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Teacher Clarity: A Visible Learning Approach

Teacher Clarity: A Visible Learning Approach

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Teacher clarity, described below as one of John Hattie’s influences on student achievement, implies visibility of learning intentions.  Visibility of learning intentions goes hand in hand with the visibility of student learning. For too long, we have kept teaching and learning inside our heads, inside students heads, inside notebooks, inside of folders, inside classroom cupboards. Amplified education means visibility, visibility means sharing, sharing means discussing and changing. So let’s see how we can open up and make learning intentions visible.

Teacher Clarity, as explained below at Hattie’s Visible Learning site glossary, is identified as a 0.75 effect size (2 years worth of growth):

“One of the main points of Hattie’s books about Visible Learning is the importance to clearly communicate the intentions of the lessons and the success criteria. Clear learning intentions describe the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values that the student needs to learn. Teachers need to know the goals and success criteria of their lessons, know how well all students in their class are progressing, and know where to go next.”

Source: The Findings Group

Moreover, Larry Ainsworth points out that “clarity is arguably the most important effect” because it impacts many others:

 “We have a clarity problem in our schools.. we are not really crystal clear about what we want our students to know and be able to do. Without clarity of learning goals that really provide a sharp focus for instruction, assessment design, the assessment results to inform next steps in instruction, we can’t possibly achieve all these wonderful effect sizes that Dr. Hattie is talking about. Because we are not really sure about where we are beginning from, we need a solid foundation stone from which to work… which is clear learning intentions and success criteria”– Larry Ainsworth, Introduction to Teacher Clarity: Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

Teachers go above and beyond to make themselves clear to students with many explanations, annotations, resources, etc. So why does Ainsworth say we have a “clarity problem in our schools”? Why an effect size called “Teacher Clarity”? Because any human being, in the path to learn and acquire skills, ends up “losing the memory of the steps necessary” for a novice to achieve the same knowledge level. This phenomenon has been described as “the curse of knowledge” (How to Break the Expert’s Curse). There is also a lot of literature on expert x novice skills, and the natural difficulty to make “tacit knowledge” explicit. This is why we hear so much about visible thinking and visible learning.

Therefore, teacher clarity involves a cognitive process for teachers, in which they unpack their expert knowledge and make it explicit to students. Expert knowledge, mentioned above as “the curse of knowledge”, is many times implicit and difficult to share with others. It involves tacit knowledge, which is knowing how to do something or how to go about learning something. Creating and documenting clear learning targets for students is part of teacher clarity. The process of unpacking tacit knowledge helps the teacher make learning targets clear for students and directly impact their learning.

If teachers see this process of making tacit knowledge visible to students as a fun part of sharing expertise, then it should be easier to go through the development and documentation of learning targets!

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