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How PARENTS can support learning at home

 

Desk web size

A time of exams and a time of testing

Here in the UK we are rapidly moving towards the Y11 and Y13 examination or key stage 2 testing phase in our schools.  These are significant transition points in education and carry with them considerable pressures. Get it right and learners have life choices, get it wrong and we are “picking up the pieces” in a number of ways.

How can parents help their children during this time?

The question I want to look at in this article is “What can parents do to support their children at such times as these?” I also want to provide strategies that can help both the parent and the child deal with the upcoming challenges.

The issue of homework

Whilst examinations and tests are points of high involvement and stress for parents there is the issue of homework too.  Homework tends to increase prior to periods of testing and is often seen as synonymous with revision.  Much of what I say here applies to the daily issue of homework, especially if we aim to foster lifelong learning and don’t want the morning ritual in many homes that starts with the question “Have you got your homework?” and ends with both parents and children being stressed.

Let’s start by looking at things from the learner’s perspective.

They will have had mock examinations or practice tests by now and be rehearsed in the practices that are involved in taking them. They will be trying to reach expectations or maintain progress towards them. For some it may be an expectation too far, they may already be beginning to fold under the pressure. Even if they have done well so far there is the pressure to do it for real when the time comes.  Revision and homework don’t have to be lone activities, you being in the same room can be a form of support. Without a strategy and without support we are expecting a great deal from our children.

The learning environment

Remember we are all different and where you like to study is not the same as your child’s.  There are a number of myths around where study should take place but the common one is on your own and in a quite place. Think for a moment, at a time of stress and anxiety do you relish the idea of being sent to your room, to be isolated? Few of us do. I even moved my own home office into the “flow” of the home rather than be isolated from the energy that is part of family life. Remember we look forward to things we enjoy and put off the things we don’t! Working at the kitchen table, lounging on the sofa or on the bed, indoors or outdoors . With bright light or dim light, with music or without. These are all acceptable places and ways to study.  The key though is to be organised.

Remembering the ways to help

Here is an acronym or mnemonic (I am not sure which you would call it) that can help PARENTs be supportive of learners and I am going to use it to outline the strategies parents can use to effectively engage with their children. A more detailed workshop can be provided for a group of parents or you can request a copy of “The Parents Guide to Study” from the link at the end of this article. The basic approach is to be “gently” involved, think of your role as being more of a “guide” than a task master or time keeper.

The meaning of the acronym PARENT is to:

Participate, Ask questions, Reflect, Encourage, Negotiate, Time

What each letter means

Participate – Find out what is going on. Know the dates and key times of all examinations or tests. Provide a reason and relevance for doing their best (not rewards). Work at using peer groups to provide support and not distractions. Understand what learning needs and preferences your child has (for example some like the quiet and others like a busy background). Homework does not have to be alone work either.

Ask questions – but do not interrogate – AVOID using “Why?” , it makes us defensive (try it, ask somebody why they are doing whatever it is they are doing and see what response you get). Find out what topics are being studied and see what you know about them.  You can ask about how they remember best or what new things have you learnt. You can ask your children to explain things to you (pretend if you do know or understand that you do not). Ask how they think they can improve. Use positive emotional triggers – “How did you feel when you did well at….?”

Reflectfind or make opportunities for your children to reflect, recap, internalise, or explain. Short periods work best and if you can make them spontaneous so much the better. Remember mistakes are part of the learning process. Work at building self-esteem, it’s going to take a battering!

Encourageit’s important you stay positive and purposeful and not to let negativity build. Focus on getting better and not just results. Show how much you believe effort leads to success and set a good example. Praise only when praise is due and make it specific.

Negotiateit’s about goal setting and creating win/win situations. AVOID bribery. Talk about consequences and be consistent. Remember choice is a powerful motivator but not if it is free choice.

Time – our lives are influenced by every second. A break or leisure activity are as important as studying if managed properly. They can keep us fresh and can break negative moods. Plan ahead to try to minimise anxiety and stress where you can. Rehearse what will happen at key times so they are part of the process and as ‘normal’ or familiar as they can be.

The PARENT Poster

To make it easier to remember the parent role I have designed a poster that you can put on a wall, cupboard door or any place you find yourself passing by regularly.

PARENT acronym web version

As a PARENT learn to stand back

Although PARENTS is also a useful acronym I have left the “s” out of the acronym as it stands for “stand back“. Learning to stand back is probably the hardest thing for a parent to do.   Let them make mistakes, it’s part of learning. Your job is not to do it for them. I know this can be nail biting and frustrating but better to learn the lessons of life early. I have worked with college/university students who are in a terrible state because they have not developed the skills to cope on their own or do not know how to handle failure.

Well that is how to be a PARENT at a time of examination or testing and during homework  time. I hope you found it useful.

Using the PARENT poster.

I am happy for you to download and use the graphic in this article but please acknowledge the copyright.

If you want a high resolution version in the form of a PNG file suitable for printing up to A3 size then I can provide that at a small cost, more of a donation really to cover hosting costs (£1, about A$2, US$1.5).  The poster is available via eJunki, a secure online publishing website, by using the”Buy Now” button where you will be able to use PayPal or make a card payment.

Buy Now

 

PS – Possible book for parents

I am considering extending this article into a guide for parents “The Parents Guide to Supporting Home Study”. If this is something you would like to see then please let me know via twitter and I will put pen to paper! @4c3d 

What happens when we interfere with the learning relationship?

The Learning Relationship explained

Let’s start by explaining what a “learning relationship” is. This graphic is my way of showing how the responsibility for learning should, over time, pass from the teacher to the learner. The time period may be a single term, year, key stage, a course, or educational phase (primary/secondary). This is the form of relationship that will ultimately produce independent rather than dependent learners, learners able to manage their own learning rather than be dependent on others to manage it for them.

learning responsibility diagram ideal

At the start the teacher has the primary responsibility and will have planned and resourced the course. Little is expected of the learner other than turning up and having some basic equipment appropriate to the course. For example the learner responsibility may consist of turning up with a pen and pencil or include a book, an apron, or PE kit or other personal specialist subject equipment. A positive disposition is always useful as is an element of motivation to learn. Where these do not exist then the teacher has an additional, but not insurmountable challenge.

Once the course has started and the teacher sets out their expectations it becomes increasingly the responsibility of the learner to engage in the learning, making an effort to take part, to work at understanding and applying knowledge. Think of this as being set a topic to learn or a book to review or completing classwork and homework.  This does not absolve the teacher of responsibility, as the diagram shows there is still a significant requirement on the teacher and these may take the form of motivating, encouraging, coaching, or tailoring approaches and materials etc. There is never a point where the teacher is without some responsibility.

Planned responsibility changes

There comes a time in the learning relationship period when the teacher will temporarily take back some of the responsibility. This reclaiming some element of responsibility is primarily is a time of redirecting, initiating, review or assessment of (and for) learning. It is both a small percentage of what has already transferred and for a limited period of time only.   There may be several of these occasions over the course but it important to recognise that each one is planned and forms part of the process. The teacher will prepare the learner for such occasions making sure that they understand the purpose and outcome of each one.

Lesson planning needs to account for this approach and I have written about how that can happen and what it looks like here:  http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6  A more in depth lesson approach is in the form of mindful learning, again I have covered this topic in an earlier article. See here “An Introduction to Mindful Teaching”: http://wp.me/p2LphS-om and “Just what is Mindful Learning”:  http://wp.me/p2LphS-u for ways to question and interact with learners that promotes learning responsibility both from a learner and teacher perspective. A great deal of my work on Learning Intelligence, or LQ, is based on finding ways to promote in learners the ability to manage their own learning environment to meet their learning needs. The idea of the learning responsibility ratio is part of that work.

LQ round

So what can be so powerful as to distort this ideal model of teaching and learning?

Martin Robinson (www.martinrobinson.net) says in his article “Teachers, Cheating and Selling Achievement” [i]

“Different children every year are expected to perform better than children did the year before. This means that although every year the children change, the school is expected to improve, the children are not the reason for this improvement, the school is.  This is not teacher centred or child centred education, it is school centred, and with statistical modelling it will be school eat school out there.”

How then does this impact on the teaching and learning responsibilities?

Consider for a moment the concept of responsibility and who is most likely to assume or feel responsible for examination or test results. I am not asking who is responsible but who is most likely to act in a way that shows responsibility. My experience is it is the teacher who immediately feels responsibility for their students achievement and rightly so. Few teachers lack any form of relationship with their learners and are inclined to feel an element of responsibility. There are however caveats to carrying this burden. If the teacher has done everything they can or could do and despite their best efforts the learner has failed to comply with instruction, complete work, or co-operate with the teacher then we would probably agree it is not the teacher’s fault. The outcome is not the teacher’s responsibility (fault).

In a high stakes environment that requires year on year improvement, that sets threshold levels or standards it is not acceptable to describe a lack of achievement as being down to the learner. Blame must be allocated. Blaming the learner[ii] will not wash with government and so it must be the school that is at fault. The school after all is both a responsible organisation and an identifiable target more so than any individual pupil. The stupidity of this is made clear if we take the following example.

A man is driving (the pupil) a perfectly good, safe, car (the school) and loses control and crashes.

Let’s consider who is responsible for the accident.  Is it the car (the school) or the driver (the pupil) of the car who is responsible?

I think I would be safe in assuming most people would regard the driver to be at fault.

Distorting the Learning Responsibility line

The impact of blaming the school (and the school ultimately blaming the teacher) on the learning responsibility line is dramatic. It is no less dramatic on how learners can see themselves in terms of responsibility for the outcomes of their education.  Let me give you a personal example of what I mean before showing you the revised learning responsibility line and explaining why it becomes so distorted.

I had a sixth form student join my class from a neighbouring school recognised as “outstanding”. He was struggling and appeared not to have a firm grasp of the basics despite having excellent GCSE grades.  He was struggling and so I decided to ask why and see if I could not put things right. He listened attentively and politely said “You do it for me Sir. You know it will make you look good” Apart from being shocked by his answer, and his cheek, I began to wonder where this attitude had come from. What he had worked out was the distortional effects on the learning responsibility line brought about by the wrongful allocation of responsibility and accountability. He knew that because of his past track record of achievement any future “failure” could easily be accounted for by my teaching. It was I who was responsible for him succeeding. I was left wondering how long this particular student had known this! I did not “do it for him” and possibly that day he learnt his very first lesson. He never did finish the course!

Back to the distortion of the learning responsibility line of the Learning Responsibility Diagram. If the teacher takes back responsibility either by too large a degree or too frequently then the decent of the line is slowed and the transition becomes or assumes a “saw tooth” like profile rather than being gradually graded towards a transfer of responsibility.

Learning Responsibility line Distorted

The causes of the teacher resuming responsibility are always down to accountability. Teacher accountability arrives in a number of guises but always with the same drivers – assessment, inspection or observation. The higher the stakes the greater the number of occasions of imposed responsibility the teacher experiences. In such circumstances we also see a higher workload and greater levels of stress for the teacher. Teachers are for the most part compliant. They have their learner’s interest at heart and this makes them vulnerable to such pressures. Add in performance related pay, career impact of working in a “failing” school and you have the perfect storm conditions. If you make the consequences of “failing” high enough people, and teachers and schools are no exception, will do extraordinary things to make sure they don’t fail.

The outcome of the distorted learning line may not be seen in examination or performance results but it will be in the ability of the learner to manage their own learning to meet their learning needs. We will not have independent lifelong learners but we will have dependent learners who lack the responsibility for their own learning. We will have drivers that blame their cars for not preventing them from having accidents.

car crash

As for the teachers and the schools well we will probably have a teacher shortage and failing schools. There is no other possible long term outcome unless we change the focus of responsibility from the teacher to the learner.  As Martin says “it will be school eats school out there” and this does nothing to promote learning or develop in the learner the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will enable them to manage their own learning – to be life long learners.

If you want to find out more about how the LQ approach can raise attainment and enable learners then please get in touch. I run workshops and I can address TeachMeets, run CPD events or the like.

Other related articles:

The return to school looks at how leadership influences learning relationships.

Part 4: The one and only learning theory that counts is … looks at how apportioning blame is the only outcome of one way of doing something. Blame follows after the tightening of procedures, monitoring and checking.

 

[i] https://martinrobborobinson.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/teachers-cheating-and-selling-achievement/

[ii] Once again I have explored the Blame Game in a series of articles called “The one and only learning theory that counts is…”  You can find specific post concerning blame here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-r6

Leadership Reflections

leadership reflections

I have been led by others and I have led others. I have studied leadership and I have experienced good and poor leadership. I have worked for leaders and worked with leaders.  As a leader I have made mistakes and learnt from them and I have learnt from the mistakes made by other leaders. This article is about what I have discovered about leadership (in a nutshell).

Google leadership and you get definitions, styles, skills, theories, books & courses.  There are probably T shirts and I know Edward de Bono came up with a set of coloured hats.  What can I hope to add to what has already been written? Well this is a more a practical reflection on leadership, experiences of leadership if you like triggered by a #SLTchat session on leadership. It is also specific to education.  You may not think education leadership is any different to any other form of leadership but I believe it is. Yes there are similarities but the process of becoming a leader and of being a leader is somewhat different.  So instead of an article about being a leader or leadership, of which Google suggests there are millions, this is more about working with leaders, being led by good and poor leaders, true leaders and simulacrums.

Firstly all teachers are leaders, they lead the learning of their pupils. This relationship is no different to the relationship between any leader and those they lead.  The maxim of “lead by example” is often forgotten by teachers, they forget what it is like to be a learner. This makes them poor leaders and poor teachers.  Poor leaders because leaders should never stop learning from those they lead. Poor teachers because forgetting the anxiety of learning, the need to belong, of having to face choices and needing a voice will limit your ability to build learning relationships.

Secondly the route to school leadership is based on teaching less. Doing less of the things you love doing, things that brought you into teaching in the first place. An ex head teacher shared what drove her to be a school leader; it was “the sphere of influence” factor. The more responsible the position the greater the sphere of influence you have. There is certainly passion and belief attached to this drive but perhaps also ego and they make for difficult things to balance in leadership roles.

As a teacher you have influence on the pupils you teach, as head of department this extends to the teachers in your department and as a leader of a school the pupils and teachers in your school. Some would argue you have an influence in the community too.  Others are driven by other motives, those of ambition, status, responsibility, notoriety. It often strikes me as strange though that we draw these people from a pool of talent that came to teaching to teach and many may be poorly suited to school leadership although they pursue such ambitions. Perhaps that is one reason for so many leadership books, courses, and even qualifications. There is more about suitability for leadership in my next observation.

The third observation I will make concerning leadership in teaching is about the nature of teachers and I know there are exceptions but bear with me. I have a theory that we explore careers that reflect the environments we favour, that we feel comfortable in, have the talent for, or are thrilled by. Fate may decide that is not where we end up but that is another story. If we take the case of teaching then I would argue that those who are successful in school, and who enjoy school and benefit from the rewards of being compliant (a requirement for success as a pupil in school) will tend towards seeking out careers with a similar environment. Teaching is one such career. The result is, since teachers were compliant students, a compliant teaching workforce. This has its benefits but when we consider many of the leaders we hold in high regard, those who have been successful, are mavericks, non-conformists, even rebels it begs the question about the suitability of compliant leaders when it comes to doing what is right rather than what is required. There is certainly a case for “horses for courses” and at times any organisation requires different styles or types of leadership however this is another example of how leadership differs in schools.

Education is exposed to political will, ideas and pressures.  Schools are not autonomous and be it a board of governors, an academy chain, local authority or any other body that is responsible for the school they ultimately set policy.  Where that influence extends to inspection, standards, and regulation (as in the Government) a particular set of powers are employed to direct what happens in schools. Many leaders in schools (at all levels) may disagree with policy but few will be obstreperous. A few will find creative ways around the direction and quietly do what is right other than what is required. Ultimately though, unless successful, there is no reward for challenging policy or being anything other than compliant. This creates its own set of problems for leaders in schools, how to operate a sphere of influence in line with their own experience, philosophy, and ideology when it is in conflict with a government directed policy. It is also responsible for setting up a certain style of leadership, one that is to do more with “enforcing and regulating” than engaging and enabling.

My final observation is possibly less specific to education and it is that there are two types of leaders. I am not talking about styles of leadership, anyone can adopt a style or at least try. I am suggesting that there are those for whom leadership comes naturally and those who aspire to leadership but who lack the understanding and drive to truly understand what leadership is about.  Knowing which one you are working with is essential for your own wellbeing. I believe you can tell which one you have by observing and noting certain behaviours.  The first type of leader is the true leader and the second is a simulacrum, an imitation that looks like the true leader but gives themselves away in the following manner. I have tried to layout in the table below what their approach is and what happens to individuals and teams when being led by each type of leader.

True leader

Simulacrum Leader

Engages and consults before making a decision. Narrow and selected consultation before making a decision. Often vulnerable to pressure from individuals.
Makes decisions in a timely manner and describes rational. Decisions are often delayed and changed without providing a rational.
Carries out actions with minimum delay but ensures resources are available with acknowledgement of consequences. Actions are instigated without considering incidental consequences. A lack of planning or co-ordination evident.
Accepts when an error is made and willing to re visit decisions openly and without seeking to blame. Evaluation of events provides useful insights that are acted upon. May blame others and events when things go wrong. Reluctant to re visit decision more likely to adopt another course of action without evaluation.
Views evidence objectively and without ego Tends towards subjectivity with possible bias based on self.
What you see is what you get. Although diplomatic also open and honest. You are never sure of the reaction you will get.
They build trust fostering the ethic of working with or for them. Those being led tend towards being sceptical, they begin wondering what is behind the actions or decisions.

A poster I designed to emphasise these points under “Good” and “Poor” leadership actions, something to print or pin on your wall, is available to buy and download. The links are at the bottom of this article.

If you have the option to work for a leader then look for the signs of a simulacrum before you decide. If you have no option but to work with or for a leader then “forewarned is forearmed”!

So there you have it, a practical look at leadership in education.  As for my own approach to leadership it is best summed up by the way of a poster I designed based on the mnemonic “ENABLE”. I see this as the most apt verb to describe the actions of a successful leader. “Leaders enable” has a certain ring to it I think too!

What each letter of ENABLE stands for:

  • E is for Engage – with those they are leading
  • N is for Nurture – both the team and future leaders
  • A is for Articulate – a vision, the challenges and the way forward clearly and convincingly
  • B is for Bridge – the gap between people, ideas and strategies in order to move forward
  • L is for listen and lead with empathy and understanding
  • E is for Encourage – all to participate, to challenge and to take risks

My thanks to @lenabellina for giving me the idea of turning my thoughts into posters. Each one is now available to download and print as high resolution files for a small fee. Follow the links to eJunkie, this is an online printing distribution  site that can accept PayPal.  
leadership posters

Leaders ENABLE high resolution poster file at £1 *

Buy Now

What Leaders do high resolution poster file at £1*

*Introductory offer

Buy Now

 

Get Motivated

Concept image of a signpost with motivational directions.

Get motivated – 6 things to do to make sure you get and remain motivated

So you have an essay to write, a research paper to prepare or whatever.  The trouble is you have the time and the resources but not the will to do it. You are putting it off, procrastinating.

Why and what can you do about it?

The first problem is there is tomorrow, or the next day to do it. Well that is what you tell yourself. Nothing feels urgent, there is plenty of time left to get it done so its gets left undone. It will get done later.

Relax

The second problem is that you forget about it. Well your conscious mind does but not the subconscious.  Since you set no specific timetable to start and finish by there is no urgency and your mind gets busy with the day to day stuff. It is only when you relax you remembered and then you feel tired so a) you panic or b) you decide to put off starting until later (there is that “later” again).

 

Young beautiful business woman panic

 

Pain and worry are both draining, they sap our energy and we feel drained and mentally tired and thinking becomes harder. Why am I telling you this? Well a task sitting in the subconscious is like pain and like worry, it drains us of energy.  Once you have a task to do it is taking up mental resources, its sitting there draining your energy. The longer you leave it the less energy you have to do it. The only way you get started in these situations is when the adrenalin kicks in and gives you that energy boost. So as soon as you panic you get the energy to make a start.  The problem we have here is that an adrenaline hit does nothing for our perceptive thinking. You are in “fight or flight” mode and not think and reflect mode.

Next to come are the excuses.

You need to balance the lack of progress in order to feel okay about not starting so you make excuses. Excuses include promises to yourself too. Excuses and promises mean nothing in terms of getting started or completing a task. They achieve nothing in themselves and often are not fulfilled. Enough said about excuses and promises, you are fooling no one, and that includes yourself!  Stop making excuses.

There is too much to do, you are too busy already. Sorry but this is an excuse in disguise and you are fooling no one but yourself.  You have enough time but you are using it unwisely. You are allowing small tasks and the tasks you enjoy doing to eat up your time. You need to get strict with yourself and plan better.

Leaving things to the last minute, or beyond if you consider the quality of your work, is not good for you. It is self-inflicted pain and anguish. A set of emotions that never result in a positive feeling once you have finished. Instead there is a combination of relief for getting it done and anger with yourself for not starting sooner and doing a better job. This is probably the main reason why you leave things until the last minute too. Let me explain.

Feeling good about something is a reward to yourself. Remember doing something well and how proud you felt. Remember the praise you got when you achieved something significant.  We like rewards and rewards spurs us on to try harder or to do well.  By leaving things to the last minute, by delaying starting, you are robbing yourself of the reward. Without a reward all you are left with are the negative emotions and an experience that does little to inspire you next time.

So that is why and how we put things off.

What can you do about it?

1

For a start, set your own deadline and do not go with the “hand in” or “hand over” date.  Take control of the situation and do not dance to somebody else’s tune. They have no idea what else you have to do, want to do or wish to do. They do not offer to organise your time and only to expect you to use your time to complete the task they set.

Next, and it’s the most important part, set out your rewards for when you complete the task for the date you have set yourself. If you can meditate on them, visualise them happening. Make them real in your mind, feel the emotions that go with getting things done not only in time but in plenty of time. The reward is a powerful motivator but it must be a realistic reward. No setting unrealistic rewards, they do not motivate you.

Get realistic about your use of time. If something is a two hour task then spend little more than the two hours on it. If you spend more than 2 hours you are taking time away from something else.  You risk running out of time and we know where that leads.

Then, and only then, when you have achieved the task take the time and make the effort to reward yourself.  When you are doing so take a moment to reflect on how you would feel and what position you would be in if you were still rushing to get things finished. Contrast those emotions with how you feel having achieved your task as you set out to do.  Embedding the positive emotions in your memory will help you become motivated next time.

So to sum up then:

  1. Allocate a realistic and appropriate amount of time to a task and stick to it.
  2. Set your own “complete by” date ahead of the hand in or hand over dates.
  3. Plan realistically and stick to it. Make no excuses.
  4. Establish you rewards for completing on time.
  5. Take a moment to visualise and feel the positive emotions associated with your rewards before you start.
  6. When you have completed on time reward yourself and take the time to embed the good feelings into memory. Rewards must be meaningful and achievable.

 

By the way if you are struggling with time management then here is a link to a series of articles that solve that problem too.

man holding back time

Enquiry-based Learning

Featured Image -- 1702

Really nice to see a “natural” way of learning, learning through need, being promoted. “We want kids to be critical thinkers, problem solvers” – “it empowers them” Yep! Also  a great example of Learning Intelligence (LQ) in action – learners managing their own learning environment to meet their learning needs. LQ and PBCF

The Learning Renaissance

We did it when I was in primary school but to hear the dissenting voices, you would think that enquiry-based learning was new, revolutionary and unproven.

The desire to give students of all ages more control over what and how they learn has been central to the concept of the new learning renaissance. The most difficult element of introducing enquiry-based learning has been that it requires teachers to operate in different and more facilitative ways to help each individual in the class to learn.

Our friends at Edutopia provide a useful guide: Inquiry-Based Learning: From Teacher-Guided to Student-Driven | Edutopia

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Part 5: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

The way forward in overcoming the “one way”  or benefiting from “other ways”.

one way x 2 sign

How can learners deal with the one way if schools and teachers are unable to?

To put this into an action statement rather than a question we could say “How to not only survive your education but how to thrive during the experience” .  Commenting on how things are is one thing, asking questions another. The first in enlightening but not always helpful, the second is a little more proactive and starts us moving towards a solution.  Asking questions is part of having an open mind-set and of being creative.  I like the idea of finding solutions, of solving problems, and there are known and proven strategies for doing so. Looking at learning as a problem is a good way of finding an alternative to the one way world of education.

Think of a time when as a student you enjoyed a lesson, enjoyed learning something. What was it about that lesson that left you with such an impression that it lasted long after the lesson ended?

My bet is that it’s a lot about the teacher and the way they taught.  You probably found it “fun” but do any of these tally with what you were thinking?

  • The lesson interested you
  • You felt motivated to learn
  • The teacher was passionate about the topic
  • The pace and way of teaching suited you
  • Mistakes were allowed not punished
  • The teacher was helpful and patient
  • You found it easy
  • The lesson went by very quickly

What really happened in that lesson was that your learning needs were being met.  Based on the work of William Glasser and my experience I believe that we have four learning needs and when these are being met we find it easier to engage in learning. I encourage teachers to “Please Be Child Friendly”, a mnemonic for the four learning needs PBCF. P is for power, giving students a voice. B is for creating a sense of belonging. C is for offering choices. F is for creating fun through learning.  These are common needs and it is easy for the teacher to plan to meet these needs (see other posts inc: http://wp.me/p2LphS-4) but what about our learning preferences, how we like to learn. How easy is it for the one way to meet what can be rather individual preferences? The short answer is it isn’t!

pbcf4

Our learning preferences tend to develop because we favour them. This is because we feel comfortable in ourselves when we learn in this way, we are relaxed and not stressed.  Unless we have the tools to understand and manage learning anxiety, stress and challenge then we tend to withdraw. It is like pulling your hand back from the fire when it gets too close and feels the intensity of the heat.  If we were to employ a strategy, if we were to wear a glove we would be able to hold our hand closer or for longer without the same level of discomfort.  Preferences also change and are prone to influence from a number of quarters too.

personalised learning environment

The problems we face as learners is that we are not in control of the school learning environment, the teacher is. Teachers create learning environments that motivate and engage learners – well most of them do, most of the time. When they do it’s memorable.  When it is not we are bored, restless, disengaged and finding learning hard. It is not reasonable though to expect teachers to teach in a way that meets several learning preferences at the same time. We saw the folly of this when teachers were asked to plan and deliver lessons to meet different learning styles when this was the new “one way”.  The result is learners with fixed mind-sets (I can only learn like this) and stressed teachers trying to spin several plates at the same time. Let me be clear I am not supporting the “one way “, what I am recommending is that teachers are encouraged  to teach in a way that meets learning needs (essential) and that tolerates learning preferences but is as individual to them as their learner’s preferences are. There are a number of benefits to this approach, as I shall explain.

What learners are in control of is their learning preferences and how they respond to them in the learning environment. Learning how to respond positively in different learning environments is very useful. First however we have to distinguish those things that are our preferences. This may be easier than we think.  Consider which lessons you like, which subjects and which teachers. If we remove the learning needs elements (PBCF) from the equation then there will be an element of your learning preferences present in each favoured environment.  Preferences may include the ability to work in a group, to discuss ideas, to work independently, to receive guidance or being encouraged to take risks. Whatever they are you like them to be present in a learning environment.  When they are not you feel uncomfortable and engagement and motivation are harder to achieve. You will also probably assume you cannot learn in that subject or with that teacher.

Carol Dweck [i] (Growth Mind-set) and Guy Claxton[ii] (Building Learning Power) are two educational thinkers who have taken steps to break the link between our ability to learn and a fixed trait, that of intelligence.  Albert  Bandura [iii], also the subject of an article by ace-d (see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-lg ) says “Given the same environmental conditions, persons who have developed skills for accomplishing many options and are adept at regulating their own motivation and behaviour are more successful in their pursuits than those who have limited means of personal agency.”  So it is within ourself that we can turn to find the skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours to manage our learning environment to meet our learning preferences but we can also change our preferences or at least find ways of preventing them from limiting our ability to learn.

The benefit of experiencing “other ways” is that it can both encourage and support us in developing those skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours identified through Learning Intelligence that are essential in managing our own learning. A student who experiences more than way of teaching, more than one way of learning is more likely, with the right support from the teacher or parent or mentor, to develop ways of overcoming learning limitations by exposure to them. Those who just face the “one way” may do well in such environments so long as their learning needs are being met along with their learning preferences but this is limiting for as soon as they move outside of this zone they are lost. They do not possess the skills to deal with such experiences. This applies to the compliant learners [iv]as well as those who regarded as “gifted and talented” within the school environment and context.

The impact on the learner of the “one way” is significant. Consider a scenario where the learner is struggling and how the teacher is able (allowed) to respond  within the constraints of a prescribed model.  If the teacher models learning as prescribed then the implication for the learner self-image is that they are unable to learn that subject or topic. The logic may be flawed, the result of an inexperienced learner but then many learners are not experienced at learning, only being taught.

My view and recommendation is that:

  • schools should ensure that learning needs (PBCF) are being addressed and
  • that teachers are teaching to their strengths and in a way that is organised and supports their passion for their subject.  It is essential that that passion is tangible to the learner.
  • ensure learners understand their learning preferences and that these are neither fixed or where absent barriers to learning only challenges to overcome.
  • we should work hard at promoting the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours identified through Learning Intelligence that ultimately enable the learner to manage their own learning environment.

We must also remember that the school is but one learning environment and that there are others both traditional (parents and peers) as well as those that are present on the internet (YouTube, Khan Academy, MOOC’s etc). If we do not assist the learner to learn in the environment we create then we risk them either learning outside of it (without guidance) or not learning at all.

What we need to do to combat the one way is to promote and develop Learning Intelligence in our schools.

Below is the collective list of the skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that form LQ. All can be developed given the desire to do so.

diagram of LQ and SAAB

Link to part 1 of this series of articles on learning theory.


 

[i] http://www.edutopia.org/blog/watch-whats-working-carol-dweck-talks-growth-mindset-bob-lenz

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlYRhoWtoiM

[iii] http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1989AP.pdf

[iv] Is Compliance a Learning Disability? http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd

Part 4: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

Part 4.  The impact of the no one learning environment cont.

blame

A blame culture, the ultimate outcome of the “one way”.

Earlier I explored the impact of the one way not working. I described how in my experience it leads to the tightening of monitoring and checking systems,  inflexible frameworks and the limiting of creativity (or in some cases finding “creative” ways around inflexibility).  Now we turn to whose fault is it the one way is not working.

If the one way to learn, the prescribed approach, is not working then it is the fault of someone. Who is that “someone”? At the start there are always a lot of things to point the finger at, after time though the number dwindles. That someone was the Local Education Authority, trendy (lazy) teachers, progressive teaching methods, low aspirations, parents, disruptive students etc. Now it is either the leadership of the school or the teacher or a lack of effort on the part of the learner (also the fault of the teacher). In such cases it is easy to get into a cycle of finger pointing or a blame culture.

We in the UK are definitely into a blame culture and as we move further and further into it the language used by government gives this away. We hear things like “we are introducing a new check”, “pupils at risk of falling behind” , “target those areas” and “children aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed”. More the language of war you would think (the outcome of desperation?) than education perhaps.  Then there is the “takeover” manoeuvre (there is that war analogy again!), the one where those who were “in charge” or responsible are no longer trusted and a new regime is installed. In the UK it is academy trusts who take over “failing schools” but these are also failing (as we would expect if the one way does not work!). It’s certainly a dilemma for any government that persists on the one way path. I suppose with so much invested in the one way, both personally, as well as politically, it is hard if not impossible to even consider another way let alone more than one way.

What we do know is the learning environment created by the pursuit at all costs of the one way is very toxic for those involved in leadership, teaching, and learning.  Finding a way to deal with this environment is the key to improving teaching and learning. We know that through regulation and inspection leadership and teachers have their hands tied so this leaves the learner.  A simple analogy that describes how we may proceed in dealing with a toxic environment that is not going to change is living somewhere really cold and wanting to be warm. You can ask for sunnier days, less snow and ice each year or longer summers and shorter winters until you are blue in the face (ignoring climate change). You are asking for the unlikely if not impossible. The more successful way is to acclimatise yourself to the environment and seek ways of managing it in order to get what you want – to be warm. So you learn what clothes to wear and how to wear them, you practice ways of getting and keeping warm and after a while you are warm, despite the environment.

If we take the same approach in teaching and learning then it’s not about changing the learning environment to meet the needs of the learner it’s about equipping the learner to manage the learning environment to meet their learning needs.  This is important not only because of the one way  problem but because we do not learn just in schools or managed environments. We have the opportunity to learn in a number of different environments. For example at home, in work, during leisure and in a social setting are all potential learning environments.  My experience is that some learners do not do well in one school environment but thrive in another, some do not do well in any formal education environment but thrive when on work placements, and some excel in leisure pursuits but do less well in school. They are the same person but achieve differently in different environments. If we wanted evidence that we need to equip learners with the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours (SAAB) to manage their learning environment then we need look no further than these examples. Where their SAAB matches the environment they flourish, where it does not they struggle.

My claim is that in these situations the learner possesses the appropriate SAAB profile for the environment in which they thrive but not the profile for those where they struggle. It occurs to me that we need to broaden or develop the SAAB profile of the learner such that they can thrive in any learning environment. We need to work with the learner to explore their learning needs and how this impacts on their learning beliefs.  To build in the learner the ability to see a difficulty to learn not as a personal weakness but as a result of the environment they are in and not having the SAAB to mange it effectively.

Links to earlier parts are:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

diagram of LQ and SAAB

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