Case study: Making learning visible through self-assessment - Education Matters Magazine
Professional Development

Case study: Making learning visible through self-assessment

Picnic Point Public School is a government school situated on the banks of the Georges River in Sydney’s South-West, New South Wales. The school has an enrolment of 401 students, ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 6 with 49 per cent of students having a language background other than English, bringing 22 different languages to the school.

John Hattie of the University of Melbourne has long researched performance indicators and evaluation in education. His research book, Visible Learning, is the culmination of more than 25 years of examining and synthesising more than 1,400 meta-analyses comprising more than 93,000 studies involving more than 250 million students around the world.
Hattie wanted to understand which variables were the most important. Although “almost everything we do improves learning”, why not prioritie the practices that will have the greatest effect?

From his research came Visible Learningplus, which has helped schools all over Australia, such as Picnic Point Public School in NSW, maximise progress and achievement and create a shift in how their educators approach their teaching. This is Picnic Point’s story.

The Context
Picnic Point Public School is a government school situated on the banks of the Georges River in Sydney’s South-West, New South Wales. The school has an enrolment of 401 students ranging from Kindergarten (5 years old) to Grade 6 (12 years old) and their families come from diverse backgrounds with 49 per cent of students having a language background other than English, bringing 22 different languages to the school.

The Approach
Picnic Point Public School has built a reputation in the educational community for strong and steady academic performance over time. They have a dedicated teaching staff with proven willingness to invest time and effort in professional learning and development and the staff were keen to find an evidence-based pedagogical approach that was not content or subject based, and not performed in isolation, but could have a positive impact across all Key Learning Areas.

Picnic Point educators collaborated with five other local schools to undertake the three-day Visible Learningplus Foundation Series with Corwin, where all staff had comprehensive professional learning in the theory and principles underpinning Professor Hattie’s Visible Learning research. Each school assessed themselves using the Visible Learningplus School Matrix and collected evidence using a range of tools to generate discussion and gather staff and student voice in relation to learning, relational trust, feedback, and the mindframes of the leadership team.

Using the evidence gathered, they developed their aspiration: “All students at Picnic Point PS will show at least a year’s growth or greater effect size in Literacy and Numeracy each year and exhibit the characteristics of an assessment-capable visible learner, incorporating the Picnic Point PS Learner Qualities.”

Committed to that goal, they identified their first focus areas of building a learning culture, ensuring teacher clarity, instructional feedback, and developing an evaluator mindframe as essential priorities to achieve their aspiration and specific identified goals.

With the learning culture established, they next endeavoured to encourage students to take more risks in their learning and see mistakes as opportunities for new learning. Thus, they introduced James Nottingham’s ‘Learning Pit’ analogy into every classroom. The analogy created a clear visual and shared language across the school to help students ‘see’ that learning is hard work and there are strategies and learning dispositions they can employ when learning becomes challenging. Students now use the ‘Learning Pit’ analogy to reflect on their learning at different points in time and to articulate next steps which will help get them out of ‘the pit’.

To add a personal dimension to the learning culture and help students develop conscious habits of mind, they collaboratively developed and explicitly taught eight learner qualities -bravery, optimism, curiosity, collaboration, zest, grit, mindfulness, and reflection – using literature systematically across the whole school. Once students had built knowledge of each learner quality and practiced applying them in learning situations over a six-month period, they assessed themselves on developmental continuums to build self-awareness of their own strengths and gaps.

After the language of learning had begun to gain traction, they introduced Learning Intentions and Success Criteria (LISC) to improve teacher clarity. The educators at Picnic Point began implementing LISC in writing lessons to make the purpose of the lesson clear and visible to all students, as well as the specific and measurable steps for success. The implementation of instructional feedback was dovetailed into this process as the LISC provided an explicit focus and framework for giving teacher-student and student-student feedback, not to mention student self-assessment and reflection.

Using the Progress and Achievement Tool, provided by the Visible Learningplus program, they could measure progress by calculating effect sizes for individuals and cohorts using internal or external student assessment data. Alongside ongoing formative assessment practices, they brought this student assessment data to impact meetings where teachers could measure their impact and ask key questions at both an individual and team level to determine next steps.

The Impact
First and foremost, the positivity surrounding Visible Learning practices by staff, students, and parents was refreshing and inspiring. By capturing student voice, they found that, after twelve months of implementing Visible Learningplus, student engagement had risen significantly along with the number of students feeling that they were being challenged in their learning. Picnic Point educators said that it was inspiring to hear their students talking about the Learning Pit as a “place they strive to be in” so they can be “curious, collaborative, and bravely take on challenges”. Even students in Kindergarten can reflect on how well they have achieved the success criteria for a given assignment, and students in Grade 6 are able to explain how they are utilising the learning process to pursue their passions.

Through measuring of progress using effect size, the average student effect size measure in Maths has doubled and comprehension has increased by 50 per cent. As a result of Visible Learningplus, educators are more aware of their impact and are driven to improve student learning outcomes through data analysis and deliberate, critical reflection and evaluation. They are becoming evaluators of their impact and beginning to see assessment as feedback to themselves.

Partner with Corwin’s team of Professional Learning Leaders to activate or extend your Visible Learning journey. Call (03) 8612-2000 or visit

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