Monday, July 25, 2011

What makes the difference: The teacher or the space?

Having my head stuck into John Hattie’s Visible Learning has given me time to consider what we do in our open learning spaces in a slightly different way. In looking through Hattie’s highest ranking effect sizes, there are none related to how classrooms are set out or the architecture of the school. In fact Hattie argues that the school effects that he analyses, whilst still being important, don’t actually define the differences in student achievement. It’s very much what happens inside the classrooms that makes the key difference.

His big message is that “what teachers do matters” (Hattie, 2009, p.22). So it’s factors like formative assessment, feedback, clarity of teaching, teacher-student relationships and meta-cognitive strategies that actually make the difference to student achievement. It’s also factors from the student themselves such as prior achievement and self-reported grades. It’s about learners knowing, “Where am I going?”, “How am I going?”, and “Where to next?”.

None of Hattie's top ranking meta-analyses in fact are space dependent, They could happen in any classroom setting, whether open or more traditional. So does the space matter?

Good design clearly will never replace good teaching in terms of student outcomes but the question remains as to whether design can enhance learning? Can teachers working collaboratively in a space to design and cause learning, where there is open access to e-learning tools and furniture that is fit for purpose, promote learning for children? Can the environment really be the third teacher?


Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge

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