Education Week - June 20, 2018 - 8
Getting Feedback Right
With best-selling author and researcher
Not all critiques are useful, says author John Hattie
By Sarah D. Sparks
JOHN HATTIE has spent his career trying to
pick through the "big ideas" in education
to find what has the greatest effect on
student learning. But the New Zealand
researcher said it took him a decade to
realize he was looking at one crucial
aspect of learning all wrong.
"I used to think giving more feedback
and better feedback was the answer [to
improving education], and it's the exact
opposite: How do teachers and students
receive feedback? How do they interpret
it?" said Hattie, currently the director of the
Melbourne Education Research Institute at
the University of Melbourne, in Australia.
Clear, actionable critiques of everything
from a student essay to a new discipline
policy are essential to continuous
improvement, he said, but they are also
one of the most common techniques that
trip up schools. "Feedback costs. You have
to do it again and again, because it wasn't
good enough, and people don't want to hear
it," Hattie said. "So how do you switch the
conversation from giving feedback to helping
students receive feedback?" And perhaps
the most critical question, he added, is how
school administrators can ensure teachers
are receiving and acting upon feedback on
their own work.
In his newest book, Visible Learning:
Feedback, slated for publication in August,
Hattie digs into how the culture of both
the classroom and its students can affect
how feedback works, and what research
suggests teachers-and administrators-
can do to create a culture in which adults
and students encourage each other to keep
learning. Education Week sat down with
Hattie to talk about what he's found. (This
interview has been edited for length and
What do people most often misunderstand
There's very little research on how students
progress; there's a lot more research on how
teachers think students should progress. We asked
1,000-plus teachers what they meant by feedback,
and it was very much focused on [answering], 'How
am I doing? Where am I going?' We asked many
thousands of students what they meant and it was
Smoothing the Transition to 9th Grade
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
that strong partnerships between
schools and parents can tackle two
key danger zones of 9th grade: poor
attendance and unfinished homework. Across the country, those two
dynamics account for a lot of course
failures in the freshman year and increase the odds that students won't
graduate on time.
Many schools are focusing attention
on those things, but the Seattle study
is thought to be the only one that's
putting the continuous-improvement
process at the heart of the work. Imported from the health-care industry,
continuous improvement is a guided,
cyclical approach that schools use to
bring about change, using data to
plan, execute, evaluate, and revise
their actions as they go along.
If Ideas Don't Work, 'Let Them Go'
Miriam Greenberg, the director of
the Strategic Data Project at Harvard University's Center for Education Policy and Research, which
helps school systems build their
muscles to use data to improve, said
that part of continuous improvement's value is being systematic
and evidence-based in the search
for solutions to a problem, rather
than "just throwing things against
the wall and seeing what sticks."
Equally important, she said, is
being able to recognize when a chosen solution isn't the right one.
"If we really mean 'continuous improvement,' we need to show evidence
that these things are working and if
not, let them go," Greenberg said.
Seattle is in the third year of the
four-year project and is still collecting and analyzing data to see
whether the project has improved
freshman performance. But in the
meantime, middle and high schools
are trying a variety of tactics to
forge better bonds with families
and with each other.
The partnership between Addams
and Hale produced a major, annual
joint event these two schools had
never done before: a high school orientation for 8th grade families-not
just students-each spring at the
middle school. It offers programming
and information for rising 9th graders and their parents and includes a
chicken dinner, Tudor said.
The 8th graders get Nathan Hale
T-shirts and hear presentations from
Hale 9th graders about navigating a
range of high school challenges: getting to class on time and completing
their homework, keeping track of
all assignments in their "log books,"
making new friends, and staying out
of trouble on social media.
The schools greet parents with "ambassadors" who speak their languages
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 20, 2018 | www.edweek.org
and help them sign up for "Hale mail,"
the notification system that keeps
them abreast of key events. School
staff members get parents acquainted
with the high school's graduation requirements and how to monitor their
children's progress to make sure
they're on track, Tudor said. They
learn that their children's risk of not
graduating is directly tied to how
much class they miss.
Before the research project, staff
members from Hale would visit
ABOVE: Assistant Principal
Jolene Grimes, left, talks
with new students during a
family night for incoming
freshmen at Nathan Hale
High School in Seattle.
Nathan Hale students help
advertise their school clubs
at the family night event.