints attempting to replicate match conditions, it will produce more skilled players. This would allow for more ‘active time’ for students, as they are learning their skills through playing small sided games. Students are also more motivated and engaged in class as they are thought to be playing ‘games’ all the time (Breed & Spittle, 2011).
The factor that John Hattie (2009) proposed to have the most significant on student outcome is self-reported grades, where students estimate their own performance formed from past experiences in learning. Hattie’s summary from six meta-analyses across 209 studies found that students have a very accurate understanding of their achievement levels across all subjects. This could have immense effects on students who set lower expectations of their self-success than the student could attain, and become a barrier for students as they may only perform to whatever expectations they already have of their ability and not challenge themselves. The draft F-10 Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education (ACARA, 2013) direct teachers to support students in assess the quality of movement performances and be able to use a range of tools to appraise, analyse, and enhance self performance.
Dishman (2004) concluded that the use of self-efficacy as a targeted, mediator variable in interventions increased physical activity among girls. He found the Lifestyle Education for Activity Program (LEAP) introduced in America had a direct effect on self-efficacy which had a subsequent direct effect on physical activity. An increase in self-efficacy was a cornerstone objective of the LEAP intervention. Similar findings were also reported by Chase (2001). She observed that students with higher self-efficacy chose to participate in challenging physical activity and had a higher future self-efficacy score than those with lower self-efficacy. Higher efficacy students generally attributed failure to lack of effort, whereas, students with lower efficacy attributed failure to lack of ability.
Expert teachers are more likely to set challenging goals, rather than just telling students to “try your best”. This helps enhance students’ self-concept and self-efficacy about learning, and helps students raise their self-expectations of themselves (Hattie, 2003). Psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s cognitive theory on the zone of proximal development also supports this theory. It is the difference between what a student can do on their own, and what a student can do with help. The zone of proximal development defines functions that have not matured yet, but are in a process of maturing (Vygotsky, 1978). By pitching our lessons in this zone for each student, teachers can better promote cognitive development.
Providing formative evaluation of programs
Assessment of the Australian Curriculum: Health and Physical Education takes the form of both formative and summative assessment. ‘Ongoing formative assessment are to be used by teachers to monitor learning and provide feedback to teachers to enhance their teaching and for students to improve their learning’(p.12). Teachers are also to use the achievement standards throughout their units of work to make a balanced judgments about the quality of learning students demonstrate and appraise their own teaching (ACARA, 2013). Hattie (2009) argues on a similar line; He contends the power of feedback to teachers on what is happening in the classroom so they can ascertain their effectiveness in achieving the learning intentions that were set for the students. This would in turn set the direction for future lesson planning.
Assessment is a complex process of feedback that is now being recognised as more than simply testing at the end of a unit or writing report cards. It is ongoing, recurring, and worth practicing and rehearsing (Wiggins, 1989). Piaget emphasized cataloguing important errors, analyzing their source, and giving student information on what to do about them (Piaget, as cited in Wiggins, 1989). Assessment should be used to identify performance problems in Physical Education, but it must be based on real outcomes and gorals. For example, if a lesson’s goal centre around throwing, then the lesson and assessment must also be centre around throwing. Unless we have a learning goal or objective in mind, it would be impossible to perform an assessment task that will help our students learn. As Physical Education teachers, we must find ways to link informal monitoring with more formal modes of assessment, and then use the assessment data to revise teaching strategies (Veal, 1992).
Cave (2009) proposed four critical elements of Physical Education assessment that motivate students to learn:
1) Determining specific criteria based on previously used assessment for which students should be accountable in alignment with the curriculum,
2) Establishing a consistent point system for assessing student learning and providing specific and clear expectations to the students.
3) Emphasizing the different aspects of a Physical Education class (e.g. cognitive, affective, psychomotor learning).
4) Changing towards a formative assessment and feedback model.
Professor John Hattie was quoted in Evans (2012) saying ‘Teachers should think more in terms of evaluating their impact. We have a mentality where we evaluate the students’ impact. That’s right, but he only way you do that is to have the teachers evaluating their impact on kids. If things aren’t improving maybe they need to change.’ (p.2)
One of the most surprising finding from Hattie’s (2009) book Visible Learning was that class sizes have little effect on student outcome (Evans, 2012). One suggestion by Hattie explaining this relates to teachers of smaller classes adopting the same teaching methods as they were using in larger classes, and thus not optimizing the opportunities of the smaller class size.
A study conducted by Bevans et al. (2010) found that students who attended schools with a low student-to-PE teacher ratio had more Physical Education time and engaged in higher levels of physical activity during class time. This is the result of a reduced amount of class time devoted to class management. Therefore, to maximize student outcomes when giving the opportunity of a reduced class size, the teacher must be able to recongise these previous studies and be able to adapt and change their teaching practices so students can get the benefits of greater feedback and more interaction with students.
Although the overall effects of television on achievement are negatively small, it is a topic often related with Physical Education. There has been an epidemic of obesity in the Western world. A “normal” body mass index (BMI) is no longer the norm in the US with two thirds of adults categorized as overweight or obese. The reasons for this are multifactorial but, in part, relate to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle with the ascendency of the car and television (Moayyedi, 2010).
Not only is this increase in sedentary behavior by children having no or small but negative on achievements at school, it is increasing the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) disease and cancer (Moayyedi, 2010). We as physical educators should educator our students to be more physically active and reduce the amount of sedentary time per day. The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians outline the minimum levels of physical activity required to gain a health benefit and ways to incorporate incidental physical activity into everyday life. For children and young adults between 5 – 18 years of age should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. They should also not spend more than 2 hours a day using electronic media for entertainment such as computer games, Internet & television (Australia Department of Health, 2013).
Snook et al. (2009a) critically analysed Hattie’s theories and outlined a number of concerns that derived from the book Visible Learning. One key criticism was the quality of research used in Hattie’s research synthesis. ‘Any analysis that does not exclude poor or inadequate studies is misleading, and potentially damaging if it leads to ill-advised policy developments’ (p.94). Hartley (n.d) named this “garbage in: garbage out”, citing researchers should be more selective and reject weaker research, and that different results would be obtained if weaker studies are weeded out. Other critics suggest that in order to calculate an effect size, the kinds of data that can be used to assess the effectiveness of a particular treatment is restricted, and qualitative studies or subjective judgments are omitted. Wiseman (2010) believes we too much emphasis is placed on empirical evidence in education and we cannot generalise findings when different variables and influences are at play, specially in education.
There are also concerns raised by with the use of meta-analysis, namely that bias is not normally controlled in meta-analysis, and thus a meta-analysis of meta-analysis will lead to unreliable conclusions. This is alarming since politicians and policy makers use these data to justify educational policy (Snook et al. 2010). His neglect of social effects, backgrounds, inequality, and racism is also held against him (Terhart, 2011). Although Hattie (2009) did explicitly state that he is not disputing these influences have no effect, but he just didn’t include these topic in his ‘orbit’.
The message visibilising learning is clear: the single most effective way to improve education is to raise the quality of the feedback students get and their interaction with teachers. It is students’ ability to assess their own performance and to discuss how they can improve with the teacher that makes the most difference. ‘Too many teachers are constantly thinking that if they had more time, resources and space they could make a difference. For some teachers that could be true, but for most the last thing they need is more. They need different, and that’s what they struggle with. It’s simple: if your teaching practice is not having an effect on your students’ performance, you must change’ (Evans, 2012, p.2).
In terms of visibilising learning in Physical Education, this inquiry listed some possible ways to incorporate Visible Learning into the every day teaching practices. Hattie (2009) was able to provide ways of making the evidence from a vast number of research studies available to teachers. It is up to individual teachers to ensure that learning is visible in the classroom, and just because a particular factor has a low effect size, it doesn’t mean the teacher cannot understand the reasons behind why this is so, and adapt to ensure it does have a greater effect in their classroom than what it says from the research.
Thought this inquiry, I was able to understand a model proposed by Hattie of what it means to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ teacher. It is by maximising the amount of ‘good’ teaching in my classroom, and minimising the ‘bad’ that we can make learning visible and benefit student outcomes.
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