John Hattie’s work has been in the spotlight for educational leaders for nearly a decade. When he published Visible Learning (2009), many educators learned that we are not getting the bang for our buck on a lot of the programs we hold in high regard. It was an eye-opening publication that pushed a lot of leaders to reflect on the work we are doing and to assess the impact we are making with students. (For more on Visible Learning visit https://visible-learning.org)
One of Hattie’s mantras is “Know Thy Impact”. Much of what he is saying can be summed up with one question, and it’s a question I often ask when I visit classrooms; How do you know the students are learning what is being taught? Can they discuss with you the purpose for learning and what they need to do in order to be successful? These might seem a little beyond the scope of some of our learners, but that’s the point Hattie is making. When our learners are truly connected to the learning environment, they know the answer to these questions. They can tell you why the information is important and what they need to do in order to be successful in learning it.
This is the direction we are attempting to move toward with assessments. For years we have discussed the limits of multiple choice only assessments, but now we have the opportunity to assess students differently than we have in more recent years. It is likely that you have heard about authentic assessments, performance-based assessments, project-based learning, learning portfolios, performance tasks, or simply performance assessments. These labels of assessment styles are simply telling us that students need a more genuine way to show the skills they have learned. It is a much better way for us to know our impact or to understand the level of mastery that our students have achieved.
Hanover County has already started to work on our own performance assessments as we look to replace state assessments with a more authentic assessment tool. This is not easy work and because of this, the state has not yet given timelines for completion. I say this to encourage you to take risks as you think of how you might determine each student’s mastery in your classroom. How do you really know what they know, and what assessment can you create that lets them show you in an authentic manner? Is there a challenge they can overcome because of your teaching? Do you have a way to connect them to an expert in the field as a resource? How can you remove barriers to let them go further? Does the format of the presentation matter at all? These are just a few questions you may wrestle with as you begin to think of new ways to assess the learning in your classroom.
We have been blessed in our county to have all of our schools reach full accreditation once again. This blessing is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for you to dig deeper into the content. It’s a chance to explore new methods of teaching as you focus more on what students need in order to grow. When you know your impact, you know exactly where you are making a difference in guiding students to their learning goals, and you know where they need additional support. As you reflect on where you would like students to be, push yourself to discover new ways to make this happen and new ways to determine the effectiveness of your instruction. If you make small changes each year, big differences take place over time. Imagine where you can be in just a few years from now.
Dr. Stephen Castle serves Hanover County Public Schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Having served previously a teacher, assistant principal, principal, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, Educational Specialist (Research), and Director of Professional Development and School Improvement, Dr. Castle has experienced many opportunities to develop his perspective about working with students. Dr. Castle has worked in education for more than two decades and still loves finding new ways to challenge students to think creatively as they find solutions to new challenges.