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Visible Learning: Key Principles

Students perform better in examinations if teachers build their course structure around the problems students have year-in, year out. Specifications and content may change but the underlying problems students face when they carry out historical research, construct arguments and communicate their ideas do not. Learning is best conceived as a process and we need to support students through that process by making it visible if we are to fully realise the potential of our students as learners.

John Hattie argues that ‘Observations of classrooms typically show that there is little direct instruction in ‘how to learn’, or the development and use of learning strategies.’ This is an important omission because, while students must have a deep foundation of subject knowledge, they also need to learn to take control of their own learning – their ability to employ effective and flexible strategies that help them reason, memorize and problem-solve is crucial if they want to achieve success in history. Providing students with these learning strategies in the context of studying history is far more effective than through ‘learning to learn’ programs that are not embedded in the context of a subject.

Students who struggle are most in need of these strategies to help them learn effectively. Teachers cannot assume that students have appropriate strategies for resolving their problems so we need to help pupils see what good learning looks like. We therefore believe that ‘visible learning’ is crucial - taking what is so often implicit and making it explicit to our pupils. It means identifying the areas where pupils struggle and converting these into explicit teaching opportunities to lift pupils higher and push back the boundaries of pupil progress.


A PDF version of this article and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

For the full article [ click here ]

For examples for Key Principles 1 and 2 [ click here ]

For examples for Key Principle 3 [ click here ]

For examples for Key Principles 4 to 7 [ click here ]

Key Principles

In summary, the seven key principles are:

1. Teach how to decode questions HERE …

2. Promote wider reading and model important research skills HERE …

3. Model how to construct arguments HERE …

4. Model how to communicate effectively HERE …

5. Use the power of functional analogies HERE …

6. Build regular testing into the course HERE …

7. Model how to revise HERE …


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

Visible Learning


  1. Decode questions

  2. Reading & research

  3. Construct arguments

  4. Communicate

  5. Functional analogies

  6. Regular testing

  7. Revise


Full Article

Resources KP 1 & 2

Resources KP 3

Resources KP 4 to 7



Raising Attainment

Introduction: Starting Points

Visible Learning: Key Principles

Themes at GCSE

Depth and Period Studies

Feedback, Marking & Improve Learning

Independent Learning
at A Level