A beginner's guide to Professor John Hattie

A beginner's guide to Professor John Hattie

Hattie has been Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, since March 2011. Prior to that he was Project Director of asTTle and Professor of Education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He earned his PhD from the University of Toronto, Canada, in 1981.

​Quick biography:

Born: 1950

Nationality: New Zealand

Best known for:

Described as the 'holy grail of teaching' by The Times Educational Supplement, Hattie is best known for this meta-study, 'Visible Learning'. The study is believed to be the largest evidence-based study ever into the factors that improve pupil learning. It involved more than 80 million pupils from around the world and brought together 50,000 smaller studies. From it, Hattie found that "positive teacher-student interaction is the most important factor in effective teaching". 

What it's all about

Hattie's book adopted an evidence-based approach to the question: what works best for pupils' achievement? Drawing on his various research interests, Hattie originally identified 138 factors that influenced pupils' learning outcomes, based on 800 meta-analyses. These factors broadly fit into six areas: the student, their home, the school, the curriculum, individual teaching, and teaching practice.

He also discovered there was only a fixed amount of difference in the effect of these factors, a 0.40 'hinge point'. Using this point to judge the success of the different influences, he was able estimate what does work best for improving pupils' achievement: positive teacher interaction. 

What does he research?

Hattie's research interests cover a broad range of educational issues, but his main focus has been on performance indicators, models of measurement, and evaluation of teaching and learning. These interests came together to develop his 'Hattie Rankings' – rankings of the various influences related to learning and achievement. The most recent rankings include 195 influences, based on 1200 meta-analyses.

Hattie's Meta-analysis on factors that affect teaching and learning:

Hattie's Visible Learning meta-study received plenty of media attention when it was first published, but this tended to focus on individual aspects of the research, which meant that certain conclusions were taken and used as a checklist for school improvement, without looking at the whole picture. 

What he says:

"Our job is to help teachers see learning through the eyes of kids. And the great thing is when they do, teachers change."

What others say:

The TES said that Hattie is 'probably the most influential academic in education'. He certainly has one of the highest profiles and his books are best sellers. His table of intervention effects with numerical values attached, is easy for teachers to understand, providing a simple hierarchy of effects, and for many practising teachers confirms what they knew already. However, his research is not uncontested. Some challenge his methodology and his use and interpretation of data and statistics. 

Why you should consider reading more:

Hattie's Visible Learning meta-study received plenty of media attention when it was first published, but this tended to focus on individual aspects of the research, which meant that certain conclusions were taken and used as a checklist school improvement, without looking at the whole picture. Hattie's TED talk, 'Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful' gave him chance to address these misconceptions, and start putting his research into context. 

Top reads:

Visible Learning (2008)

The Hattie Rankings (2016)

'Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful?' John Hattie speaking at TEDxNorrkoping (2013) (Video)

Further info:

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