The intentional classroom

‘Visible Learning’ is an intentional teaching method bringing clarity and confidence to both teachers and students

By Susana Lapeyrade-Drummond

At a recent professional development course for all our K-8 teachers, the keynote speaker announced that “every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”

The “design” referenced was Visible Learning, a methodology and mindset introduced to our 55 archdiocesan elementary schools four years ago and implemented over the past two to three years. Our goal then and now is to improve and accelerate student learning outcomes systemwide.

Visible Learning is based on the groundbreaking research of educational researcher John Hattie of the University of Melbourne, Australia. It synthesizes what he learned from studying 80 million students about what works best to optimize classroom learning.

Students need a clearly articulated purpose about what they are learning and why they are learning it, Hattie explains at They also must be able to measure their own achievement.

“You need learning intentions and success criteria,” he said. “Those two things go together.”

He uses the analogy of video games, which have proven to be highly successful at motivating kids to advance their skills.

“They (the students) know exactly what it means to be successful: to get to the next level. And they’re prepared to invest an incredible number of hours to get to that next level. The games give them many cues to measuring and understanding their achievement.”

Visible Learning levels the playing field by telling students exactly what they are going to learn, why they should learn it and how they will recognize when they have succeeded in learning.

“Learning Intentions” are presented directly to students by the teacher at the outset of any lesson, clearly stating what the teacher expects a student to know and/or be able to do at the end of teaching activities. “Success Criteria” help students measure their success by identifying and expressing exactly what the student needs to know or do to achieve mastery.

Teacher clarity brings forthrightness and fairness to the classroom for all learners.

St. Raphael School principal Lydia Collins, an educator for more than 30 years, committed her faculty and staff to Visible Learning when the Archdiocese offered the training.

“In the past, we teachers have held all the cards. We knew what the lesson was and where it was going. We knew what we wanted from our students and why,” she said. “But our students didn’t necessarily know. Visible Learning is putting all the cards on the table in the classroom for everyone to see.”

A 2015 study by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment showed that Visible Learning improves a student’s ability to focus for longer periods of time, stay motivated and active in the learning process, and take responsibility for their own learning.

Visible Learning is also making teachers better, and students more active and responsible shepherds of their own education.

“Visible Learning says, show the kids what score they got and ask them what their goal is for the next test,” Collins said.

Sts. Peter and Paul School sixth grade teacher Lisa Perez said her consistent use of Visible Learning has improved student growth in her classroom.

“Rubrics, success criteria and clear and concise directions guide students to know exactly what their teachers want them to understand and be able to accomplish,” she said.

“Nothing that we teach should be ambiguous to the students,” said Katie Kyne, sixth grade teacher at St. Raphael School. “Knowing what is ahead of them and what they need to do to achieve success creates a clear pathway for personal goal setting.”

Learning intentions work equally well at all grade levels. Sts. Peter and Paul third grade teacher Shirley Ordona described teaching her young students how to write a friendly letter.

“First, we talked about the parts of the letter,” she said. “Then, I showed them an example of a well-written letter.”

The students worked on their own letters, then teamed up with a partner to evaluate their letters for all five elements spelled out in the lesson’s “Success Criteria.”

“All students want to be successful,” said Ordona. “If it is clear to them how to be successful, they can focus and work toward the goal.”

Susana Lapeyrade-Drummond is the associate superintendent for curriculum & instruction for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Photo: Dennis Callahan, Archdiocese of San Francisco