Engaging “Hidden” Learners : Warracknabeal SC

It is early days yet but I believe we are onto something special here at Warracknabeal Secondary College! Two events in the past 12 months helped shape an innovative approach to learning.

Firstly, whilst on the 2012 CEP study tour of the UK & Scandinavia, I visited a small school in the coastal town of Hartlepool. It was there that I witnessed teachers effectively using technology to support the high quality pedagogy. Secondly, I recently  completed Visible Learning, the first subject of the new Masters in Instructional Leadership at the University of Melbourne. Taught by Professor John Hattie, I developed a deeper understanding of effect size and feedback. As a result I am equipped to understand why this tiny school in Hartlepool had such a dramatic impact on student achievement.

In hindsight, with the experience of studying under Professor Hattie, what I witnessed in Hartlepool was technology used to support the delivery of three levels of feedback: Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next? (Hattie, 2013). In particular, teachers used a blend of strategic questioning and ‘clicker’ applications to gauge the level of understanding achieved in a given period of learning (How am I going?). The outcome of this was threefold. Firstly, the teacher identified those students who did not fulfill the success criteria. These students were followed up at a point later in the day to ensure no student departed without meeting the success criteria. Secondly, the teacher skillfully challenged more ablestudents using appropriate questioning techniques. Thirdly, teachers used this feedback to gauge their effectiveness in the learning relationship. The feedback was both timely, appropriate and supported the learning of all involved.

When studying Visible Learning my understanding of effect size deepened. I learned how to calculate effect size and challenged to use it as another measure of effectiveness

At a point late on a Saturday afternoon, I remembered a poem I heard on the CEP tour. In his speech at the Scottish Learning Festival, Sir John Jones recited the following poem:

I don’t cause teachers trouble;
My grades have been okay.
I listen in my classes.
I’m in school every day
My teachers think I’m average;
My parents think so too.
I wish I didn’t know that, though;
There’s lots I’d like to do.
I’d like to build a rocket;
I read a book on how.
Or start a stamp collection…
But no use trying now.
’Cause, since I found I’m average,
I’m smart enough you see
To know there’s nothing special
I should expect of me.
I’m part of that majority,
That hump part of the bell,
Who spends his life unnoticed
In an average kind of hell.

Mike Buscemi

Sir John called these the ‘hidden children’. How could I use what I had learned to ensure no hidden children in my class? It was at this stage I decided to consult those for whom this mattered most.

Back at school I suggested to the students a way of measuring their personal growth. It was an amazing sight as the students leant forward in their chairs and gazed with enquiring eyes. The questions and comments started to flow. I had hit a nerve. We discussed effect size and feedback. I told them of my experiences in Hartlepool and we discussed the impact it could have on their learning. It was unanimous; we would give it a try! I took this one step further and discussed the idea with a colleague and she agreed to give it a go with her class too.

It is early but the feedback is strong. We have a post-test on measurement this week and students are excited! Imagine that.