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Central to the effectiveness and efficiency of the education system and various education reforms is the identification of key internal and external factors of effective learning. To explain the causes of the achievement gap, researchers have explored genetic, socioeconomic, psychological, social-contextual, and emotional factors as possible explanatory variables. For example, Lee and Shute (2010) through their extensive literature review constructed a four-factor framework of personal and social-contextual factors targeted at K-12 education. In a different vein, through the synthesis of more than 800 studies of over 50,000 studies involving approximately 146,000 what he calls "effect sizes," Professor John Hattie (2009) of University of Melbourne measured the contributions of various effects to quantifiable student achievements and classified the most significant ones into six major factor groups: the child, the home, the school, the teacher, the curriculum, and teaching approaches.
Building on Hattie's six factor framework and combining the latest research in the field, this paper explores both the internal and external factors of effective learning. Here, internal factors are defined as those that the student brings with him or her to a particular learning situation, including attitude, aptitude, perception, and motivation. External factors are those that characterize a particular learning situation. Both internal and external factors can be further divided into two classes: those that can be influenced in schools, such as parental expectations and classroom climates, and those that cannot, such as social and context effects. Hattie omitted discussion of the latter class of factors, even while admitting that they are equally, if not more, important than the former. This deficiency will be supplemented in this paper through the incorporation of the latest findings. A discussion of the rarely addressed issue of interaction and interrelation between the factors will follow.
Unsurprisingly, the student himself is the single most important factor in student achievement, accounting for approximately 50% of the achievement variance (Hattie). Hattie identified six effects associated with the child: "prior knowledge of learning; expectations; degree of openness to experiences; emerging beliefs about the value and worth to them from investing in learning; engagement; and the ability to build a sense of self from engagement in learning, and a reputation as a learner" (Hattie 2009, p. 31).
Student expectation is the single most important internal factor in achieving effective learning. In his synthesis, Hattie (undated) identified self-reported grades as the No. 1 influence in student achievement, with an effect size of 1.44, calculated from 209 studies and 305 effects (the "cutoff" size for influential policies is 0.4). Low self-reported grades-and consequently low expectations of performance-will result in self-imposed restraints on what students see as attainable goals and self-fulfilling prophesies (Hattie, 2009). It is therefore imperative for teachers to set and encourage more challenging goals.
Engagement is perhaps one of the most important prerequisites to effective learning. For the engagement problem is not simply one of education, but also "a more general barometer of adolescent malaise" (Steinberg, Brown & Dornbusch, 1997, p.63). Student engagement is broadly defined as commitment or involvement. Fredricks, Bluemfeld, & Paris (2004) define engagement as a multifaceted construct of three elements: behavior, cognition, and affect. Of these, behavioral engagement-for example, consistent and punctual class attendance, completion of assignments on-time, discipline problems-is consistently associated with higher achievements in terms of grades and standardized test scores across all samples and stages of K-12 education. While limited in its number, research on cognitive and emotional engagement links certain aspects of each to higher achievements. Studies show a positive correlation between meta-cognitive strategy use-such as the regulation of attention and effort and the active monitoring of comprehension-and student achievements in middle and high school (Fredricks, Bluemfeld, & Paris, 2004). In terms of emotional engagement, Voelkl (1997) reported significant correlation between school identification and achievement test scores in certain grades and certain races.
Hattie (2008) named two influences on student learning from the home: parental "expectations and aspirations for their child", and "parental knowledge of the language of schooling" (p. 33). Surprisingly, in a meta-analysis of 25 empirical studies and 92 correlations, Fan and Chen (2001) found that the effect size of overall parental involvement is medium, with an r index of .25 from a sample of 133,577. However, in their examination of subcomponents of parental involvement, parental expectations and aspirations displayed a higher correlation to academic achievement, with r=.40, than other subcomponents, including parent participation in school activities (r=.32), communication (r=.19), and home supervision (r=.09).
Hattie did not include factors that cannot be influenced in schools in his synthesis, as mentioned previously. However, these external factors are equally, if not more, important in influencing effective learning. Hartas (2011) shows that, while socio-economic status is not a predictor of the extent to which parents engage in their children's non-reading learning activities, socio-economic factors such as family income and maternal education level are found to have an impact on children's achievements, especially in terms of literacy for children three to seven years of age. As the socio-economic gap widen in countries across the world, these findings poses serious equity implications for parents, educators, and policymakers alike.
The influence the school wields over students' academic achievements varies across developed and developing countries.
In developed countries, the role of the school in determining student achievement may be exaggerated. This can be attributed to the fact that differences between schools are largely "structural" or "working-condition"-related-such as scheduling differences and class sizes- with no substantial variance in features "within" the schools, according to Hattie (2009). Features with the largest contributions to effective learning are "the climate of the classroom, such as welcoming errors, and providing a safe, caring environment" (p.33). Hattie (2009) cites University of North Carolina at Greensboro Professor Emeritus William Watson Purkey's "Invitational Learning" as one approach to creating an exciting, engaging, and enduring environment for learning (p.34). Another contributing feature within the school is peer influence. To illustrate its effects, Gonzales, Cacuce, Friedman, and Mason (1996) found that peer support, with Î² =.23 and p <.05, is significant predictor of GPA with a sample of 120 African American students in middle school-far more important that variables such as family income, parental education qualifications, number of parents in the household, maternal support, and maternal control-all of which were shown to be poor predictors of GPA.
In developing countries, schools play a much more significant, systemic, and unfortunately more damaging role in academic achievements. Lockheed and Levin (2012) summarized the common challenges in primary education faced by developing countries. There are six points of note. (1) Despite excitements during the sixties over the rise of developing countries, school participation remained low throughout the eighties and nineties, and is unlikely to meet universal participation for the foreseeable future. (2) Inequity of provision of education: children from affluent families are sent to private schools, while children from marginalized populations must resign themselves to an inadequate system. (3) Schools show an inability to retain students for the full primary education cycle; the situation is worsened by higher dropout rates caused by frequent retention. (4) Inadequate amount of knowledge taught, even with the completion of the primary education cycle. (5) Insufficient resources. Meaningful change cannot be affected because the country cannot afford the cost of a modest primary education program for all school-age children. (6) Flaws in the education system may be structural and intentional. Beginning in the 70s, some began to argue that "the very nature of existing schools served to undereducate, miseducate, and fail students from marginalized populations" (Lockheed & Levin 2012).
Hattie (2009) acknowledged that that not all teachers conform to the popular belief that "teachers make the difference"-indeed, not all teachers have life-changing effects on students. In fact, some teachers may not even be very effective. Taking these considerations into account, it is important to focus on what actions taken by the teacher matters, and the extent these actions wield influence over academic performance.
However, the truth remains that teacher-related factors are the second biggest predictor, after student-related factors-of academic achievements (Hattie, undated). Hattie (2009) identified nine ways in which teachers influence learning: "the quality of teacher, as perceived by students; teacher expectations; teacher's conceptions of teaching, learning, assessment, and the studentsâ€¦; teacher opennessâ€¦; classroom climateâ€¦; a focus on teacher clarity in articulating success criteria and achievements; the fostering of effort; and the engagement of all students" (p.34).
Of these, the quality of the teacher as perceived by the students is the most influential. Drawing from a study by Irving (2004)-which concluded that the biggest criteria in determining competence of mathematics teachers is the level of cognitive engagement with the contents of the curriculum and the development of mathematical reasoning-Hattie (2009) argued that "[i]t is what teachers get the students to do in the class that emerged as the strongest component fo the accomplished teachers' repertoire, rather than what the teacher, specifically, does. Students must be actively involved in their learning, which a focus on multiple paths to problem solving" (p.35).
Teacher expectation is also a significant predictor of effective learning, although its effect size is considerably smaller than that of teacher quality. Because these expectations tend to be applied wholesale to all students in a teacher's class and because these expectations tend to lead to self-fulfilling prophesies, understanding the teachers' conceptions of teaching, learning, assessment, and students and is crucial to effective learning. (Hattie 2009)
Lee and Shute (2010) also identified through literature review "a group of teacher constructs that reflects an integrated perspective combining teachers' motivation, affect, cognition, and metacognition" linked to students' learning success (p. 195), including teacher's collective efficacy, teacher empowerment, and teacher affiliation. Teacher's collective efficacy is defined as the belief of teachers as a group that they can make a difference in student achievements, and it shows a strong and significant correlation to high school mathematics achievement and to various subject areas in both grades 9 and 12. Teacher empowerment, refers to the teachers' belief that they play a crucial role in schoolwide choices, and it is strongly related to reading and mathematics achievements in middle school students. Finally, teacher affiliation, refers to the teachers' sense of belonging to the school, and display medium-level correlation with achievements in various subject areas.