Saturday, 22 March 2014

Why does RAG123 work?

I've been pondering for some time why RAG123 has such impact. I know I like it because I get a better understanding of my students, and can plan more accurately as a result. But to have such a big impact on progress (e.g. to have an effect size of 0.6 or better), there must be a number of reasons that it works. Having thought for a while I think it hits many fronts...

The cognitive science view
In his book "Why don't students like school?" Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) says:
"You want to encourage your students to think of their intelligence as under their control, and especially that they can develop their intelligence through hard work. Therefore you should praise process rather than ability." (page 183)

(I should point out that Willingham was referring to "slow learners" in that passage, but there is no logical reason that this would only apply to those below average - it's just that they are less likely to be praised for ability so have more need of an alternative.)

The effort gradings in RAG123 do exactly this - We acknowledge effort, even if the learning itself isn't successful. If the student is applying a good level of effort then it is the responsibility of the professional teacher to ensure that the learning experiences the student encounters are effective. Conversely without effort from the student even an otherwise perfect series of lessons will result in ineffective learning.

As such using RAG123 to raise the visibility/prominence of effort in the student's mind will encourage them to improve. They have full control over effort, they may not have full control over learning.

Similarly as a teacher, if you become clearly aware of a student that is trying hard but not making much progress you will be prompted to make a change, it forces you to be more reflective.

The visible learning view
I mentioned effect sizes above and this is most closely linked to the work of John Hattie, e.g. here.

If you look at the top end of Hattie's ordered list of effect sizes a further possible explanation of the power of RAG123 starts to emerge...

Source: (highlighting added by me)

The highlighted line items, for me, have some kind of link to what RAG123 does. Self reporting grades is relevant because the students are self rating their understanding of each topic/lesson. Formative evaluation is done as the RAG123 rating shapes what both the student and teacher do in the next lesson, that also links to Feedback. RAG123 also impacts on Teacher-student relationships as it gives a much closer and immediate dialogue on the work done, the level of understanding shown, or the barriers to learning that have been found. Meta-cognitive strategies are about students having an appreciation of how they are learning, and therefore about what makes them successful learners. With the lesson by lesson feedback enabling students to link actions from a particular lesson directly to the learning outcome RAG123 encourages this link. Finally the feedback that the teacher gets from RAG123 means that there is a clearer link between what students have done and the teaching strategies they have used. As such it increases the chance of selecting more effective teaching strategies in the future.

Of course I have simplified this a fair bit - just taking the headings from the Hattie rankings and making links to RAG123, which may be a little tenuous at times, but I think the basic logic is sound though.

The teacher reflection view (i.e. it forces you to be a better teacher)
Using RAG123 forces a teacher to be more reflective. If a student is persistently putting in poor effort it becomes more obvious if you record that every day - it will prompt some kind of action. Similarly if a student simply isn't progressing despite effort then it's the teacher's job to fix it. If a lesson was really successful you have immediate feedback on it and can use that to roll into the next lesson, and the converse is true.

Just recently I have been trying to rate my own teaching with RAG123. (RAG for quality of planning - note this is distinct from quantity! 123 for success of the lesson) - not sure I've got the criteria nailed yet, and I do struggle to both be 100% reliable in the assessment of planning quality. Also it's hard to separate lesson success. However the reflection itself is powerful. 

I've not given myself any R1 ratings, but I have occasionally given G3, which then prompts me to consider if G3 is actually possible as surely a high quality plan must be successful? Otherwise it's not a high quality plan, or is it something else? I've also rated myself a few A1s, and again I start to wonder if the planning was really that average if the lesson was a success, but then how much better might it have been with better planning? Overall doing this has spurred me on to do more G level planning rather than A, simply because it prompts me to be more conscious of it.

Still no negatives
Finally I just want to observe that I've still NEVER found anyone who has tried RAG123 that doesn't like it and doesn't want to continue. But I do find loads of people who haven't tried it that are unsure that they could make it work. If you've never tried it then what's stopping you?

All feedback & comments welcome.

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