The LQ rich environment
Although I wanted to discuss how to create a learning environment which is LQ rich and supportive for your learners and to describe just what this looks and feels like you may not have bought into the concept of LQ just yet! I have therefore decided to give you some further background to how I came about the concept of LQ and to briefly explore how a teacher can support and help a learner develop their LQ. As for creating the rich LQ environment, that will come next.
I think most beginnings start with awareness, a recognition that a change needs to be made or action taken to achieve something. Many teachers are aware that something needs to change when learners don’t “get it.” What to change though, that is the question. Doing more of the same only reinforces with the learner that they cannot learn whatever the subject or topic is. Random changes in teaching strategy can lead to further confusion for the learner as well as a deepening belief in their inability to learn since it may not target the actual learning need.
I believe the concepts of “learning styles” and “multiple intelligences” are attempts to recognise specific and individual learning needs in order to reach those students who are having difficulty in learning. Unfortunately this has the effect of labelling learners and we hear people talk of “visual learners” or “spatial intelligence”. Labels are all too convenient and, I believe, rather seductive. Giving something a label defines it; it sets boundaries and creates further limitations. I am aware I have labelled how effective learners manage their learning environment as “LQ” but this is in essence a process, an activity, and not a trait or single attribute. The next seductive aspect in education is to measure or grade something we have labelled. Unlike “IQ” I do not intend to measure “LQ” but I do intend to discuss how effective we use it when faced with a learning situation. We can look at and explore how we manage the learning environment to meet our learning needs and how effective we are at doing so and how we may become better at it. We can develop our awareness of LQ in the learning situation and by doing so work at removing barriers or in developing strategies or tools to overcome the environmental limitations that impact on learning. We can do this as both learners and teachers.
I have said earlier I think there is something in both learning styles and the concept of multiple intelligences. I believe this because it broadens the debate about the way people learn and the things they do well in. In preparing to explore LQ I suggest research into learning styles and multiple intelligences is a good place to start. My beginnings in these fields were with the work of Barbara Prashnig[i] some ten or more years ago and with Cognitive Abilities[ii] Tests carried out at my school. I had long been looking for what I called the “science behind the art of teaching” and her work opened several doors as well as giving me a vocabulary to begin to explore why some learners do better than others. Earlier the course I had attended in using CAT’s delivered by Pat O’Brien working at the time for SFE also brought about a number of ideas of how we could better provide for the learning needs of our students. I was a head of department at the time and one of my responsibilities was to timetable my staff, matching a teacher to groups of students. I was aware that putting some students with certain teachers would lead to behaviour referrals and if I “got it right” there would be a more harmonious arrangement and better progress. Up until this point I was guided by instinct and recognised that I needed more than this. A school based research project carried out between the head of science for her MA and myself showed that matching teachers to the right groups of students made a significant impact on the learning environment and progress of students. We used the only tool we had at the time, CAT data, to select the student groups and selecting the teacher was done by using her experience of watching these teachers at work. Although onto something, I needed to know what it was that made the teacher and group dynamic work. What was it that allowed these teachers to reach a particular group of learners? Barbara Prashnig provided the first suggestion of an answer to this question; she had developed not only a learning styles analysis but also a teaching styles analysis. There appeared a way to answer my question and to fit another piece of the puzzle into place. I did a great deal of work and reflection on my own teaching over the next few years as well as carrying out small scale school based research using both her learning styles and teaching styles analysis. During this time I saw the enthusiasm for labelling learners and for teachers trying to prepare and deliver lessons to suit a range of learning styles. In all of this the learner was passive, the responsibility was on the teacher to plan, prepare, and deliver. Students were using the labels to excuse themselves from learning challenges. Things were not right but what was wrong, if anything, with trying to meet the needs of the learner in this way? Had I not done just this when we worked with CAT data and groups of students? There had to be something else. I believe that just over two years ago I found it but then I did not know what to call it or how to describe it. I now present it as Learning Quotient, or “LQ” and it appears to answer many of my questions about learning.
I believe if a learner finds themselves in an environment which matches their learning needs they will develop strength in that area. My caveat is “all things being equal” and by this I mean their other needs are being met and I mentioned these earlier as:
In education this early strength can be seen as an aptitude and having been recognised further developed. The learner soon recognises that they experience some or most of their four basic needs when involved in learning or developing this strength. The wish to continue to further explore this area of study or learning becomes well placed in the student’s learning map. After time, and in schools, this initial strength becomes a subject ability and is described in education terms as such, “They are good at maths.” In the wider learning environment Gardner may describe this as one of his multiple intelligences exhibited by the learner, “They are good at understanding people and their needs.” I suggest that the recent work by Josh Kaufman and his TED talk[iii] where he suggests anyone can learn anything in twenty hours supports the idea that if you match the learning environment to the needs of the learner you can indeed learn anything. Once again a caveat, you have to believe and be motivated and have some of your four basic learning needs met also!
My belief is also that if you make the learner aware of the challenges presented by their learning environment and help them develop the tools and skills to manage it in a way that meets their learning needs they will develop strengths or abilities in many more areas. The challenge to the teacher then is not to teach in a manner that seeks to meet significant strengths or preferences that have been developed (thereby further promoting them) but to provide the conditions whereby the learner is guided and given permission to go exploring their learning needs and how to meet them. This is not as difficult as it appears. It certainly does not mean planning and delivering lessons to cater for different learning styles and nor does it mean giving the learner a free reign on how and when they choose to learn. It certainly does not mean labelling learners either. It does mean for the teacher though dismissing some of the existing notions on teaching and learning and beliefs about how to teach. This I see as the bigger challenge, especially in a system that seeks to measure teaching performance and has a definition of what good teaching is.
Hopefully I have given you enough to think about in terms of the learning environment and the background as to how I reached the conclusions I have about LQ and its impact on learning. The starting point in supporting and helping a learner develop their LQ is an acceptance of the concept. The second step is to change some of your beliefs about teaching and learning. This is necessary because whilst you hang on to them you are setting fences and preventing your students from exploring their learning map. I would urge you to start by exploring your own learning map and how it has come about. Think about the things that have led you to believe in your abilities and strengths. Think about how you approach learning something new and the environment you prefer to do so in. Discuss the same topics and questions with a friend and see if I am right. I am always happy to hear your stories and your comments are always welcome.
Since it is the teacher who sets the learning environment at school that has to be our next topic for discussion.
[ii] CAT’s were developed by the National Foundation for Educational Research and are now available through GL Assessments. Many schools use these to predict future performance of students.