Tag Archives: Visible Learning

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):


As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.



Strategies vs. Activities: Impacting Student Learning

Last week, we had the opportunity to watch our fearless leader, Angie Kautz, Gresham-Barlow’s Director of Teaching and Learning, present a session on Strategies vs. Activities at one of our district late-start meetings. Administrators and teachers, now knee-deep in the district Data Team Initiative, have had some questions about distinguishing between strategies and activities. Data Teams are asked to choose and implement one common strategy during Step 4 of the Data Team process in order to bolster performance of those students not yet proficient in a targeted skill.

Angie presented a concise distinction that rang true to us: activities are the things we do to utilize a strategy. Examples of strategies include John Hattie’s Visible Learning InfluencesRobert J. Marzano’s Nine Essential Instructional Strategies, and Gresham-Barlow’s own ACTIVE instruction. Activities, then, are the things we do with students.

In the scheme of Data Teams, team members not only would choose a common strategy to teach but also a common activity. This ensures teachers’ ability to track what exactly affects student learning. In Step 5, when considering reteaching, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose another activity to influence student achievement.

Here’s an example from Hattie: The strategy Providing (actionable, timely and specific) Feedback has a .75 Effect Size, which means it has a positive influence on student achievement. In his research, any intervention yielding > .4 effect size will yield positive results. To provide perspective, an intervention that has a “1.0 effect size…is typically associated with advancing children’s achievement by two to three years….” (Hattie 2009). Pretty powerful stuff. Activities to utilize Providing Feedback may include such things as student Self-Reflection, Debate Team Carousel, or Self-Scoring with Teacher Follow-up.

Here’s another example, this time from Marzano: The strategy Identifying Similarities and Differences has a .66 effect size. Activities such as employing a Comparison Matrix, having students create a Venn Diagram, or using T-charts (see Nine Essential Instructional Strategies link above for samples) help to utilize the strategy.

We’ll undoubtedly have more to add as we continue to work with teachers on the nuances between strategies and activities. If you would like individual or team coaching, leave us a comment below!