Archive | teaching RSS for this section

LQ and a Learning Mindset

Part 1

Our beliefs, values and experience amongst other things impact how successful we are when we undertake tasks. How we behave when involved in activities is also influenced by similar things but perhaps also our nature or disposition. Some people are regarded as naturally positive, a ‘glass half full’ attitude to life whilst others may be regarded as suspicious, conservative, inflexible etc.

Put together a number of people with a ‘leader’ (in education terms think ‘teacher’) and those individual dispositions will determine behaviours which in turn will influence both the process and outcome of any commonly undertaken task or activity. There will be views on the ‘right way’ or ’best way’ to do something and people will adopt ‘positions’. This is something recognised by Edward deBono in his book on a method of thinking, the  “Six Thinking Hats” [i] In my work to bring a tangible consciousness to LQ I continue to explore the wider landscape on thinking, this is one such exploration.

Six Hat Thinking

Edward deBono makes some interesting claims for his approach based on a perceptive observation about thinking which as a learner and teacher I can relate to. He suggests “The main difficulty of thinking is confusion” and that “emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity, all crowd in on us”. As it is with using the six thinking hats so it is in the adoption of a learning mindset through the LQ approach. “He or she becomes able to separate emotions from logic, creativity from information and so on

He goes on to say that “Within the Six Hats method, the intelligence, experience and knowledge of all the members of a group are fully used.”

There are parallels here too with LQ.

With the mindsets of LQ an individual’s intelligence, experience and knowledge are used effectively along with the awareness of emotions such thinking promotes.

Further, he says that in the same way “it is totally absurd that a person should hold back information or a point of view because revealing it would weaken his or her argument” I believe it is absurd for a learner to hold back a question for fear it would make them look stupid.

In exploring the nature of thinking associated with each of the six along with the benefits this approach brings I have become aware of how a similar approach, that of adopting learning mindsets, a direction of thinking when faced with a learning challenge can improve our learning.

In the next part of this article I will describe the six different hats and begin to show how we can develop similar mindsets so that as the thinking of a group can be enhanced, so can the learning of an individual.

[i]  Edward deBono. 2000:  Six Thinking Hats.  Penguin Books

Advertisements

The Teacher. Are they the only redeeming feature of the educational environment in our schools?

It is fair to say not all learners thrive in the educational environment of the school.

Do we though, instead of investigating and remedying this situation, allow ourselves to believe another cause for this shortcoming?

Reflecting on my time as a teacher there has always been those students who do well in school and those who don’t but then go on to have great success in learning once they leave. We may say, and many have, that they eventually wake up to the necessity of a good education and knuckle down to it. Whilst this may be true along with other reasons such as those below it does not change the outcome, some students don’t do well in the school environment.

Some of the reasons given by teachers for students not doing well at school include:-

  • they were lazy at school
  • they mixed with the wrong crowd
  • too easily distracted
  • had too much time off

Sometimes a change of school brings a change in the learner so we could ask is it really the school environment since all we have done is swap one for the other, it is still a school environment.  There are more than likely many reasons why students suddenly start doing well after a period of languishing in the bottom percentages so to try to find a single one is questionable.  I would agree unless that is you believe in the effect of the teacher-learner relationship.

Ask any student if they had a favourite teacher and the answer is more than likely “Yes”, even if overall they did not do well at school. Without doubt, a teacher makes a significant difference to the learning experience.  I was once ‘tracked down’ by an ex-student who told me it was their experience with me as their teacher some 15 years earlier that was now their motivation to become a teacher. Wow!

Any student who leaves school without realising their potential is a wasted opportunity. I have come across too many adults who express this very sentiment for it not to be so, regrets abound.  We can go on saying it’s the students fault or even blaming each other or the system or we can do something about it.

As teachers we do far more than teach subjects, we build relationships with learners. Where learners find the school environment ‘toxic’ we have the opportunity to build relationships that help them overcome such effects, or we could say they were lazy, mixed with the wrong crowd or were not very bright!

The key to helping students not only survive in school but thrive is in meeting their needs. I am not talking about learning styles or developing grit or even the psychology of a growth mindset.  I am talking about the needs that are at the core of developing relationships. We all have them, we as teachers and as partners or as a member of a family all have them. Meet these needs and we have engagement and co-operation, don’t and we have excluded and disaffected individuals.

In teaching, it can be difficult not to focus on delivering the curriculum and assessing progress but this can overshadow meeting learner’s needs.  Is this the real reason some students dot do well in the school environment I wonder. Luckily it is a simple matter to remember these needs and to include them in our interaction with others.  I have developed a mnemonic to do just that and even the acronym that represents them is easy to remember too.

So “Please Be Child Friendly” in your teaching and “Please Be Colleague Friendly” in your working relationships.

Here is a quick overview of PBCF and a useful graphic

Power – having a voice, being acknowledged

Belonging – being recognised and remembered

Choice – offered choice and understanding the resulting consequences

Fun – enjoying what you do and celebrating success

Using PBCF in your own work.

If you would like a workshop on how to develop PBCF in your teaching or in leadership or management then please get in touch. Look out for the book “Understanding and Managing Learning Needs” too, its about to be published and it is a comprehensive guide to all the factors associated with developing PBCF in teaching.

Don’t you just hate “Target Grades”

Well perhaps not “hate” but they do concern me for a number of reasons.

It won’t be long before the UK starts school again but I would bet even now there will be computers crunching Key Stage or end of year test results running them through algorithms to predict future performance in order to set target grades.

This worries me, does it you?

I am no expert in statistics but I assume that with enough data and analysis you could begin to predict what could happen in the future based on what has gone before. But – this is only a prediction, a percentage chance that something could or could not happen. Life or car insurance must be much the same with certain categories resulting in much higher premiums as they are more likely to have an accident than others. The difference being as, far as insurance goes, if the model is right the company makes a profit and if not a loss. With target grades the model outcome is quite different, you are setting a challenge, an expectation and the conditions for failure or success. This is not a profit or loss situation, it is life chances.

What I am interested in as a teacher is the psychological impact of target grades on the students as well as how it changes the teaching and learning landscape.

Here are my questions so far.

  • Having a target for anything suggests accountability. “Why did you not reach the target?” is accusatory and you are on the defensive straight away.  Is this good for the teaching and learning environment and relationship?
  • Who decides, and how, on a suitable target?
  • Is prior performance a good predictor of future performance, can there be a linear gradient link between the two?
  • Do we understand and acknowledge the psychological effects of target setting and work to mitigate any negative aspects?
  • Are we clear and consistent in our use of the term “target grade”. Are there sub categories for example “aspirational target grade” or “minimum target grade” that confuse?
  • What happens if you exceed a target grade before the allotted time period or assessment point?
  • How do we account for and what are the implications for exceeding or not reaching a target grade?
  • If we accept that progress is not linear when do we begin to concern ourselves about reaching a target grade?
  • Who’s fault is it (or who gets blamed?) if a target grade is not achieved, is it the student, the teacher or whoever arrived at the target grade, or is it all three?
  • Boys and girls appear to react differently to target grades*. If this is the case why?
  • Do we ever ignore potential because of a set lower target grade?
  • Does setting targets based on a statistical model actually raise individual achievement?
  • Is everything needed to meet a target within the control of the teacher or the learner?
  • Is the time and effort spent assessing, recording and monitoring targets getting in the way of teaching? In short is it worth it?

It also occurs to me that those setting the target have a responsibility in terms of understanding the impact such an action has. I recognise that when students achieve or exceed a target we celebrate this and there are recognised systems in place to do so but where I am not so confident is in seeing similar systems for those who fail to reach a target grade.

If you feel like commenting on either the original interest topic or the questions please do so I would be glad to hear of your perspective, experience or view.

*See the article “Why many boys only do just enough

 

Understanding Learning Needs: an account

It’s not often, unfortunately, that I find another teaching professional who writes a post that corroborates my work on LQ and PBCF but here is one by Jodie Jasmin

Jodie shares her first thoughts when students are not engaged in the learning.

“My first thoughts when I hear a student is consistently misbehaving are;

1. What’s happening at home?
2. Do you have a good teacher-student bond?
3. Does your teacher speak to you with respect?
4. Are the lesson activities engaging and tailored to your needs?”

Sound familiar? It will if you have been reading this blog.

Jodie’s list clearly points to the four learning needs of Power Belonging Choice and Fun that we all have and must fulfil to be engaged in the learning process.

LQ and PBCF

 

It’s a great article, and I am not just saying that because it looks as though we are of similar mind. Jodie hits the nail on the head quite nicely.  By meeting learning needs you will find learning behaviour the primary behaviour in your lesson. As Jodie sums up by saying

“It’s about taking simple ideas and seeing how we can deconstruct a basic task to recreate a better idea in support of all students learning – knowing them and what they need in order to focus, because they truly are all worth it.”

 

Jodie’s full article is hosted here on Te@cher Toolkit:

http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2017/03/05/differentiation-education-for-all-abilities/

You can find my article on LQ and lesson planning here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6

My introduction to PBCF can be found here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-4

 

Why Creativity?

quote-albert-einstein-creativity-is-contagious-pass-it-on-254503

Is creativity important, and specifically is it so in teaching and learning?

My short answer,  “Yes”.

I would argue that without creativity there is the danger of not challenging what we do and why we do it. Possibly to go blindly along with what we are told without question for we have no drive, no vision of how things could be different, no need even, to do anything different. Without creativity in our lives, we risk seeing the world only as a series of things we are directed to achieve in the way we are shown to achieve them.  Should we forgo challenge and accept obedience? This may be fine when we want or need compliance[i] but do we want compliant learners or those who challenge us to explain or justify what it is we want them to learn?

What’s this thing called, love? (it’s all in the punctuation!)

It would appear that how to define creativity is a bit of a problem. My evidence for this is the number of texts that have set out to do just that, to put creativity into a box, to define it.  A good review of the thinking on creativity is by Arthur J Cropley in “Creativity in education & learning a guide for teachers and educators”[ii] .  It is one of those books I have to force myself to read lightly, to almost skim read, at first for there is so much to think about on each and every page.  I would describe his work as a comprehensive review of almost every work on creativity up to that point.  There are a staggering 17 pages of references to support his review and thinking.

In his book Cropley declared  “Creativity is understood here as production of novelty”.  You have to start somewhere! I cannot imagine the world where things remain the same, always.  I like to think of creativity as an act of doing something differently. Either in the process or the outcome or even the approach can be different it does not matter, what matters is there was some purposeful thought or action that preceded it or that was involved that was different to how it was before. Looking at things in a different way, from a different perspective, and perhaps discovering new insights or ways of doing something.

The act of being creative is important to me. I find it is a driver, a force, an energy that pushes you to do things. I know when the opportunity to be creative is being withheld a form of stress builds within me. I have seen the same effect in others too. Without the opportunity to be creative in whatever we do or to have an outlet for our creativity people suffer. It does not matter how creativity is expressed only that it is allowed. For me, this may be through innovation, humour or in any form of problem-solving or making.  I believe that by being creative, it helps in seeing the world and its challenges as a problem or series of problems to solve. Possibly and more importantly, as problems that can be solved.

Problem-solving or being creative is my approach to teaching and learning too.  It is why I formed Advocating Creativity (also “4c3d”*); it is my way of promoting creativity in education as well as being creative myself. Creativity is not just as a subject but a way of thinking, a way to improve learning.  Creativity is a way of changing “can’t do” to “how to do”. A way of doing what is needed and not just what is asked for. I see creativity as a way of making things happen rather than waiting for them to happen. Being creative also means taking an element of both control and responsibility for whatever it is we are involved this is because we will affect the outcome in some way.

Why I believe education systems are particularly poor at being creative is twofold. The first is because the process of becoming a teacher and of gaining mastery can inhibit creativity. Teachers need to master their subject, they need to know it so well they can explain it to others and guide them through knowledge to understanding. Teachers need to set challenges and assess progress all of which requires mastery. Teachers are not novices; they are practised masters.  Traditionally teachers are not solving a problem when they teach but instead delivering a solution. Importantly it is a solution they have derived from their learning. Further, they are familiar with the material way beyond novice and may forgo in their teaching what may now appear to be a trivial and unimportant element. Cropley puts it this way  “Working in same area over a long period of time leads to high levels of familiarity within the field but blunts acuteness of the vision or inhibits openness to the spark of inspiration.

The second reason we may see limited or no creativity in the process of teaching and learning is the focus on reaching targets.  To be more precise the single focus on reaching a target that prevents us doing something different. Doing only that which is already being or has been done (despite success or the lack of it) to achieve the target is a real problem.

Being creative means we could be taking a risk by doing something different in a risk aversion environment. A target driven focus often means doing things an approved or recognised way. We can quickly get bogged down in our thinking with doing things the “approved” way rather than exploring different approaches. In doing things differently, there is also the risk to the teacher of returning to the novice stage once again, to revert to being a learner.  I think I saw this most in the 1980’sand 1990’s with the development of IT in schools. At the time many teachers had been taught without such a resource and struggled to include its use in their lessons or to adapt their lessons to make good use of it. Many were fearful of the technology because they felt like novices once again. Having learners know more than you do is frightening for some teachers, at least it was!

I would argue that an emphasis on “success” rather than learning results in the system being driven towards a “ready solution” focused mindset. This is one where any “recognised” theory (seen as having an academic backing or reputed to have worked in the past) or approach that offers a solution to improving learning is more often than not readily adopted. This is especially the case if the theory has a research or academic pedigree. It is my experience that theories with such a pedigree will outweigh practical experience every time. Creativity from practitioners, from teachers, rarely gets a look-in if there is an “expert” spouting a solution.

Adopting a creative approach to learning is tremendously powerful if you see learning as a problem-solving activity.  Once you adopt this approach to learning and a creative mindset, then many more pieces of the learning jigsaw begin to fit together.   We find by adopting a problem-solving approach a landscape occurs in which theories can be seen for what they are, attempts to explain how learning takes place.

More accurately by adopting a creative problem-solving approach we see the ways in which we attempt to explain why some people learn some things easier, better or even quicker than others. The danger is when we mandate or replicate ways without applying a degree of creativity in supporting a process of adopting the practice as opposed to just adoption. Adoption only is a form of pseudo-creativity for it is not a problem-solving approach but one of solving a problem.

We can try to adopt what some other institution or organisation does to solve what we perceive as the same issue only to find it does not work. In such circumstances, the lack of creativity in adapting the approach means it fails, but worse still it is not the approach that is blamed but more often those who implement it. People are asked to work harder and are monitored closely and more frequently to discover where the failing lies.  What they are not doing is considering the unique nature of their situation and adapting the approach to suit. I have seen the stress and damage this creates in an organisation first hand, and it is to be avoided at all costs!

So why is creativity important in teaching and learning? Here are a few of my suggestions.

  • It is because it causes us to look at processes and practices in an objective way and challenge them.
  • It asks us to consider our unique situations and how we can best achieve our aims within them.
  • It encourages us to think outside of the box, to take risks but confirms our sense of ownership and responsibility.
  • It helps us see what works and why and what to avoid doing what does not no matter what the pressures are.
  • It is a way of getting things done, to break the cycle of doing what has always been the practice before without considering the value.
  • It helps us lose our fear of being wrong.
  • It creates and sustains the energy of learning, of discovery and of challenge.

 

**”4c3d” is leetspeak for “ace-d”. I had to get creative as ace-d had already been taken on Twitter and WordPress!

Image acknowledged: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/life-lessons-from-albert-einstein.html

[i] For more on compliace and to answer the question “Is Compliance a learning disability?” see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd

[ii] Creativity in Education & Learning: A Guide for Teachers and Educators, A. J. Cropley

Psychology Press, 2001

Why Learning Intelligence?

the-staffroom-image

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”    George Orwell

Sometimes the obvious is on our doorstep, often ignored and rarely noticed.  So it is with my experience as a teacher and in the development of the concept of Learning Intelligence, or “LQ”.

To read more of this article published at The Staffroom visit:

Why Learning Intelligence? By Kevin Hewitson

The Trouble with Symptoms in Education Terms

symptoms

In education it is more often than not that we treat the symptom and ignore the underlying cause.  In life we will often hide the true cause of our distress by adopting or presenting the symptoms of a much lesser illness, perhaps a cold instead of stress or depression. It is no different in education where we may present a symptom rather than admit the cause.

Let me give you an example, that of attendance in schools. Interestingly when we want a day off school we are more likely to feign the symptoms of an illness rather than just come out and say “I need a day off”.

Attendance can be an issue in many schools and a symptom in itself that could signal underlying problems yet it is dealt with as if it is the primary issue. Our actions are to make the symptom go away, make students attend school.

The standard response to an issue is to adopt the two P’s strategy, praise and punish. Praise the behaviour we want and punish the behaviour we don’t want, the “carrot and stick” approach. This rather simplistic model will evolve to include praise in the form of rewards or certificates for levels of attendance that are acceptable or sought after and forms of punishment for those that fall short including detentions, letters home, and perhaps loss of privileges such as school trips.  Sound familiar?

The trouble with the two P’s form of response is that it takes up a great deal of time, pits the offender against the teacher or school and only deals with suppressing the symptom and does not deal with the underlying cause.  We are establishing compliance and not promoting learning.

A strategy I use when looking at behaviours as a symptom rather than a primary issue is to ask the question “Why would someone behave in this way?” After all why would somebody not want to come to school, unthinkable right!

Firstly school is a “learning environment” and one full of challenges, relationships, groups, rules, customs, expectations, etc. Indeed school is a complex environment and one that can be both nurturing and toxic depending on your disposition and experiences.  We respond to our environment in ways that we have learnt “work” for us.  Unfortunately nature has a significant influence when it comes to the environment and the “flight or fight” response so involved with survival can take over our thinking and behaviours.

If we find a certain learning environment more than mildly uncomfortable then without the right set of tools and strategies to deal with it we are likely to flee rather than stay and work out a solution. Thus a lack of attendance may be the only strategy a learner has developed to deal with finding themselves in, what is to them, a toxic environment.  By dealing with the symptom we are doing nothing to help address the underlying cause.  It is my experience that once the learner has been made aware of this and coached in developing at least the basic strategies then they can cope. Given more time and support they can even begin to master their environment.

This idea of understanding and mastering your learning environment is an underlying principle of the concept of Learning intelligence or “LQ” that I have developed.  LQ is based on my experience as a teacher and accepted learning theories and forms a narrative for working with learners.

Returning to attendance then my advice is to explore it as if it is behaviour in response to a situation.

Find out what the situation is and you’re on your way to a solution. Better still develop in the learner an awareness of LQ and provide opportunities to develop skills and to have experiences of managing their learning environment to meet their needs in a constructive way that supports learning.

Take the “fight or flight” response and turn it into “fight to learn and learn to ignore flight”

%d bloggers like this: