Visible Learning OR Reinventing the Wheel… necessarily?

There are some pretty cool movements happening in the world of public education these days. In addition to those buzz words everyone has to hear, at least as regards the federal government’s involvement in public education, such as No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards, and ObamaEd (which will no doubt be a disaster… because, you know, Obama…), people keep throwing around this newfangled idea: visible learning.

What does this picture have to do with anything?

What IS visible learning, I heard no one ask themselves? In a nutshell, visible learning puts the responsibility back on to the student by using clear expectations and by providing an educator as an activator of learning, as well as one who will guide students through their educational process. The most important part of this, at least in my opinion, is that all responsibility is ON THE STUDENT. They are, presumably, to become the master of their journey.

By creating visible gradations for each skill, up to the point of mastery, visible learning forces the student to look at their own progress with a skill (essay writing, the quadratic equation, baking a biscuit, balancing a checkbook, performing a back squat correctly, etc.) and REFLECT on it. The student should ask themselves, “Where do I stand?” Assuming that the educator has made visible the criteria for various milestones (beginner, intermediate, expert), the student should be able to place their little top hat or motor car in one of those slots and be able to articulate what they need to move onto the next square.

Or this one? Do you see any relevance?

This method is amazing, especially if, like me, you tend to enjoy personal accountability (and that special moment when a student realizes that THEY, not their parents, priests, peers, pteachers and pterodactyls, are to blame for real failures). No longer do we live in the era of “a trophy for everyone.” Instead, at least for my money, we should be holding our parents, our educators, our politicians, and our youth accountable (and rewarded) for their hard work and level of engagement in their own education. Why? It translates to their own level of achievement and success in life. Live deliberately, I’ve always said!


However, is it truly necessary? I mean, I’ve always been a fan of success, especially long chains of success in our young people, with the hope that those middle school and high school level successes formed momentum and turned into lifelong success, feelings of adequacy and competency, even confidence in someone’s intelligence and abilities, ultimately leading to happy, productive, non-violent taxpayers. Not to sound sarcastic, but isn’t that the majority of our goals?

It hurts just trying to figure out why he even put these here.

That said: do we need a different “educational revolution” every two to six years? Am I the only one left who feels like when education was left to the teachers — inept as they may or may not have been over the past however many thousands of years — that life still went on? Many smarter people than I could probably, in detail, explain the virtues and purposes of a high school education. Being kind of a simpleton, I tend to break down middle and high school lessons into the following categories:

Responsibility ( learning punctuality, meeting deadlines, committing to and following through with social obligations)

Work ethic (anything worthwhile in life is going to take a lot of hard work, whether you find the work easy or hard, boring or captivating, pointless or deliberate; get used to it)

Socialization (you have to work with other people, many of whom you will not like; get used to it)

Eight hours (everyone has to spend about eight hours a day doing something other than playing video games or sleeping; get used to it)

In other words, the same stuff EVERYONE has been learning since before any of the educational revolutions, actual academic content absolutely disregarded (not that those things aren’t important; many people have asked what learning quadratic equations does for us later in life, and the answer is that you will never need to stop learning things, be they simple or complex, so let’s be prepared to learn complex things).

As the Satanic voice on my high school Spanish tapes would say: TE TOCA A TI! Now, it’s your turn!

Final thought: wink!

What the hell do you think? Is visible learning to education what revelations about fat and sugar and high-intensity interval training are to current fitness? Or have we, at least generally, been doing a fine thing with our youth by putting them through this high school thing? Is the whole system a disaster? Should we go entirely to trade-based learning? Should we have some kind of dystopian overlord assigning people roles and thoughts at random? WHAT SAY YOU?!

Sound off!






2 thoughts on “Visible Learning OR Reinventing the Wheel… necessarily?”

  1. When I lived in Germany the village we were in was part of a German state (the only one) led by the Green Party, more inclusive/liberal-leaning, They had a similar approach I think, of teaching students to take personal responsibility for their growth plans. In other words, students made a plan for when they were ready to test and what their goals were, and decided when they would take exams. It’s much broader than that, but that’s my takeaway. I have a very good German friend who teaches in that system; it’s designed to teach that responsibility but also thinking for one’s self. Lots more to it I can’t fit into a comment box. But this resonates: good for you for sharing your passion on these cool ideas. I have a friend who teaches in the Portland PS system now, who’s been an educator for 20 years in San Francisco and a charter school outside of Portland too. Maybe hook you guys up some day if interested. Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Education talk in BeerTopia?! I’ll take it! Thanks for stopping by and giving some feedback. Your travel-ish past sounds awesome and, right now, I wish I was in Germany, chomping on shawerma and drinking a gigantic, frosty lager.


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