Influences on Learning: What Works and What Doesn't?

Division Directors' Blog
Posted on December 2, 2014
by Julie Schlossinger, Lower School Director

I recently devoured a book the Times called, Teaching’s Holy Grail. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement was written by John Hattie. The book presents research involving millions of students and identifies what exactly influences student learning. I was astonished to learn the results and would like to share some with you.

To begin, it’s important to explain that a barometer was developed by the author to determine whether educational innovations were better for students than what they would achieve if they had received alternative innovations. For the educational innovations studied, the average of each influence was indexed by an arrow through the “zone of desired effects” at d = 0.4 as those are the influences that begin to have the greatest impact on student achievement outcomes. (Figure 1.1)



Figure 1.1 A typical barometer of influence

All influences above d = 0.40 have the greatest impact on student achievement outcomes. Results between d = 0.2 and d = 0.4 are similar to what a teacher can accomplish in one basic year of schooling. Results between d = 0.0 and d = 0.15 is what students could achieve if there was no schooling in one year of their lives. Any effect below d = 0.0 can be considered harmful to achievement, moving towards a decrease in learning.

Here is a sampling of what I found to be the most intriguing results. Results are color coded to represent desired effects in green, no major effect in yellow, and reverse effects in red.

Influence Effect Size Source of Influence
Piagetian Teaching Methods 1.28 Teacher
Giving Students Feedback 1.13 Teacher
Using Formative Assessments 0.90 Teacher
Direct Instruction 0.82 Teacher
Feedback from Students to Teachers 0.73 Student
Teacher-Student Relationship 0.72 Teacher
Professional Development 0.62 Teacher
Peer Tutoring 0.50 Teacher
Small Group Learning 0.49 School
Homework 0.29 Teaching
Web-Based Learning 0.18 School
Reducing Class Size 0.21 School
Summer School 0.23 School
Summer Vacation -0.09 School
Retention -0.16 School
Television -0.18 Home

Were any of these results surprising to you? Several were to me such as: summer school, homework, and web-based learning. The very effective use of  Piaget’s framework, has harkened me back to my undergraduate course work.

Armed with these findings, teachers in the lower school at VMS are currently making changes in their lessons, instruction, and assessments. These findings will play a large part in our faculty meeting discussions, teacher observations, and Professional Learning Community work (see previous blog).

We are excited to see achievement soar and thankful to John Hattie’s ground-breaking work in constructing a model of learning and understanding for schools.




About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.