Visible Learning in Literacy: 3 Takeaways from John Hattie and Nancy Frey

Opportunity to learn with renowned education researchers and practitioners rejuvenates the mind and reignites the passion in many educators. In the second of our two-part series, Steven Anderson and I share what we learned from the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego, this time with a focus on literacy. Head over to part one to see our initial thoughts and shares.

The second day at the Visible Learning Institute in San Diego provided attendees choice in one of two paths in which to learn;  literacy and math. Steven and I jumped at the chance to learn from Nancy Frey and chose the literacy learning to continue to grow our knowledge in this area for supporting educators around the globe. Frey and Doug Fisher (her colleague) have worked extensively with John Hattie in the realm of literacy practices and transferring his research into practice. They have multiple books with Hattie, two of our favorites being Visible Learning for Literacy Grades K-12 and Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, Grades 6-12. 12.

Frey consistently delivers high-quality and classroom applicable learning during her workshops and this experience was much the same. During Day 2, she used a combination of research, theory, and classroom application to deepen our understanding of high-impact instruction during each phase of learning.

3 Takeaways:

Constrained and Unconstrained Skills – Constrained skills are those that have boundaries and edges to them and are acquired at concrete stages of development. These include phonemic awareness and phonics. Unconstrained skills are boundless, limitless and continue to grow throughout life. These include vocabulary and comprehension. While no argument can be made against the direct instruction and learning of constrained skills, Frey reminded us all that they are important but not sufficient. Leveled texts are great for learning constrained skills, but unconstrained skills are not developed through these types of texts. Both constrained and unconstrained skills develop independently; it is important for all educators in all subject areas to pay attention to both.

Reading Volume – The amount one reads is important, but do you know how important it is for our students? Frey offered statistics to drive home the point about reading volume. Reading 20 minutes a day = 1,800,000 words per year & 90th percentile on standardized tests. Reading 5 minutes a day = 282,000 words per year & 50th percentile on standardized tests. Finally, a student who reads only 1 minute a day = 8,000 words per year & 10th percentile on standardized tests. Assumptions that all kids have access and time at home to read will not increase reading volume; instead, make time for students to read in your classroom.

In addition, as Frey reinforced, students need both content specific reading but also need the exploration of texts beyond the content. If a student enjoys to pleasure read graphic novels we should not dissuade that student from choosing them. Rather, we should support them while still exposing them to content specific passages and texts.

Surface, Deep, Transfer Learning – Hattie, Fisher, and Frey discuss a scale for learning and divide it up into 3 parts of a triangle. Surface, Deep, and Transfer Learning make up this scale representing learning as a process, not an event. Along with the description of each, Frey offered high-impact instructional strategies to support learning.

Surface – Surface Learning, the base of the triangle, is learning that takes place during the acquisition of skills and understanding of concepts. Learners often recognize patterns and start to build foundational knowledge to support the next level of the triangle, Deep Learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Surface Learning and the effect size:
  • Repeated Reading (.67)
  • Feedback (.75)
  • Collaborative Learning with Peers (.59)

Deep – Deep Learning builds off of the Surface Learning students acquire. As Frey states, you have to know something before you are able to do something with that knowledge. Deep Learning consists of consolidation through connections, relationships, and schema to organize skills and concepts. Deep learning is also used to consolidate constrained and unconstrained skills. Students need more complex tasks to deepen their own learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Deep Learning and the effect size:
  • Concept Mapping (.60)
  • Class Discussions (.82)
  • Metacognitive Strategies (.69)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (.74)

Transfer – Finally, learning and school should not stop with just Surface and Deep Learning. Transfer Learning is self-regulation to continue learning skills and content independent of the teacher. Frey admits, not everything we teach or learn is worthy of Transfer Learning. Transfer Learning places more responsibility on the learner to question, investigate, and organize to propel their learning.

High-Impact Instructional Strategies to support Transfer Learning and the effect size.
  • Reading Across Documents to Conceptually Organize (.85)
  • Formal Discussions, Debates, Socratic Seminars (.82)
  • Problem Solving (.61)
  • Extended Writing (.43)

PBL – Problem-based Learning – effect size is low at surface level learning (.15) but significantly higher at Transfer level learning (.61)

As Day 2 came to a close, our minds were spinning with information and ideas. Nancy Frey not only shared Visible Learning in Literacy but invited us to consider what approaches work best at the right time for the right learning, never to hold an instructional strategy in higher esteem than a student, and our favorite, “Every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”

Leave a Reply