John Hattie is one of only a handful of educational researchers – alongside the likes of Carol Dweck, Dylan Wiliam and Dan Willingham – who more than a smattering of teachers in any given staffroom could name, or perhaps even claim to have read. One reason for this is that Hattie has very cleverly mobilised an army of books and programmes around his widely known educational research tome, Visible Learning.
His newest tome, 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning, co-authored by Klaus Zierer, is clearly the lighter, shorter progeny of its famous forbear.
Visible Learning famously combined a massive array of research studies (more than 800 meta-analyses) involving millions of students. Hattie has his staunch critics, no doubt, but he is also widely credited with making educational research more visible for teachers and school leaders.
His latest book is one of a veritable cottage industry related to Hattie’s famous original (in my opinion, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn is his best). It is, by design, a much shorter, accessible way into the meaty meta-analyses, offering practical insights and strategies for teachers. It still cites throughout the studies, topics and insights drawn from Visible Learning, but with a conscious eye on being more accessible for the lay reader.
Many a teacher may wince at the mention of “mindframes”. It has a faint whiff of jargon that can put you off reading (perhaps that is just my particular English reserve).
“Mindframes” is, as you might expect, a rather glamorous relabelling of how teachers think about teaching and learning. What you find in each chapter is an array of popular edu-topics, such as assessment, challenge, feedback, classroom dialogue and relationships, with insight and research on how to think about and enact them in the hurly-burly of the classroom.
Prodding sacred cows
The pages are laced with the Visible Learning research. You come away from reading the book thinking it is written for John Hattie aficionados, with some of the language and references being quite complex and dense. Yet, there are pleasing structural features, such as chapter-opening questionnaires and vignettes, that ensure this book is within reach of a general readership of teachers looking to develop both their craft and their knowledge of research.
The book made me think hard and it did challenge some of my assumptions, while poking at a few sacred educational cows. For example, there are hard questions asked of our common grading of students’ work: “Do we understand grades as an unalterable stigmatisation or a more intense form of feedback? Do they block learning pathways because they demotivate students, or do they foster motivation because they encourage students to try harder?”
The book grapples with some of the more lively contemporary debates around what goes on in the classroom and beyond. The troubling notion that our students possess a “growth mindset”, and that this might prove to be an educational silver bullet, is skewered appropriately, with the authors dismissing “I can posters and students mouthing platitudes about growth as though that would lead to good things happening”.
Indeed, Hattie and Zierer are at their best when they are challenging received wisdom, drawing upon a vast reserve of related evidence to do so.
What is pleasing about reading their book is that growth mindset is not paraded as a surefire cure-all, but neither is it dismissed as a useless fad. It poses thoughtful questions and cites a wealth of readable research. Now, this particular debate about mindset was couched in a chapter entitled “I am a change agent”, but once you filter through the edu-speak, the insights can be compelling and instructive for teachers and school leaders.
The book, despite being relatively short, does cover a huge span of topics. This is both a strength and a weakness. Complex subjects, such as “direct instruction”, require more than a page-and-a-half worth of exploration, but the book is designed as a primer. You can dip in and out without being overburdened. For this reason, it is a handy training tool.
A provocative primer for teachers on a whole array of teaching and learning topics, 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning is an interesting book – once you have negotiated the jargon. It refers to a wealth of research for the teacher-reader, and it meets its aim of being more useable for us school types than the original Visible Learning.
Alex Quigley is director of Huntington Research School and author of The Confident Teacher