A Visible Learning Through School

Penk Valley Academy Trust embraces evidence based practice and we are particularly interested in what research shows works best in education.  Our approach is heavily influenced by the research carried out over decades by Professor John Hattie.  He set out to answer the question about what works best in education. We know that children and young people learn anyway.  But which approaches ensure that the most learning takes place?


Imagine someone asks you to drive your car but doesn’t tell you what the destination is. How do you begin to make sense of the journey?  Or imagine being asked to draw a butterfly.  You hand in your beautiful drawing only to be told that you should have used colour and it was supposed to be drawn to scale. Wouldn’t it be better to have known the requirements before you began?

Making learning visible means being very clear about the intent of the learning and ensuring that all our children know what success looks like.  It means modelling examples of good practice.  It means receiving targeted feedback along the way.  As a result children can answer the three key learning questions for themselves:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I doing?
  • Where to next?


What are the other main characteristics of visible learners?

Visible learners:

  • Take responsibility
  • Seek challenge
  • See errors as opportunities
  • Seek and use feedback to make progress

In our academy trust we believe that children and young people will gain great satisfaction by successfully achieving a challenging goal after working hard and making real effort. Having ‘break through’ moments in learning is exciting.  ‘Eureka!’ exclaimed Archimedes when he suddenly grasped a particular principle to do with volume he had been wrestling with.  ‘I found it!’ He jumped out of his bath and was so excited he forgot to dress before running down the street.  Try telling him that learning and hard work aren’t enjoyable!

Professor Hattie talks about the Goldilocks principle when it comes to challenge – not too hard, not too easy, but just the right amount. The aim is to stretch but not to create a chasm which can’t be crossed.  The most effective teachers set appropriately challenging learning intentions and then structure their lessons so that the learner can achieve them. When the learner shares the commitment to achieve these goals, then the goals are more likely to be achieved.

Learning should make children think.  At times they will be in an ‘I’m stuck situation’ (we call this the pit).  This is when the teacher supports children to develop the learning strategies to wrestle with the issue.  They will realise there is no easy, glib answer. This ‘cognitive conflict’ as it is called is an essential part of the learning process.

Children thrive in learning environments in which they feel safe and happy.  Safe enough to take risks in their learning because they are not embarrassed to make errors – because they know that learning thrives on errors.  Confident enough to know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

We help them develop these essential learning behaviours.

Whilst there are times when school work is an individual activity (tests and exams for example), some of the best learning occurs when children and young people are actively collaborating in solving problems or seeking to attain shared, challenging goals.

There is a wealth of talent in our schools. We want our teachers to work closely together, sharing ideas, developing great practice, devising top notch success criteria and so on.  Professor Hattie calls this ‘collective efficacy’ and found that it has a huge impact on standards.

As we grow our 2-19 provision we will benefit hugely from working together to create a seamless learning journey.

We are not perfect, we don’t have all the answers, and we will make errors.  The great thing is that learning thrives on errors and we will become stronger and more effective because we will learn from them.