I first read You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned almost five years ago. In that time, I have learned much about how people learn. Re-reading the book now, I am struck by how much of what John Wooden did in his teaching is well supported by modern cognitive science. This is what I try to convey in this short addendum to the notes on John Wooden's pedagogy.
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John Wooden was a basketball coach for UCLA and an English teacher. He is renowned as one of the greatest coaches of all time, winning 10 out of 12 NCAA championships, including seven in a row, and has been named Coach of the Century by ESPN among others.
You Haven't Taught Until They've Learned is a book about his pedagogy, written by one of his former players (Swen Nater) and by an education researcher who had the rare privilege to observe his basketball practices and ask him detailed questions about his teaching (Ronald Gallimore). The dual authorship gives it a valuable two-pronged perspective, that of student as well as that of researcher.
As one reads the book, one is struck by the sense that Coach Wooden was not only exceptional in terms of what he did - his approach to teaching - but also who he was - a man of such strong moral character that it is daunting even to use him as a role model. He taught by example as well as teaching explicitly, and his students remember him for that.
In his retirement, barely a day went by without one of John Wooden's former students calling him to talk. He pushed his students hard, but he also cared for them deeply. It is surely valuable to examine some of his practices and principles from his exceptional career.
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John Hattie is an education researcher from New Zealand with a very ambitious goal: to synthesise the myriad quantitative research studies on education in a single publication. The number of articles affecting his book Visible Learning numbers in the region of 80 thousand (!). The results of his analysis have been hailed as the "Holy Grail" of education by such prestigious authorities as the Times Education Supplement. So, how did he and his team do it?
Hattie uses an approach known as meta-analysis. Meta-analyses take numerous research articles trying to measure an effect and compare them in order to ultimately determine the size of the effect. They are common in medicine, where they are often used to elucidate whether a drug is truly effective or not, as a single study may incorrectly show a drug to be effective simply by chance.
However, Hattie goes one step further and carries out a meta-analysis on other meta-analyses, forming a sort of "meta-meta-analysis". With this approach, his team only directly work with 400 articles, as each of these is a meta-analysis of tens or hundreds of other articles, which is how we reach the gargantuan number 80 thousand.
You would have thought that such an ambitious, influential, and widely praised work would have come under much careful scrutiny. And you would have thought that since it is so statistical, numerous other researchers in the field of education would have performed at least a surface-level plausibility check.
However, you may be disappointed. It took two years for anybody to even begin to notice the glaring statistical errors behind this work, and even when they were noticed, Hattie's team didn't treat them with the gravity they deserved. Methodological criticism gradually increased in number, and by now it is clear that the "Holy Grail" has numerous leaky holes.
In this episode, after introducing Visible Learning, I go on to take some highlights from one such criticism, entitled How to engage in pseudoscience with real data: A criticism of John Hattie’s arguments in Visible Learning from the perspective of a statistician, written by Canadian statistician Pierre-Jerome Bergeron. I aim to explain the most accessible points, and leave the more complex parts of the article for those with the interest and mathematical acumen to look up.
This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in education. It's one of the reasons why it's so hard to figure out how things work and what's actually true in the field. At least I can warn people about the problems with this still widely cited work.
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Graham Nuthall was an education researcher from New Zealand who spent most of his career on classroom observation, both by directly sitting in on lessons and by recording them by the hundred, watching them back, and analysing them with his team. He also made extensive use of interviews with students to clarify their thought processes. This short book communicates his most important findings to other researchers and to teachers.
His most impressive achievement is being able to predict, with some accuracy, what concepts or facts children have learned based solely on classroom observation. His team would analyse what different students were doing at key moments in lessons, noting whether they were paying attention to the information being taught or discussed. They found that if a student had been paying attention at least three times when the full information necessary to understand a concept was being stated, then they would almost always have formed the concept and be able to articulate it after the end of the unit. If they had paid attention only two or fewer times, they had not learnt the concept.
His work emphasises the individual lives of students, and particularly peer interactions. It's not only "distraction" either - for some students, over half of what they learned had been from peers. He goes over detailed examples of classroom conversations, both the public and the clandestine, showing how these affect both student learning and broader behaviour and culture.
Although the main points of the book concern peers and the number of exposures required to learn something, given that the book is a summary of the most important things that Nuthall has to say, it touches on many other points and ideas in education.
Although I was hoping to make this a short episode, as per my Public Service Announcement (last "episode"), it ended up having to be around 50 minutes long to cover the most important things that he had to say, even briefly. Maybe 50 minutes is still short for me.
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