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CATESOL Book Review: Visible Learning: The Sequel by John Hattie

Michelle Skowbo
Visible Learning: The Sequel 

By John Hattie

Image of Cover Visible Learning The Sequel a synthesis of over 21000 metaanalyses relating to achievement John Hattie

By Federico Pomarici & Kara Mac Donald 

The author of the review’s text, John Hattie, has had three very successful publications on promoting learning. The first publication Visible Learning (2008) provided an overview of meta-analyses on successful learning outcomes, which was followed by Visible Learning: The Sequel (2023), released in part due to the popularity of the first publication of the topic. He also has a publication specifically directed towards educators, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2008). The text appealed to the authors as it examines the various factors that influence learning and achievement, addressing these factors in well-organized individual chapters.
Chapter 1: The Challenge
Hattie opens the chapter by describing how much has changed since the first book on the topic, with the expansion of the internet and technology, explaining the relevance for a second book, a sequel. He shares various book titles that have addressed visible learning (VL) and shares how and why he resisted writing a second edition of Visible Learning. In this book, he describes how he focuses not solely on the meta-analyses, as there can be meta-analyses of meta-analyses, but rather shifts to focus on the VL narrative and accounts. He wants to draw readers away from understanding each factor existing in isolation, but rather to understand that overlap between factors and entities influencing learning achievement exists. Hattie describes the challenge further and shares his experience and processes in writing the first book (i.e., VL1), and how the VL model developed over time, based on a decade of research, findings and understanding.

Chapter 2: Meta-analysis and Criticisms of Visible Learning
The chapter begins with a definition of what meta-analysis is and a brief comment on its origins, and examples of use in education and medicine. The author offers an example for readers of reciprocal teaching to frame meta-analysis in practice. This leads the author to highlight that VL is not founded on meta-analysis of first level research findings, but rather on synthesizing the outcomes of numerous meta-analyses. The concept of such an approach to examine data was relatively new when Visible Learning (VL1) was published, but now it is much more common. The advantages of such a research approach is that the larger data pool enables a closer examination of influential factors. He also addresses criticism around meta-analyses. Hattie shares that the content of the book is based on 2,103 meta-analyses that were divided into main influences and sub-influencers, which correlates to the structure of the chapters in part while also providing evidential data. A brief overview of each influential factor is addressed in a brief description. The chapter closes a clear explanation and rationale for the value of meta-analyses on learning.

Chapter 3: The Model
Hattie lays out the framework for the VL model in this chapter, explaining five assumptions highlighting the rational and evaluation of instruction. The discussion proceeds to address each in turn: Purposes, Mind Frames, Intentional Alignment, Quality of Implementation, and Evaluative Thinking. The discussion is dense as Hattie proceeds through each topic and closes the chapter by highlighting that engaging in the discussion around VL necessitates more than an understanding of the topic knowledge, pedagogy, social interaction principles, but a true desire and passion to positively inform the learning experiences and outcomes of students.

Chapter 4: Implementing the Intentional Alignment of VL
In this chapter, the author presents the rationale for utilizing the VL model from the viewpoint of all stakeholders (i.e. teachers, students, leadership, and parents). The chapter is structured by the four major stakeholders, with each of the four major sections divided in a discussion around three sub-themes (i.e., Discover and Diagnose, Design, Deliver). Hattie then addresses the fourth sub-theme, Double-back, which is a critical phase where all stakeholders need to explicitly monitor and evaluate the influencers on students’ learning. The last sub-theme is Double-up, where all stakeholders need to concentrate on leveraging successes, rather than attending to students’ lack of achievement.

Chapter 5: Students
Possibly the greatest variable in VL is students. There is a discussion of the varying aptitudes of students that can be considered. Each of the major aptitudes, Skills, Motivation/Will, Personality, etc. are then addressed according to the varying sub-abilities. For example, a student’s skills are examined through i) prior knowledge and background, prior ability and achievement, Piagetian developmental stages, etc. Each other factor is addressed in the same detailed manner.  Hattie provides a better understanding of the broad and dynamic factors that students themselves have on learning achievement. The chapter closes with a summary of conclusions on the mentioned factors on students' learning.

Chapter 6: The Home and Family
With the book being published as a result of significant change since the first publication, the chapter opens by sharing the new perspectives parents gained by experiencing a different viewpoint on their children’s learning during the pandemic. Possibly this new insight on what teachers and schools are charged with beyond cognitive development, but also social development, emotional wellbeing and so on. Hattie then shifts to sharing data around the principal variables of a student’s home environment that impact learning and achievement. Each of the three major categories (i.e., family resources, family structure, and home environment) are then addressed in turn. As with student variables, this chapter further highlights the varying and dynamic of home and family characteristics on student learning and achievement.

Chapter 7: School and Society
The author begins the chapter with a fundamental discussion; schools do not function in a silo. They require the support of the community and larger social structures. The discussion then shifts to the purpose of education and formal schooling with mention of standing debates, and then how the VL relates to informing the purpose of schooling. Additionally, Hattie addresses the difference between learning and achievement through a historical and contemporary lens. Next, statistics on the quality and/or effectiveness of schools are presented: finance systems, category of schools, etc. The author finishes the discussion with concluding remarks to offer readers a recap of the influencers on VL.

Chapter 8: Classroom Effects
Hattie begins the discussion with the desire for classroom cohesion and factors influencing the realization of the desired state. Again, the discussion must be parsed into principal influencers and then again, into sub-factors. Major factors are class composition and classroom facilities, materials and supplies and related contextual factors that influence the learning experience. However, these two categories consist of multiple sub-factors that are extremely influential as they often pertain to social-emotional interactions.

Chapter 9: The Teacher
This chapter marks a shift in the book’s focus, homing in on the role of teachers in Hattie’s research. Here, the author dissects the attributes and influence of teachers within educational settings. Attributes include establishing high expectations for all students, avoiding labeling, embracing differentiation to cater to varying learning abilities, maintaining credibility, and ensuring clarity in teaching and learning processes, defining objectives, and progress tracking are highlighted as pivotal in shaping classroom dynamics. In this chapter, the teacher is not merely scrutinized as an individual; rather, emphasis is placed on what the author terms “collective efficacy.” This involves assessing beliefs, evaluating the evidence of their work, seeking constructive criticism, exploring alternative perspectives, and thereby impacting learners. Earlier in the chapter, the author had noted that teachers acquire 75% of their teaching knowledge within their initial two years in the classroom, with minimal learning thereafter. Finally, the author prompts readers to delve into why teacher education programs often fall short of expected outcomes.

Chapter 10: The Curriculum
“There is a need to reduce the breadth to allow for more depth.” Here Hattie shares his stance on curriculum instruction. In this chapter, the author delves into various domains including reading, writing, spelling, arts, and mathematics, among others. While readers, understandably, won’t find a conclusive definition of effective teaching, they will discover that in the classroom, the key lies in linking the lesson topic to students’ existing knowledge, progressing to surface-level learning (the what & how), and ultimately advancing to develop deeper skills (the what, how & who).

Chapter 11: Teaching with Intent
For Hattie, intent encompasses, among other elements, the ability to consider and fuse together success criteria, learning processes, teaching methods, and fostering students’ awareness and ability to self-assess. On this topic, some educators might be surprised that evidence shows that, for learners, “more difficult goals were more powerful than do-your-best-goals.” In this chapter, the author pays great attention to the topic of feedback. Presenting four questions for the learners, Hattie provides us with a simple, yet effective model for feedback that is transferable to any learning environment: Where have I done well? Where do I need to improve? How can I improve? What can I do next time?
In the concluding remarks, the author advocates for teaching with intent through the utilization of backward design methodologies. This entails initiating the process by establishing success criteria and conducting a comprehensive assessment of students’ current performance levels. Subsequently, lessons are developed to encompass both the know-what and know-how, while also incorporating aspects of the learning process. By ensuring alignment between assessment and feedback criteria, this approach is positioned to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning efforts.

Chapter 12: Learning Strategies
This chapter shifts its focus toward the learner. In presenting his own learning model, Hattie looks at learning in its holistic meaning and process and delves deeper into some of the concepts explored in the preceding chapters. Skill, what the students bring to class, will, how learners respond to situations, and thrill, the students’ motivation consists of three components that students bring to class. In addition, the author defines three phases of learning, surface (knowing what), deep (knowing how), and transfer (knowing with). Hattie sees transfer as a primary goal in learning that is enhanced when students can recognize variances between conditions and draw similarities and differences among situations. The key insight from this chapter is that the effectiveness of the recommended strategies hinges on grasping the individual attributes each student brings to the class and determining whether the primary objective of the class is to achieve surface-level or deeper understanding.

Chapter 13: Teaching Strategies
In this chapter, Hattie continues reasoning in favor of intentional teaching, and the importance of selecting the right teaching method according to specific learning purposes. Of the 332 teaching methods that have been identified by Marzano (2016), only 32 are aligned with Hattie’s VL model. A key consideration when selecting a teaching method is ensuring intentional alignment with the success criteria and a focus on the levels of understanding in the lessons—whether surface, deep, or geared toward transfer. For this, teachers must exhibit advanced levels of evaluative thinking skills to make informed decisions about optimal teaching methods and their timing. Hattie also promotes teaching methods that embrace what he terms “productive failure”; a framework where making mistakes is actively encouraged during the initial stages of a lesson, with the intention of subsequently reviewing, rectifying, and discussing them throughout the remainder of the class.

Chapter 14: Implementations Using Technology
The author starts by acknowledging that technology has not made a difference” in education. Yet, throughout this segment, we are cautioned of the tech’s overhyped promises while being encouraged by the potential exciting opportunities to use technologies to engage students in various learning situations. In addition to the evident application in distance learning, the author
pinpoints scenarios where technology has demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate its utility within the traditional classroom setting. Hattie highlights fostering peer-to-peer discussions, promoting reflective thinking, and delivering feedback as particularly promising areas. Looking ahead, virtual reality emerges as a promising frontier for optimizing technology’s effectiveness in educational contexts. 

Chapter 15: Whole-school and Out-of-school Influences
Here the author examines research on comprehensive school improvement programs and out-of-school programs. Following the presentation of favorable outcomes from the thousands of schools implementing the VL+ program, the author advocates for increased interventions to support minority students who are able but cannot reach their academic potential. Additionally, the chapter highlights the urgent need to narrow the achievement gap among students with special needs. Some readers might have found it beneficial if the author had allocated more discussion to the topic of homework, which has proven effective when students independently practice previously learned materials at home, without parental supervision.

Chapter 16: Conclusions
In the final chapter of his book, Hattie retraces back the path that has taken him to his VL sequel. In this context, he aims to emphasize, among other things, the significance of defining purpose for teachers, students, and parents; exploring mindsets; employing evaluative thinking; embracing deliberate teaching methods; fostering student assessment skills; acknowledging the essential role of social and emotional factors in learning; and appreciating the importance of feedback. Hattie’s closing remarks focus on forthcoming endeavors, including leveraging technology to support teachers and students both in and out of the classroom, which encompasses utilizing social media. Two requests that educators will unanimously embrace are i) his call for increased research on lesson planning and ii) the need to reduce inequality in educational systems.

Conclusion on the Book Overall
The text is a great resource as it addresses visible learning from many different aspects that influence learning, based on meta-analysis of related data sets. The text is a very accessible read and once the first chapter has been read, the reader has a clear understanding of the author’s previous work and prior publication. This format permits the reader, if desired, to approach the individual chapter’s focus in the order of interest.