The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Mindframes for visible learning

Teachers must reflect on their own role in the process of learning

Scotland recently hosted the Osiris World Visible Learning conference in Edinburgh. Attracting almost 1,000 participants over two days, who came from all over the world, it saw an array of internationally acclaimed keynote speakers ranging from Professors John Hattie and Michael Fullan, to Dr Robert Marzano and Peter De Witt. Scotland was well represented too with practical and thought-provoking inputs from a number of practitioners, including the indomitable David Cameron. The great sadness was that, with so much talent on show, so few practising teachers from Scotland were able to attend.

Yes, the timing of the event could have been better – the run up to the SQA examinations in secondary schools is never a good time to expect teachers to be released from the classroom. Even if they manage release, there is the longstanding issue of securing supply teachers to cover classes in both the primary and secondary sectors, and the cost of the conference fee. It turned out that the theme of the conference, Advanced Learning: Making “What Works” Actually Work, proved to be particularly apt in relation to what is happening just now in Scotland, not least as we continue to deliver on Donaldson’s Teaching Scotland’s Future aspiration that teachers increasingly develop as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals – as we strive to improve outcomes for all learners, and as we move forward in closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

In his original Visible Learning research, Hattie concluded that one of the most important influences on student achievement is how teachers think about learning and their own role as teachers in that process. In other words, he suggested that the most effective outcomes occur when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.

At the conference, Hattie shared the outcomes from his latest research which he sets out in a new book, 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning. In it, he defines ten behaviours or mindframes that teachers need to adopt in order to maximise student success in their learning. These, he usefully sets out as a number of reflective statements, making the point that how teachers think about the impact of what they do is more important than what they do. For the benefit of those unable to attend the conference, the ten mindframes are listed below.

  • I am an evaluator of my impact on student learning
  • I see assessment as informing my impact and next steps
  • I collaborate with my peers and my students about my conceptions of progress and my impact
  • I am a change agent and believe that all students can improve
  • I strive for challenge and not merely “doing your best”
  • I give and help students understand feedback and I interpret and act on feedback given to me
  • I engage as much in dialogue as monologue
  • I explicitly inform students what successful impact looks like from the outset
  • I build relationships and trust so that learning can occur in a place where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from others
  • I focus on learning and the language of learning.

Recent policy directions in Scottish education – whether it be Curriculum for Excellence; the greater focus being given to the importance of vocational education through Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce; or the increased importance of teacher professionalism, career-long professional learning and Professional Update – are all requiring an element of mindframe shift by teachers if they are to be successfully embedded into contemporary Scottish educational culture. Hattie’s ten mindframes offer a useful touchstone for all teachers to reflect on as we strive to effect change and improvement in Scottish education.

There is no doubt that much is asked of – and expected from – Scottish teachers. Those not directly involved in teaching often fail to see the complexities and demands of being a teacher in a world increasingly defined by change, complexity, fluidity and uncertainty. However, one consistent, reassuring message from all contributors to the Visible Learning conference was reinforcement of the mindframe that brought many of us into the profession in the first place: that education is the key to success in life and that teachers make a lasting impact on the lives of their students.

As I left the conference, I was reminded of a statement made in 1992 by the late Professor Paul Ramsden which, when I read it, adjusted my own mindframe:

“We can never assume that the impact of teaching on student learning is what we expect it to be. Students’ thoughts and actions are profoundly affected by the educational context or environment in which they learn … Good teaching involves striving continually to learn about students’ understanding and the effect of teaching on it.”

Certainly worth reflecting on!

Ken Muir, GTCS Chief Executive