Thursday, July 14, 2016

Assessment-Capable Learners: Understanding one of Hattie's most powerful influences on student achievement

John Hattie published Visible Learning (2009) to synthesize evidence-based research in order to tell a specific and compelling story: 
  • Almost nothing we do harms kids
  • Most of what we do leads kids to learning
  • Therefore, instead of talking about "what works", we should be focused on "what works best"
Doug Fisher says that Hattie's work tells us what works, how it works and when it works. Deb Masters suggests the Mindframes for Teachers and Leaders represent a succinct story of the Visible Learning Research. 

My sketchnotes from Masters' session on the 10 Mindframes for Teachers & Leaders.
To clearly show what works best (has greater probability of having a high impact on student learning), Hattie used the research to calculate the effect size for each influence studied. He found that an effect size of d = 0.15 to d = 0.40 represented what teachers can accomplish in a typical year of schooling. He argued therefore, we must focus on those strategies that have an effect size of d = 0.40 and higher; those influences that work best.
When Visible Learning Trainer Dave Nagel came to our district in February 2016, he mentioned an influence I hadn't heard of before in Hattie's research: Assessment-Capable Learners. Assessment-Capable Learners, Nagel explained, had an effect size of d =1.44, well above the majority of the other influences listed in Hattie's research. This influence is one of the most important things we can do to raise student achievement.

Although Nagel showed the following slide during his keynote, I was still left confused; what the heck was an Assessment-Capable Learner? How do we develop these types of students?

A slide explaining the attributes of an Assessment-Capable Learner from Dave Nagel, February 2016
As with many of the influences on Hattie's list, there is great danger at taking misguided action based on a superficial understanding of what an Assessment-Capable Learner is. On the surface, one might think that Hattie is suggesting that we develop learners who are capable of successfully taking assessments, particularly those high stakes tests which are pervasive in schools throughout the world; learners who have practiced and are skilled at various test-taking strategies: closely-reading the questions, eliminating answers obviously wrong, going back and checking work, etc. However there is evidence that teaching learners these test-taking strategies actually does not have a high impact on student learning (teaching test-taking: d = 0.27).

Those that have an initial misunderstanding of an Assessment-Capable Learner aren't alone. When asked, "Why are we striving for an 'assessment-capable learner' and not a 'self-regulated learner?'" Hattie admitted that he struggles with a lot of "those words". Rather, he suggests that we think about Assessment Capable Learners in this way: "When students see themselves as their own teachers."

Each keynote and breakout session at the Annual Visible Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. allowed me to further construct my own understanding of Assessment-Capable Learners. Below, I share a synthesis of my thinking:

Assessment-Capable Learners:
  • can answer the following three questions, as long as teachers have clearly communicated learning intentions and success criteria (teacher clarity: d = 0.75)
    1. What am I learning?
    2. Why am I learning it?
    3. How will I know when I've had success & have learned it?

  • know where they are, where they're going (based on clear learning intentions & success criteria) and their next steps to move forward.
  • know the language of learning (VOICE) and make decisions about their learning (CHOICE)
  • are open to and expect feedback.
  • give feedback to others, because they recognize the powerful impact they can have on their peers' learning.
  • set challenging, yet realistic learning goals AND put forth the effort to reach them.
  • are active, involved and engaged in their own learning.
  • are radical change agents
  • see errors as opportunities for learning
  • exhibit the eight Mindframes for Learners:
    1. I want to know what success looks like.
    2. I like challenging goals.
    3. I want to master and have deep learning.
    4. I am confident I can learn.
    5. I want to become my own teacher.
    6. I engage in dialogue, not monologue, about my learning.
    7. I like to plan to implement my learning goals.
    8. I want to learn to be strategic in my learning goals.

As I continue to construct my own understanding of an Assessment-Capable Learner, I begin to ask: what do we teachers need to do to develop these dispositions and encourage these actions in the learners with whom we work?

THANK YOU to all the presenters at the conference. My thinking above represents a synthesis of keynotes and breakout sessions led by those directly quoted above and: Paul Bloomberg, Barb Pitchford, Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, Jen Mall, Michael McDowell.


  1. Ryan,

    I really appreciate your blog! Thank you for sharing your insights with the rest of us!

    My colleague and I are just finishing a book for Corwin on assessment literacy - specifically using high-impact strategies to create assessment-literate learners and educators. We are advocates of visual learning strategies and have incorporated many sketches, concept maps, drawings, and graphic organizers in our book. Your sketch notes fit right in - both with regard to the topic and your construction/synthesis of your learning.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. You're welcome and thank you for the feedback, Anita! When is your book due to be released? I'll look for it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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