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Creating active learners

“My goal is to learn all my multiplication by the end of the year.  When you aim for something, and you get there, it makes you feel proud.” Emma, student at Hilltop Road Public School.

  • Learn how one school is using Visible Learning strategies and Seesaw to have rich conversations about learning and build a deep culture of learning in their community.
  • Find out how to adopt the same model in your school and more about Visible Learning and Seesaw by using the links and references at the end of this case study. 
  • Watch the ALL Active Learners video to see the program in practice.

The ALL Case Studies are practical examples of how joy and data can come together in learning.  Inspired by the inaugural Australian Learning Lecture, delivered by Sir Michael Barber, the ALL Case Studies examine how data gathered through the use of diagnostic tools in real learning experiences provides greater insight into how each student learns.  Data enables educators to help learners find joy in learning, to flourish and tackle life’s opportunities.

Data, far from being in opposition to joy is an important ingredient in it.
Sir Michael Barber, Australian Learning Lecture, 21 May 2015, www.all-learning.org.au.

What is the problem?

When staff at Hilltop Road Public School looked at student learning they found that “our students could tell us what they did, but they couldn’t tell us the learning behind it.”  As Cheryl Romer, Assistant Principal, explains, she could set a task which a student could complete accurately, but she would not have any evidence that the student really understood the topic.

Hilltop Road Public School is in Western Sydney. The school has approximately 750 students, with about 60% of the school population from culturally and linguistic diverse backgrounds. The school is in one of the most diverse parts of Sydney, with a low socio-economic profile and students from over 74 cultural backgrounds.

The school was concerned that students were not able to clearly discuss what they had learnt and how they had learnt it.  Also concerning for staff, they found that students could not articulate how they could improve or extend their learning.  The skill of articulating the process of learning and the capacity to reflect are essential to the development of independent self-regulated learners, which is a central goal for the school.[i]

As Principal Natalie See explains, the teaching staff asked themselves “how do we mobilise our students and community to be really active in their learning?”

How did Visible Learning using Seesaw start?

The school began an action research project looking at how students articulated their learning, drawing on John Hattie’s work around Visible Learning.[ii]  As Hattie explains:

“Visible teaching and learning occurs when learning is the explicit and transparent goal, when it is appropriately challenging, and when the teacher and the student both (in their various ways) seek to ascertain whether and to what degree the challenging goal is attained… The remarkable feature of the evidence is that the greatest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers.  When students become their own teachers, they exhibit the self-regulatory attributes that seem most desirable for learners (self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-assessment, self-teaching).”[iii]

The staff at Hilltop Road PS knew that they needed to connect their students with their learning and that they needed to build student engagement with learning.  The school also wanted to engage the whole school in community learning and build strong learning partnerships between the school, families and the wider community.

In 2015 Hilltop Road Public School began to use Seesaw, a digital portfolio which enables families to see and comment on their children’s work.  Parents can comment on their children’s work in their own language, and they provide an authentic audience for their children.  Seesaw also enables teachers to track and assess student work, as well as communicate effectively with parents. 

The digital tool provides a window into the school’s approach to Visible Learning.  Visible Learning involves the use of learning intentions and success criteria (LISC), which are appropriately challenging articulations of goals which are explicitly known by the student.[iv]  “The aim of making learning visible to students is to empower them to take ownership of their learning, through self-reflection and the articulation of what and how they are learning” explains Natalie See.

Hilltop Road PS initially trialled the use of Seesaw in Kindergarten to Grade 2, but soon found that parents with children in the older grades were requesting that the program be rolled out across the school. 

The school offered workshops for parents about how to have conversations about student work; teaching parents the language of Visible Learning, learning intentions and success criteria.  As Hattie explains, strategies like this, which engage parents in the language and practice of schools, result in enhanced engagement by students in schooling, improvements in reading achievement, greater skills for the parents, and higher expectations and satisfaction with the school.[v]

Cheryl Romer reports “It’s a game-changer, it’s like opening up the walls of the classroom.  A lot of people are a bit scared of bringing parents in to the classroom… and our parents loved it.”

How does Visible Learning and Seesaw help?

Each student at Hilltop Road PS sets their own learning goals and through Visible Learning strategies becomes a critic of their own work.  Students are asked to consider “what challenged you during this learning experience?” and consider this before they load examples of their work to Seesaw.  As an articulation of learning “It lets the children show you what they know.  And because it’s going to a different audience they’re either showing you their best work or they’re having to define what it is they’re learning about” explains Cheryl Romer.  

The school has worked hard to develop its Time to Talk (Triple T) Project so that teachers can meet with every student and discuss each student’s digital portfolio.  Carefully structured questions, an informal approach, and photo evidence of work helps to build powerful insights into how students are learning and in-depth knowledge of each student.  At these meetings students use Seesaw to reflect back on work they found hard, or a challenge, and to discuss what they have discovered about themselves as learners.

Seesaw is a way for students to show evidence that they are meeting success criteria.  As a means of empowering the students to become their own teachers, Seesaw enables students to reflect on their own learning, articulate what and how they are learning with the appropriate language, and be more independent in their learning.

As Robert, a student at Hilltop Road PS, describes: “If I didn’t have Seesaw my mum would ask me ‘what did you do today?’ and I’ll say ‘umm, I went to school’, and I wouldn’t remember.  I can talk to my mum even more about school, because I can remember and it’s more fun.”

For Cheryl Romer Seesaw opens the dialogue with parents and creates a three-way conversation, which evolves during the course of the school year. A benefit for her is that at Parent-Teacher meetings there are no surprises, as parents have already had opportunities to engage with evidence of their child’s learning.  One of the Hilltop Road PS parents, Akenata Vunivalu, explains “I can tell my children that I’m learning too. Seesaw is the best way to learn because it involves us and we can see what is going on in the school and what the children are learning about.  So it goes both ways: the child is learning and we are learning as parents.”

For a school with such a culturally and linguistically diverse population, Seesaw has opened up communication between school and home.  “When people come from other cultural backgrounds a picture makes a great impact on them and tells more stories than just a pen to paper” reports Akenata.  It makes it much easier for parents from non-English speaking backgrounds to engage with what their children are learning.

How is data useful?

The introduction of Visible Learning strategies, in conjunction with the use of Seesaw as a digital portfolio, has given teachers at Hilltop Road PS a powerful insight into their own impact on student learning.  The data gained from Seesaw enables teachers to capture student learning, and use that data to plan next steps, and to differentiate the challenges for individual students.  Cheryl Romer says “You get a really strong overview of where the kids are.  Seesaw helps to identify the kids who could slip under the radar, those who haven’t completed work, or those who need some support.”

Importantly, the school uses Seesaw to gain insights into each student’s articulation of learning.  Cheryl Romer uses the example of teaching angles and trajectory, using the game Angry Birds.  Students draw the angles and trajectories needed to gain high scores in the game, and then add a verbal annotation to the task when they load it up to Seesaw.  “As a teacher I could set a worksheet on angles and they could get it all right on the worksheet.  But if I ask them to do a real task on angles, then I hear whether they’ve got it by their annotation over the top.”

Teachers collect examples of student work stored on Seesaw when planning, and then analyse work to determine growth in each student’s knowledge, skills and capabilities at the end of each unit of learning.  The student work on Seesaw can be sorted in a variety of ways, enabling teachers to track progress and identify next steps for teaching.[vi]

The evidence so far

Hilltop Road PS has tracked their impact on student learning through their action research project and have found that the introduction of Visible Learning strategies and the use of Seesaw have had positive results.

Cheryl Romer reports that as a result of the changes in practice 82% of students interviewed were better able to articulate what they are learning and why they are learning it.  Teachers’ use of learning intentions and success criteria has helped students to articulate not only what they are learning, but the things they need to do to reach their goals.[vii]

Visible learning has enabled teachers to identify, address and monitor student learning needs more specifically, as they are now focusing explicitly on learning intentions and success criteria.  Through the action research project staff were able to compare student work developed using learning intentions, and work developed without this strategy.  Teachers found that the student work developed using learning intentions was of a better quality.  Cheryl Romer explains, “in writing work samples where LISC (learning intentions and success criteria) practices were used, the meaning in the text was clearer and contained more language features that were relevant to the text type. Work reflected the focus of the learning and students used a success criterion to self-assess their work and identify key focus areas to work towards.”[viii]

“Through analysing the evidence set we are also able to determine that teachers and students are now having meaningful conversations about whether the student has achieved the intended focus of the lesson. Teachers have demonstrated they are able to use students’ assessment data to understand the learning needs of students and plan follow up lessons accordingly” reports Natalie See.

The introduction of Seesaw has seen an improvement in communication between school and home, and extensive parent engagement with learning.  Natalie See says “all families want to share the success of their children and this is a great way for that to happen.”  The evidence supports her observation: by October 2016 up to 1,000 items of student work had been loaded on to Seesaw per week.  Almost 660 parents were connected with the program, with parent visits to the site reaching over 2,000 per week.  Weekly comments from parents reached a high of 625 individual comments, and 3,530 individual likes. 

Reflecting on what she has learnt since implementing Visible Learning practices and Seesaw, Cheryl Romer says “I’ve learnt that parents truly want to be partners in their children’s education.  They don’t want the tokenistic ‘bake five cakes and stand on the cake stall’.  They really want to be involved… I’ve learnt that the dialogue between you and the parents is much better, because the parents don’t see you as a threat.”

Through changes in practice, the adoption of evidence-based strategies, and the engagement of parents in learning, Hilltop Road PS has seen real improvements in student learning.  The school has gained greater knowledge of each student as a learner, and each student is making gains in their own abilities to self-assess, to reflect and to set and reach goals for learning.

Learn more

Visible Learning: John Hattie:  Professor John Hattie has been Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, since March 2011. Before, he was Project Director of asTTle and Professor of Education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.  His research interests include performance indicators, models of measurement and evaluation of teaching and learning. John Hattie became known to a wider public with his two books Visible Learning and Visible Learning for teachers. Visible Learning is a synthesis of more than 800 meta-studies covering more than 80 million students.  According to John Hattie Visible Learning is the result of 15 years of research about what works best for learning in schools. 

More information about Seesaw

Sources

Hattie, J. (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning.  Routledge: London and New York.

Hilltop Road Public School. (2016-17). Minutes of meetings, reports and teaching materials.  Supplied by Hilltop Road Public School.

Romer, C. and Cowpe, R. (2016) Students’ ability to acquire and use metalanguage enhanced by specific teacher practices, and providing opportunities for parents to continue learning conversations at home. Hilltop Road Public School: Unpublished paper.

Thanks: Natalie See, Cheryl Romer, Renee Cowpe, Andy Drewitt, Education Changemakers.

Author: Eleanor Bridger



[i] Romer, C. and Cowpe, R. (2016) Students’ ability to acquire and use metalanguage enhanced by specific teacher practices, and providing opportunities for parents to continue learning conversations at home. Hilltop Road Public School: Unpublished paper.

[ii] Hattie, J. (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning.  Routledge: London and New York.

[iii] Hattie, J. (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning.  Routledge: London and New York. P.17-18.

[iv] Hattie, J. (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning.  Routledge: London and New York. P. 52-56.

[v] Hattie, J. (2012).  Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning.  Routledge: London and New York. P. 88.

[vi] Romer, C. and Cowpe, R. (2016) Students’ ability to acquire and use metalanguage enhanced by specific teacher practices, and providing opportunities for parents to continue learning conversations at home. Hilltop Road Public School: Unpublished paper.

[vii] Romer, C. and Cowpe, R. (2016) Students’ ability to acquire and use metalanguage enhanced by specific teacher practices, and providing opportunities for parents to continue learning conversations at home. Hilltop Road Public School: Unpublished paper.

[viii] Romer, C. and Cowpe, R. (2016) Students’ ability to acquire and use metalanguage enhanced by specific teacher practices, and providing opportunities for parents to continue learning conversations at home. Hilltop Road Public School: Unpublished paper.