The Second LQ Topic Review -LQ and the Effects on Learning
The “nurture and nature” debate is a long running one and one I want to only briefly explore in this article which brings together the “attributes and attitudes” discussion and the impact on learning and therefore LQ.
This is the second LQ topic review post. Here is the link to the original introductory article on LQ in case you missed it: http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p
Earlier articles have looked at the attributes, attitudes and behaviours linked to LQ and how, by adopting an LQ approach, the learner can better manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs.
In many articles I have concluded by saying what a particular aspect of LQ means for the teacher and for the learner. So far I have not specifically mentioned the parent, and although I recognise the significant role they play in educating their children. Parents are in many ways “teachers” and so the comments about teachers are relevant to them. Parents do, however, not only play a part in providing a nurturing environment they provide the biological elements that make up the child, they provide the DNA from which the child is formed. At birth we are often quick to see physical traits and attribute these to either the mothers or fathers family. As the child grows behaviour traits may be attributed in the same way, “You are just like your father/mother”
The extent to which behaviours are learnt or to which they are genetically “pre-programmed”, like the colour of our eyes, is difficult to determine. The fact that some behaviours can be changed and “un learnt,” even though we may be disposed towards them, suggests there is something we can do about them. A simple case which may demonstrate this is hand preference, that of being left or right handed. We know that although we can show a preference for which hand we use and that the early preference can be either allowed to become a dominant characteristic or it can be over ridden. In some cases making ‘naturally’ left handed people develop “right handedness”. Exploring how the brain accommodates these changes and adapts may shed some light on how we can adapt to our learning environment and the process by which we can promote some aspects of learning and subdue others in order to become effective learners within the environment.
Such a discussion may undermine the nature aspect of our capacity to learn, but only if we see this ability as fixed at birth and not, as the example of handedness would suggest, that the brain is plastic and can be ‘re programmed‘.
In exploring this concept of the “plastic brain” we move into the realms of neuroscience. This is an area which is often defined as “Understanding the mental processes involved in learning.” [i] In the summary of the publication Brain Waves Module 2 (2011) the Royal Society both offers optimism and caution for neuroscience.
- The brain changes constantly as a result of learning, and remains ‘plastic’ throughout life. Neuroscience has shown that learning a skill changes the brain and that these changes revert when practice of the skill ceases. Hence ‘use it or lose it’ is an important principle for lifelong learning.
- Both acquisition of knowledge and mastery of self-control benefit future learning. Thus, neuroscience has a key role in investigating means of boosting brain power.
- There is great public interest in neuroscience; yet accessible high quality information is scarce. We urge caution in the rush to apply so-called brain-based methods, many of which do not yet have a sound basis in science. There are inspiring developments in basic science although practical applications are still some way off.
- The emerging field of educational neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education. It provides means to develop a common language and bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists.
My particular cautionary note about neuroscience and learning is that whilst we seek to find out why some learners find learning a challenge, and can exhibit behaviours that suggest they cannot learn, we are determining this view from within the educational environment we have created.
The “one size fits all” approach that many education systems are built upon results in individual learners being made to learn the same things in the same way. In other words because the learner does not fit the model of education we have determined then there must be a way of changing the learner to fit the model. Whilst you may say this is what LQ is doing the difference is that the learner is determining these changes for themselves. Using the right/left hand analogy, they are choosing to use their right or left hand according to which best suits them at the time and not being permanently made to write with one hand because that is the standard way of doing things. I know of a PE teacher who can bat equally well left or right handed. This gives him a significant advantage when faced with a right or left hand bowler, one he often uses to his to benefit.
The optimism behind LQ and supported by neuroscience is that we can learn to adapt to our learning environment in a way that makes it possible to overcome barriers to learning, “it is necessary to identify the specific barriers to learning for that person, and find alternative ways.”[ii] LQ is part of the response to understanding our learning environment and then to learn how best we can manage that environment to meet our needs, to find alternative ways. For example if all the scissors are for right handed people and we are left handed we have a choice:
a) learn to use right handed scissors in our left hand
b) learn to use our right hand to operate the scissors or
c) develop or use another way of cutting, possibly with a knife which is neither right or left handed.
I have omitted getting somebody else to use the scissors and cut whatever it is for us but although that is a valid option it is delegation and incapacitates the individual if no one else is around. A longer term solution may be to develop left handed scissors thus demonstrating the link between LQ and problem solving as a way of managing the learning environment.
Being aware to LQ and practicing using it to manage our learning environment to best meet our learning needs means we develop that ability and keep it. We become better learners as a result.
[i] The Royal Society 2011, Brain Waves Module 2: Neuroscience: implications for learning and lifelong learning
[ii] The Royal Society 2011, Brain Waves Module 2: Neuroscience: implications for learning and lifelong learning. Page 6