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
This is an article to celebrate the success of a student and of further success for a teaching approach defined by the concept of Learning Intelligence or LQ. Read on.
It was very late in the last academic year (2016-2017), in March actually, when I was asked if I could work with a Y11 student. The subject this time was maths and the target a ‘pass’ at GCSE (a grade C or as of 2017, a grade 4). School predictions and targets suggested this was a significant challenge, especially given the short timescale and me meeting the student only once a week for an hour. This was an opportunity for demonstrating my approach centred on my concept of Learning Intelligence (LQ) and learning needs (PBCF).
I can report that we were successful, “We” because this was a learning partnership and this is what my student had to say
“I just wanted to let you know that I got my GCSE results today and I got a 4 in maths which is the pass mark and what I have never achieved before. I am super happy and it means I have a confirmed place at college but I couldn’t of done it without your help and strategies to help me get through the exam… .”
So what had we done to achieve such a welcome result?
Essentially the approach is to see learning as a problem-solving activity, this helps in negating the emotional link to failure and personal self-doubt. Once this is accepted the limiting subject perceptions become secondary to the learning challenge and we can get on with finding ways of solving the learning problem, of managing our learning environment to meet our learning needs.
Please Be Child Friendly
Any teacher will know you need a willing student but also one who is confident and has a degree of self-belief. The student also needs to trust their teacher and have a learning relationship with them. Achieving this is my first step and uses the learning needs approach I have developed of PBCF.
“PBCF” stands for Power, Belonging, Choice and Fun and each element needs to be in place first before learning challenges can be set.
So, even with very little time available to me, this was my priority and strategies were used to first establish a sense of belonging, of me knowing enough about the learner in order to understand who they are and where they are and create a partnership. It is also important that the student knows something about their teacher, the sort of things that build in them hope and confidence.
This was then followed by power, effectively this means listening. It means giving the student a voice and recognising their emotional state in terms of learning. Anyone who feels powerless is unlikely to engage in any challenge. This stage is vital in understanding the barriers to learning that the student holds.
Offering a choice as to how we were going to tackle the challenge together is an essential part of the strategy and supports the first two. This in practical terms means creating both a coaching and mentoring environment.
Finally, our learning relationship had to have a sense of fun but more importantly tying this to achievement, we needed to celebrate our successes and find fun in learning.
I also encouraged my student to take the concept of PBCF with them into the school environment and use it when faced with learning challenges. The benefit of this approach is that of improving their awareness of the impact of not having learning needs met on their ability to learn. This helps significantly especially when we have an over compliant student who does not express their learning needs well in the school environment or a teacher who is not ‘listening’.
Solving the learning problem
Finding ways of overcoming the learning challenges, of solving the problem, is the second part of the strategy and involves developing the four aspects of LQ. I define these as:
- learning Skills,
- Attributes and
The advantages of seeing learning as a problem-solving activity are highlighted when we employ LQ.
Let’s consider an electrician as an example of a problem-solving approach. In repairing or rewiring a house in addition to the necessary knowledge we would expect him, or her, to:
- have a developed set of skills associated with the task,
- have the ‘right’ attitude, to do a good job and to not give up and walk away
- demonstrate attributes such as flexibility or creativity in completing the task
- behave in such a way as to be both professional and polite.
A deficiency in any of these aspects on the part of the electrician will limit their ability to solve the problem. So it is with learning but if we do not integrate LQ into learning within the school context, and instead focus on subjects, students see themselves as unable to learn a subject rather than lacking any of the elements of LQ to solve the learning problem.
My work with my student focused in a very short space of time in assessing their LQ and working to develop those elements that were necessary for them to solve a learning problem themselves. It does not just have to be maths either, any subject or topic of learning can be tackled in the same way. Often I find that once a student sees learning in this way they quickly adapt and their self-belief as a learner blossoms as does their confidence.
Can you scale up this approach?
My nearly 40 years of teaching experience says yes you can. The approach I have outlined was used in a developing literacy and coaching model successfully used by an independent tutoring service. The issue of scaling up 1:1 coaching successes with larger groups was considered by Bloom in his 2 Sigma question. The problem in achieving this most often results from sticking with the original teacher/learner mindset and approach. Changing an approach is simple, in fact it is probably the easiest and least costly change you can make in teaching and learning. It will certainly have the biggest return.
What about maths
On a subject-specific note, that of maths, since it is one of the least favoured subjects amongst adults and children alike, I strongly advise that we need to treat it like a language if we want students to become confident in tackling the learning problems it presents.
Think for a moment how much time we use written and spoken language each day compared to maths. Much of our day is taking up with talking, reading or listening. We even use language when thinking so it is no wonder we are conversant in it. How much of your day is spent on the four basic mathematical functions, those of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing? One of my strategies with any student I work within the area of maths is to increase this time significantly by asking them to play number games with their family and by looking around them for number patterns and associations in everyday life and when out and about. Try it and you will soon see the difference.
See for yourself and take the LQ, PBCF challenge
If you are interested in PBCF and LQ and how it can help your students, your own children or teaching then get in touch. I can arrange 1:1 sessions with parents, teachers and all the way through to group work and whole school CPD either here in the UK or indeed anywhere I am asked thanks to technology.
You can contact me here: email@example.com
Wishing you success in your learning challenges
Schools are pushing students at this time of year to make or exceed their target grades. A great deal goes on both during school, after school and during holidays to finish coursework or to revise topics. Revision strategies most commonly ask students to go over ground they have already covered, often in the same way with the same teachers and approach. What if there was a better way to reach those targets grades?
If we take a sporting analogy for a moment we can see that there is more to performance than learning how to do something and practicing it. Athletes have to believe in their ability to succeed and without this mental state it matters little how often they practice or train. What if our students did not believe in their ability and what if we did little to change that state of mind? Would it matter how much revision or practice they did if at heart they did not believe they would succeed?
In 2016 Roy Leighton was involved with a school in Leicester in changing mind-sets of a group of Y11 students. They were using a ‘better way’ to help students achieve and it does not involve revision in any school subject but it will pay off across all of them. In fact it will have a lifelong pay off for the students because they will believe in themselves.
I had the opportunity to accompany Roy on a visit to the school to meet with some of the students during the Easter Holiday and to see the better way in action. The better way is actually called the “Butterfly Model” and it is something Roy has been developing and refining very successfully. I have known Roy for some time and our work has a number of common elements including enabling learners to manage their own learning and to understand the emotional impact on our ability to learn. Roy once said to me: “We are holding different ends of the same stick” and I take this as a both a compliment and encouragement for developing my work on Learning Intelligence seeing how big the stick is that he is holding.
I recommend you check out his work on personal transformation here: http://www.royleighton.com/the-butterfly-model1.html
What gets students engaged and motivated?
From my own experience and work on getting Y11 ‘down to it’ I know that getting them motivated is the essential. I have identified four key elements that are necessary to getting people to engage and hence motivated. The first is PBCF.
PBCF “Please Be Child Friendly” is a way of remembering the four elements shown in my graphic below. I would challenge you to find anything in which you are actively engaged that does not involve these four components.
The second aspect is LQ and shares the same roots as Roy’s stick! It’s about a mindset and them enabling and supporting the engagement of learners by developing the Skills, Attitudes, Attributes and Behaviours that form the enabling aspect of LQ. You can read more about LQ, starting with an introduction here at LQ Introduction
Back to the school and students who voluntarily came in during the holiday to meet with Roy and carry on with the programme. This was his 4th visit and there are others to come along with “hangouts”, text messages and online resources that are part of the programme. This may sound like an advert for the Butterfly model but hey if you see something that works you should share it – right!
The session focused on being the person you want to be, making the changes you need to make and recognising the powerful emotions that influence our self-beliefs as learners. “Getting from here, to where you want to be”. Not your typical exam boosting session but one that is as essential as any in achieving success, just ask any athlete.
As students reflected on the last session and what they decided they wanted to keep, develop and let go you could see their energy rise ready for the challenges this session would provide. A significant difference to getting students to go over work they have already struggled with again which does little to alter their “learning map”, what they believe they can and cannot learn.
Looking at ourselves and recognising our strengths and our weaknesses is difficult, acknowledging these and then deciding what to do about it even harder, but hardest of all is actually doing something about it. I saw students fully engaged in this journey, facing up to the challenges and changing their beliefs about themselves as learners and having fun while they did so.
With the pressures schools face and not forgetting how these find their way to the teachers it is refreshing to see a school take a different approach, a better way, to achieving success. Some may even say a “braver way” and in many respects I would have to agree. Doing what is the norm, even if it does not always work, is less risky than doing something that is right when it is not recognised. The students who attended this session are in many ways pioneers and deserve recognition. I am sure they will show others there is a better way and I look forward to hearing of their success.
Want to explore the PBCF and LQ intervention and how it can help your students?
Get in touch with me via e-mail here:
Part 4. The impact of the no one learning environment cont.
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:
How we see ourselves as a learner has a significant impact on the “what” and the “how” when we are in a learning mode. But how accurate are our self-perceptions when it comes to learning and how do we build them?
In part one I will suggest that our self-perceptions as a learner are formed as a result of the idea that there is one way we all learn. In further parts I will describe the impact of this notion on learners as well s explore the impact on the learning environment as we try to find the one way to teach and to learn.
Unfortunately as we experience school we are not encouraged to develop our view of ourselves as learners. We are given labels and expected to live up or down to them. This all stems from one false “truth”. Let’s explore this “truth”.
Education theory has a demon it cannot shake off and the outcome of this is that we are constantly being directed towards a “better way”. We seek to find a better way to learn, a better way to teach and a better structure on which to base our education system. This emphasis on the “better way” suggests there is one, and only one, way. This is why we see theories come into fashion and then go out again only to be re-discovered when the latest one has failed to “do it for everyone”. Those with influence on policy and practice also carry with them their favourite which they are reluctant to accept may not suit everyone. In the UK we have seen, and continue to see, education formed in the image of some individual or persuasive group who believe their way is the right way.
The real truth is that there is no one way. No one way at any moment in the challenge of learning. No one way to teach. No one design on which to build an education system that will meet the needs of everyone. This is hard to accept. Even harder to consider when you want to standardise things. Impossible if you want to monitor or predict outcomes.
The sad thing is that so long as we look for one way to learn, to teach and structure education we fail to see the benefits of those ways that work for some of us, some of the time. It’s like holding a bunch of keys and trying them, one at a time, in a lock that does not have a single key to open it. We pick up a key, try it and then throw it to the floor and try another. When we run out of keys we pick them up off the floor and continue to try them one at a time again. When you have more than one person jostling to try their key in the lock then we see the real dangers of this approach. Power and influence are brought to bear to get to the front. Any other key holder is attacked in order to diminish their chance of trying their key in the lock. They would be just getting in the way anyway and delaying us opening the door to the “better way” wouldn’t they!
See this site for a list of learning theories. Then ask yourself how many are still “popular”, how many have been “attacked” and why some still have supporters despite being attacked. http://www.learning-theories.com/
There are no one set of circumstances, no single way to teach, no one system of education that will produce a “better way”. The way that counts is the way that works for you.
To discover what works best for you requires you to be allowed to explore learning and evaluate the “how” for yourself. You need to be exposed to different learning strategies and shown that what we see or regard as “ability” may be influenced by more than one thing. We need to avoid labels.
Warning – this may produce “challenging behaviours” in a system that believes in and promotes “one way”.
What I am proposing is not revolutionary in terms of new theories but it is in terms of approaches to learning. Well it appears to be to me and I have been in the education profession for nearly four decades! The fact that we have not yet changed our approach to education that we persist along the “one way” path suggests one of two things. Firstly there is a vested interest in this process that it serves some purpose we have yet to discover. Secondly our egos are bigger than our view of education. If there is a third reason then please let me know.
What I am proposing is based on the idea that there is no “one way”, no “best way” to learn, that the lock on the door of learning needs multiple keys to open it. It may even be that the lock changes from time to time too making it necessary to look for a different combination of keys. This is the concept that sits behind my idea of “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short.
More about LQ in part two.
In the last part of this article I argued for the need to re-examine the foundations of teaching and learning and to establish if the foundations of what we do and why we do it are still part of today’s educations systems. In short are they relevant? In this, the second part, I ask the question “How far back can we go with teaching and learning?”
Well I would argue that there must have been a time when somebody knew something somebody else did not. Something they discovered for themselves, something that gave them an evolutionary advantage and perhaps wanted to share with those they lived with. The making of fire may just have been that one thing or that a stone can act as a club. Although it is rather romantic to imagine such a scenario it does conjure up the first possible teaching and learning scenario. It does also point to a few possible long lost principles of education too. That:
- learning through need is a great motivational aspect of learning
- we learn better when we co-operate with each other,
- sharing ideas develops new ideas and improves existing ones,
- failing is just part of the learning journey and should not define who we are (try, try and try again) and
- trust is a significant aspect of the learning relationship
Long before teaching was a recognised profession and education was a nation’s currency in world rankings there was a time when people learnt things from one another or by reflecting on experiences. Since this simple model we have sought to turn learning into a science and in doing so brought the principles, practices, evaluative and proof tools of science to bear on the process. I believe some aspects of the art of learning have been sacrificed as we have moved away from the simple model of teaching and learning and adopted a more scientific approach of theories and testing.
As the sciences have evolved we have attempted to build models of learning that influence how we teach. These models go on to set or influence education policy and practices. Some of these models have been discredited and some build up a strong following as they appear to provide insights into how we can teach better and improve the process of learning. Whatever appears to work in any part of the educational landscape is explored in order to find elements we can transplant and improve the health of our own education systems. The idea of science making the process of learning clear continues. We have seen the rise of neuroscience as we look for ways in which people learn and have employed MRI scanning to map the brain functions.
But what would we do if we had only the simple model of learning and everything else that we believe in how we learn was wrong? So what if there is:
- no right brain/left brain functions,
- no learning styles,
- no benefit to rote learning or
- no set of basics or subjects on which we build further learning,
- no best time of the day to learn
or any of the other ideas or theories we have about how we learn best.
What would we do? What policies and practices would we adopt if there was only the simplest of learning models?
In the next part of this article I will propose the principles and practices of a simple learning model.
Part 3: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nJ
We go back and explore the simplest of learning models to see if we can re-establish secure foundations on which to build.
Part 4: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nZ
What are the influences of the industrial and technological revolutions on education?
Final Part: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-pv
The four foundations of learning and what learning is not
Graphic from: http://socialesiesae.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/prehistory.html
What is in a name and how important is it that people know your name?
What does your name say about you?
We are all given one but have you ever stopped to think how you would find your way in the world or how others would find you without one! In fact there a lot more questions about your name once you stop to think about it.
- Do you like your name?
- Does your name reflect who you really are?
- Do you think people treat you a certain way when they meet you for the first time possibly because of your name?
- Does your name help or hinder you as you make your way in the world?
- Would you, or have you ever thought of, changing your name?
- If you decided to change your name what would it be?
- Do people call you by your given name or have you a nickname they prefer to use?
So now you may be thinking about your name a little more and if it is Kevin, like mine, then you may be happily reflecting on the “fact” that Kevin means “handsome”.
You may be asking where am I going with all this name stuff? Well let me get to my point.
In 2011 I had achieved 33 years of being a successful teacher and a few more after that outside of the school environment exploring and working in the “real world”. Having a little more time at hand I started to reflect on my learning experiences. It occurred to me that successful learning and teaching was based on a set of skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours. The more I have prodded and probed this notion the more secure I am in my belief but I digress, more of that later. I truly believed then, as I do now, that I have something unique to say about learning and teaching and decided I needed to tell the world about it because as far as I could find out no one else had put the various bits together in the way I had. To me it is both blindingly simple and obvious at the same time, not complicated at all. A sort of eureka moment you would call it.
I needed a way to spread the word and let others know of this simple truth about how to make learning easier, be a great teacher and have successful schools.
In 2011 I decided to set up a company, a website, blog and Twitter account and tell the world about what I have discovered. In order to do so I needed a name for the company. Something that said what I was about and was easy to remember and search on the web so people could find me easily. This is where I was probably too clever for my own good because I have come to realise how important a name is and I may have got mine wrong. Let me explain.
I realised that if we did more of what we have been doing in education, especially in the UK, then we would get more of what we have now. To summarise: stressed teachers, stressed students, a waste of talent, mediocre results, more of a focus on meeting a target than being the best we can be, a lack of creativity or individual expression, too much change and a lot more negatives along the way. I realised we needed to do something different and that we needed to be creative in the way we did it. I still have the same aspirations for students, schools, and education as those who set targets or standards to aim for I just think there is a better way of going about achieving it, one that does not carry with it all the negative aspects we are seeing now. I wanted my company name to reflect this more creative approach and to emphasise the possibilities of being the best as a result of adopting it. There was also the need to be unique on the World Wide Web, a challenge in itself.
The name I chose, “ace-d” ,takes the “a” from advocating, the “c” from creative and “e-d” from an abbreviation of education and stands for advocating a creative approach to education. The word “aced” is also an idiom for doing very well.
Did you get all that or have I been too clever for my own good?
So “ace-d” was born along with a “leet speek” version for the blog and Twitter called “4c3d” (the 4 replacing the “a” and 3 as a backward “e”. I had to use this approach because “aced” had already been taken as a Twitter and blog name and since creativity is a core principle of ace-d it seemed appropriate to find a creative solution.
Then there is the “ace” connotation of the name and its meaning in general use. We do not have to tear down walls to bring about positive change in teaching and learning, to ace it (too clever again?). As Ellen Langer has pointed out in her theory on mindfulness, we just need to be creative and approach things differently. A one degree change in your course when sailing can bring a different shore into view. Going around an obstacle is just as effective as going through it and there are plenty of obstacles in education!
So why do I think I got the name wrong? Well because it is now 4 years since I set up ace-d and although some people have found me and some of those have become colleagues, some have become listeners and some have asked questions I feel I have only been able to directly help a handful of individuals and schools. That is far less than I know that can benefit from ace-d’s approach and that is what makes me think I got it wrong. If people are looking for help would they find it, would they find ace-d? Try Googling “ ace-d LQ” and let me know if you found me.
Advocating Creativity Ltd is the formal company name for ace-d and I offer an independent advisory service for those seeking significant and sustainable improvements in learning and teaching. This is primarily achieved by adopting a concept developed by me based on experience and research and called Learning Quotient, LQ for short, or Learning Intelligence. LQ is about developing a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours shown to significantly impact learning and teaching. You will find elements of Dweck, Hattie, Glasser and many more embedded in the concept of LQ. LQ is about an approach to learning that is both simple and powerful but one that as we chase targets and standards I fear we may move further away from.
If you are a teacher, leader, or a learner and would like to find out more about how ace-d and LQ can help you I would be pleased to hear from you, now you know the name of course.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Links to website
Link to Twitter
We know the classroom is more than a place for pupils to sit and the teacher to store resources. It is more than just four walls, windows, doors, a floor and a ceiling too. What makes a classroom is the dynamic way the resources it provides are used. This is why a classroom can be an open space or a piece of ground under a bridge. My view is that the classroom should say “Welcome to my world.” There should be something about the classroom that celebrates your passion for the subjects you teach and that shows you are a learner too. Here are some of the ways you can use your classroom to promote teaching and learning.
Promote focus by avoiding clutter. Clutter is things that you are not using, do not need to refer to or just don’t want to throw away. It is the last project outcomes, the broken chair or something propped in the corner out of the way. If you cannot bring yourself to throw it away box it and label it. Have only the things that are relevant out on show and in the room if you can.
Make the walls relevant by getting rid of “wall paper”. This is stuff well past it’s sell by date. There is nothing worse than having work on the wall from somebody who has left or was in the class last year. It is also stuff you cannot read if you are sat in the middle of the classroom without requiring the eyesight of Superman. Sit in the middle of the classroom and if you cannot read what is on the wall then bin it. If you cannot read it then neither can your pupils. If it is important then make it readable.
Make the walls a resource for you as well as the pupils. Teachers are adept at using the walls of the classroom to carry all manner of resources but what about using one wall for prompts and reminders for your teaching too. If when you are addressing the pupils you are at the front of the class then use the back wall for your own purposes. This is not as daft as it sounds; the back wall is probably the least viewed by the pupils. Here is an example of how you may use the back wall. Say you wanted to develop your teaching by asking more mindful[i] questions then you may have a large image of a brain posted on the back wall. Unless you explain to others what it is for then it is your own personal reminder to ask questions in a way that encourages rather than discourages responses. If anyone asks you do not have to tell them the reason why it is there, that is up to you.
Share ownership of the walls and encourage pupils to take ownership by displaying their own learning outcomes. You do not have to select every piece that goes on the wall.
Get creative when you need to and this includes using the ceiling, the windows, the doors, and even the floor. The classroom can be “dressed” in the same way as shop windows to promote a theme or support a topic. I have even seen Egypt complete with sand and pyramids appear in a classroom (just be sure to cover the floor in plastic first and get the cleaner on your side!)
Set the mood using technology. Projectors not only project images but hey can be sued to create blocks of colour and coloured light. This can be very effective at creating a mood, especially if you add in some sounds. Plain white sheets can be hung as screens and they do not have to be on the wall. Images can be projected onto them to create illusions of walls or the seaside or anything your imagination comes up with.
Consider the unusual. If you have ever walked into a bakery as the bread is cooling you will know the power of smell. Like music it can transport you both in time and space and lift your mood. Scented candles or perfumes can add that extra dimension. Just image the impact of a few stink bombs if you were studying the history of sewerage in the Victorian era! Having music playing alters mood and pace significantly, just the thing for creative writing.
Move things around, but only for a reason. Too many changes and too much change can unsettle pupils. Like everyone they like the familiar and may need warning about what you have planned. Just imagine how you feel if you cannot use your usual car parking space. Putting desks in rows just like a Victorian school may be a great way of starting off a topic.
Think about the entrance to your room, it is after all a portal to learning. How can you make it more effective? Remember that sometimes your pupils may be lining up outside your door and it could provide a useful opportunity to learn something or set the scene.
Be welcoming. It goes without saying but sometimes you may get carried away clearing up after the last session or in preparing for the upcoming one. Even if you are not ready take time to meet and greet. How pupils enter a room and even how they leave says something about the space they are in. Don’t miss an opportunity to use subtle influences to mark out your room as a place to learn.
Give it an identity so the pupils know where they are. There is nothing worse than bland teaching room after bland teaching room along a corridor. Think what the high street would look like if all the shops were the same. How would you know where you are or where to go?
Promote organisation. A place for everything and everything in its place is a very important adage. So is “Don’t put it down. Put it away.” Have systems that you use to keep your room organised. This helps you find things as well as the pupils and saves them waiting to ask you.
[i] Mindful questions are those that do not impose limits or require absolute understanding in order to answer. They can be satisfied in part or in whole depending on the knowledge and understanding of the pupil. For example if you ask pupils to name the three states matter can exist in then you are excluding those that can only think of 1 or 2 from answering and anyone who believes there are 4 (plasma) or even 5. A mindful question format may be formed in this way, “Who can name me a state matter can exist in?” . Now you have not set any boundaries and can respond to any “odd” or interesting responses you receive.
It was inevitable that LQ should at some point discuss the flipped class or flipped learning because it focuses on changing the learning environment and LQ is all about the learning environment. If you have followed the earlier articles on LQ (http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p) you will know that the definition of LQ is the ability of the learner to manage the learning environment to meet their learning needs. With the flipped class we are seeing a change in the learning environment, possibly a leaking of learning from within the school into the world. A world that through technology and as a result of technology is now more accessible to many learners. A world where they can decide when and where to learn, the pace of learning, explore questions they may have as a result of what they have learnt and if necessary pause, fast forward or rewind and even re-order the learning. A world where they do not have to stop and start thinking on the ringing of a bell as well as navigate the structures, rituals and customs that are such an inherent part of our school systems.
The success of the flipped class is in part due to this change and the technology that allows teachers to find, create, and use online materials to reach and enable learners.
The two people credited with being pioneers in this concept of “turning learning on its head” are Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams (Jon’s website site[i] ). There is a useful article written by Jon and others which states what flipped learning is and is not[ii].
This article starts amusingly with a statement of the “traditional definition of a flipped class”; to consider using the term “traditional” so soon in its evolution perhaps shows the pace of development in this form of learning.
What is it is NOT:
- A synonym for online videos. When most people hear about the flipped class all they think about are the videos. It is the interaction and the meaningful learning activities that occur during the face-to-face time that is most important
- About replacing teachers with videos
- An online course
- Students working without structure
- Students spending the entire class staring at a computer screen
- Students working in isolation
What it IS:
- A means to INCREASE interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers
- An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning
- A classroom where the teacher is not the “sage on the stage,” but the “guide on the side.”
- A blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning
- A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities such as athletics or field-trips, don’t get left behind
- A class where content is permanently archived for review or remediation
- A class where all students are engaged in their learning
- A place where all students can get a personalized education
To me this emphasises and describes the landscape of the learning environment created by flipped learning. It does however also demonstrate the need to develop LQ in learners. In an article in which Jon presents 10 questions to ask before flipping the learning[iii] he asks the following questions.
“How will you teach your students how to watch your video content for comprehension?”
“How will you communicate to your students about how Flipped Learning will change their experience at school?”
Both of these questions are directly linked to the idea of developing LQ in learners. Both show the importance of LQ in adapting to new learning landscape. Here is an extract from “The biggest hurdle to flipping your class” [iv]where Jon describes the response of a student to this new challenge.
“I was relieved to see students taking ownership for their learning. For example, I had one student who during the first semester was not really taking class seriously. She struggled to learn in our Flipped-Mastery Model because it required her to actually learn the content. She wanted to just get by instead of engage in the content. I insisted that she learn the material before she moved on. Sometime in January, I noticed a change in her. She was learning! In fact she was learning how to learn. During one conversation with her, I commented on the positive change I saw in her and told her how I was proud of her newfound success. To that she remarked, “You know what, Mr. Bergmann, I found it was actually easier if I learned it right the first time.” I chuckled, but also saw great growth in this student as she was really learning how to learn.”
I would say the learner became aware of their ability to manage their own learning and in doing so found in themselves the skills, attitudes and attributes of LQ. Perhaps Jon’s realisation that he “.. needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach” is the underlining and highlighting of the importance of LQ in today’s learning environment which is not any longer a walled garden there to protect and nurture young learners and instead is a wide landscape where a learning compass, map and guide are more useful and important.
So if we flip the learning – then what? We are in part left with a question also raised in the previous article “What is the best use of class time?” So what do you use class time for?
a) dissemination (imparting knowledge or skill)
b) checking on learning (assessment for learning)
c) motivating (encouraging, improving self-esteem etc.)
d) removing barriers to learning (providing resources, differentiation, supporting access)
e) helping learners become better learners (learning to learn)
f) other – (please let me know)
The traditional model of education which uses class time for subject based learning is in many cases “crowded” because it is trying to involve or include all of the above. The strain on the teacher is immense not only because they are trying to do all of the above but also because they are planning and delivering. I liken this to a sort of symphony of teaching and learning with the teacher as the conductor and player of nearly all the instruments. The beat of the lesson cannot be interrupted or messed with without disharmony and certainly without the desire to do it again or to go back to the start until everyone is in time. The single chime of the triangle at the wrong moment can ruin everything. Traditionally (there is that word again!) homework has been the tool used to overcome some of the difficulties in creating and maintaining the learning environment with everyone in step and on the same page. Our next question must then be “What do you use homework for?” Is it for any of the following?
a) to add to the learning (depth or range)
b) to reinforce the learning (practice)
c) extending the school day (more time)
d) to make up for a lack of effort in class time (punishment!)
e) to challenge the learner to show what they know and understand
f) an opportunity to engage with adults and share learning (reinforcement)
g) repetition of mindless tasks best done at home
h) to demonstrate the importance of a subject (the more homework is set the higher the status)
i) to show how good the school is (the more homework the better the school)
j) other – (once again – please let me know)
Traditional homework is often patchy, some do it, some do it well, and some get others to do it. Then there are those who don’t do it at all! To the teacher this is another member of the orchestra they need to manage, to plan for and to check up on. Often the learner does not see the value in this type of extended learning environment and perhaps because a lack of LQ development does not have the skills, or attributes to make good use of the learning opportunity. As a teacher and as a parent I can attest to all of these uses of homework and the difficulties homework causes.
I think the roots of flipped lessons and flipped learning can be traced to the conflicts and difficulties of traditional lessons and the traditional homework model. It is a solution, aided and supported by technology, to overcoming the pressure on class time and the resulting learning environment and the need to effectively support the opportunities for learners to use non class time to personalise their learning. What is missing from this equation of 21st century learning is the need to develop LQ, to support learners in developing the skills, attitudes and attributes to manage their learning environment effectively to meet their own learning needs and then to demonstrate their understanding.
Developing LQ will assist the flipped class or flipped learning becoming more than it is because it will help learners take real ownership of not only the learning but how it is presented, managed, planned, and created. In doing so it will create the opportunity in class time for the teacher to focus on those four very important learning needs, the other “basics” that often get forgotten but which are fundamental and based around building learning relationships with learners. For more on “Understanding Learning Needs” see my e-book by the same title http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html
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