The way forward in overcoming the “one way” or benefiting from “other ways”.
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!
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.
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.
Link to part 1 of this series of articles on learning theory.
What are the influences of the industrial and technological revolutions on education?
The influences of any revolution leave their mark. This could be in any article from fashion, furniture, architecture and food to any service such as medicine, armed services or indeed education. There will be something, in some form, that reflects some of the ideology or nature of that revolution. It is easy to see in artifacts, cars are a good example, but it is there too in services such as healthcare.
There is certainly a “fashion” element to the influences of these revolutions. Some aspects come and go quite quickly, some hang around and some get re invented every now and then. Some outstay their welcome and just won’t go away (the call for a “back to basics” approach may be one in education). Then there re those on which we build something new, something lasting with real benefit. The idea of an education system for all is probably one of those ideas developed out of the need for people to work in the new industrial age leaving the agricultural age behind. But what of the negative influences, the limiting ideas that have remained? The idea of standardisation, uniformity, quality control and others can if wrongly applied be hazardous and difficult to shed .
Another way of looking at this question is,
“Are we doing what we should be doing in terms of developing education or perhaps are we doing what we find easier to do and more of the ‘same old, same old’ but with a fresh coat of paint?”
We are back to the issue of the shaky foundations on which we are building education systems.
The OECD report “Universal Basic Skills What Countries Stand to Gain”[i] asks the question:
“How well do today’s schools prepare for tomorrow’s world?”.
The Forward makes a clear link between education and work and is well worth a read. It starts by stating:
“Economic growth and social development are closely related to the skills of the population, indicating that a central post-2015 development goal for education should be that all youth achieve at least basic skills as a foundation for work and further learning, not merely that they gain access to schooling.”
The importance of education is clearly underlined, it is economic growth and social development. We can see why education cannot be left to chance and that it comes under political influence if not control. What country could allow its education agenda to be determined by whim and fancy? These then must be the most significant influences on education but are they and if so how close do we adhere to them?
The use of the term “basic skills” will lift the hearts of a many a politician these days since it has been the rallying cry for changes in, and some say control of, education for some time. There must be a link between the needs of ‘work’ then and what education needs to deliver. There is another side of the coin too and that is education is about developing the individual, that it is to say it is not just a way of producing drones for the world of work.
We could easily make a case for the current system we have to be based on a Victorian model, both in terms of delivery and focus. Sir Ken Robinson has made such comparisons when he says, “The current system was designed and conceived for a different age”[ii] . It certainly fits the bill for “economic growth”, well it did when established, but I am not so sure about “social development”.
We must be careful though not to assume what others mean when they speak of “basic skills”, we must not fall into the trap that they are talking about the three R’s or an academic curriculum (a nod to the English Baccalaureate [EBacc[iii]] here) or the same thing we have in our minds. Digging further into the report we see that the OECD definition of basic skills means:
“Ensuring that all people have a solid foundation of knowledge and skills” and that “It is most critically about making sure that individuals acquire a solid foundation of knowledge in key disciplines, that they develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and that they build character attributes, such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience”
Who would argue with that? Indeed my concept of Learning Intelligence[iv] includes these and I know how effective LQ is in helping learners achieve their potential. Four years ago I considered the functions of education and came up with this list[v]:
Integration: sharing traditions, rituals and beliefs
Understanding: to develop and share knowledge and develop understanding
Awareness: to achieve an understanding of one’s self, needs and desires
Evolution: to educate the educator, to be relevant and to move forward
Objectivity: to reflect, observe and question
Responsibility: to understand options and consequences (physical, social, spiritual and moral)
Things have moved on since then but there is a correlation with what OECD are saying now. In fact this is one of the problems with defining what education should be about, we can read almost anything into any list or definition.
The only way we can truly see what any definition of education means is to look at the outcomes since they must be a product of the purpose no matter what language is used. That is unless those delivering the education do not understand the purpose or do not agree with it! See how complicated this issue is? In such cases we would need strong and comprehensive check and control measures just to make sure policy was being adhered to and we get the desired outcomes. Something like Ofsted and Ofqual here in the UK perhaps.
We have seen two significant revolutions in this country and so if we accept the first helped form the current education system what if any influences on education has the second, the information technology revolutions, had on education?
There is no doubt that the industrial revolution relied on the power of machines to drive practices forward and that there were benefits, as well as costs. Those that held the keys to this new age shouted the benefits of mass production, standardisation, cheaper products, and shorter production times. I would argue though that these are not the outcomes required in education. As for the information technology revolution it has allowed us to monitor far many more data streams, gather far more date far more often and to analyse that date in a fraction of the time than could have been imagined in the industrial revolution. In the same way it could be argued that the principles and practices of the industrial revolution have been wrongly applied to education I would suggest so too have those of the information technology revolution. They have enabled the check and control systems to be universally applied in order to ensure the outcomes are those determined by those setting policy. Perhaps the second revolution is as far from liberating the individual as the first was.
Whereas the industrial revolution allowed us to achieve standardisation, increased output, and reduction of cost the information revolution has allowed us to gather increasing amounts of data on which to chase improving standards, quantify decisions, and monitor and rank almost anything. It also, rather seductively, claims to offer a solution to the desire for the individualised learning suggested by Bloom (and mentioned in Part 3) as the most effective way to learn (more of this later). In fact this may be a Trojan horse with the real reason for the investment in technology by Government in schools being that of data collection and data mining much like Google does.
Once again we have in education adopted a set of principles and practices from a different model in order to improve education. Once again I claim we are shoring up a shaky foundation with the wrong practices and ideas. It is hard to imagine the level of data collection and analysis of target setting and monitoring in education that we now have if it was not for the power of the computer. Has this actually done anything to improve the process of teaching and learning though? What it has done is to show us where we may need to improve education but not how to improve education. It has become a stick to beat or poke with rather than to guide with. A stick that has grown here in the UK from 40% to 60% in the last week as the Secretary of State for Education sets out the definition of coasting schools[vi]. It could be much more and in some cases it is but we need to strike a balance when it comes to education.
In the final part of this article I will suggest that it is time to re-evaluate the foundations of teaching and learning and to focus on what I believe are the true foundations of education we should seek to build on.
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
[i]OECD (2015), Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain, OECD Publishing.
Introduction to LQ
A Discussion about learning and Learning Quotient
Definition of LQ:
The ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs.
It is easy to imagine the effects of a “toxic” learning environment, one where the learner is not able to access the learning or meet their learning needs. To begin with imagine what happens when the learner is excluded from the learning opportunities. Any explanation or instruction may be impossible to understand, as if spoken in a foreign language (“Blah, blah, blab bla”). Any activities look impossible to complete and actions impossible to mimic as if watching some strange dance being performed without music, rhythm, or purpose.
By describing the extreme, the most toxic of learning environments, my aim is to help you in recognising small elements within “every day” learning situations where learning is inhibited. The typical response of teachers in such situations is to explain, to see the lack of learning as a lack of understanding, to go over things again and perhaps vary the language or the example. I hope you can see how limited this approach is. The question is how can the teacher respond when the learner does not “get it”, they do not show or develop an understanding? Are we to assume the learner is incapable of learning? Do we look for a fault, a reason, to apportion blame for not learning? Do we, as teachers, give up? (A recent article looks at this issue through the concept of “Mindful Teaching”, see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-om )
It is my belief that learners soon recognise what they understand and what learning environments they can learn within.
Learners also instinctively relate the outcome to effort but in doing so they make value judgments about the learning.
The internal dialogue goes something like this “If the learning benefits me I will make an effort to learn.”
When I talk of benefiting the learner I am referring to meeting their needs[i] and briefly describe these as:
- Belonging – to a group, of having an identity.
- Freedom – to choose, to have options, and to make decisions.
- Fun – to enjoy what is happening.
- Power – to be heard or listened to. To be acknowledged in a way that provides recognition of emotions.
This graphic, part of the “Understanding and Managing Learning Needs” CPD course and e-book, shows how these needs influence the learner and acts as a reminder to the teacher t0 plan to meet those needs.
I suggest that where a learner does not have some of these needs met for some of the time they will begin to withdraw from the learning environment, they limit their interaction and reduce their efforts. It’s easy for us to remember to include ways of meeting these in our teaching. The acronym PBCF is remembered using the mnemonic “Please Be Child Friendly”.
As a learner, and once this process of withdrawal begins, we have to rationalise what is happening, especially if we are in a group and others “get it” and we don’t. This is where the work and theories of Carol Dweck [ii] come into play. I believe learners attribute learning to “aptitude” as a way of rationalising their inability to learn within the learning environment they find themselves in.
Learners begin to build their own mental map of learning which says “I cannot learn this.” The reason they give for this inability to learn is attributed to some something within them which they either have or do not have. They begin to see no reason for making any effort because no matter how hard they may try they will never “get it.” In their own learning map they have created they have laid down the foundations for future learning. Sadly for most it is limiting rather than exploratory. They have established boundaries and fences rather than a desire to see what is over the horizon. Hopefully you are asking, “What can be done about this situation?”
One response of educationalists has been to describe learners as having “learning styles” or describe their aptitude as “Multiple Intelligence”. Some have advocated teaching students according to their styles. This approach has received both support and derision. I happen to believe there is something in it but see it as a way of describing the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause. To me a preferred style suggests a “learning need” outside of the four I have mentioned earlier and it also suggests an aspect of “LQ” the learner has already identified but without recognising it.
The lack of recognition of LQ is because no one has described or discussed it with the learner.
In my own work where I have explained to learners the concept of LQ and impact it has on their learning and even more importantly what they can do about it the results have been nothing short of remarkable. Whilst I have no empirical evidence to support my concept of LQ other than decades of teacher, the very idea speaks to those I have worked with in a powerful way. It can bring adult learners to tears and it can give new energy to young learners because it explains to them and gives them the tools to do something about their learning mental maps and beliefs about what they can and cannot learn.
As teachers or as those who manage learning environments we can do something about creating the conditions for LQ to flourish. I am not suggesting the multiple learning styles approach but instead introducing the concept of LQ to learners and then giving them the room within the learning environment we manage to exercise it.
I am advocating the creation of a learning environment where we empower the learner, where we pass the responsibility of learning back to them. Not in a way that leaves them “high and dry”, or in a “sink or swim” situation but in a way where they have the knowledge and understanding of LQ and are skilled in managing their own learning environment.
I hope you are now wondering how to create a learning environment which is LQ rich and supportive for your learners. Just what this looks and feels like I will explore next. You can download a leaflet introducing LQ here. About LQ
Keep up to date
This is the first of many articles on the concept of LQ (Learning Intelligence) as proposed by ace-d.
You can view a summary Piktochart details the benefits of LQ
I would be pleased to hear any comments or receive any questions you may have about LQ.
I am available for conferences, workshops, TeachMeets, plenaries, online training, course design, webinars, and consulting. Your organisation can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss arrangements.
There are now many articles covering a range of aspects of LQ. Move forward through the blog to find out about links between LQ and resilience, empathy, designing, boredom and many more.
Research evidence: Education Endowment Foundation reports that Meta-cognition and self-regulation have a “high impact based on extensive evidence” http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/meta-cognitive-and-self-regulation-strategies/
[i] My book “Understanding Learning Needs” covers these aspects in more detail and provides for practical reflection and analysis for the teacher on meeting these needs for the learners in their charge. It is available from www.ace-d.co.uk – Go to News and Downloads page where you will see the link. Since it is in pdf format you will receive your copy instantly.
Please also see the work of William “Glasser Choice Theory in the Classroom” on which this work is based.
[ii] According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability; these are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence (fixed mindset). Others, who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence (growth mindset). Individuals may not necessarily be aware of their own mindset, but their mindset can still be discerned based on their behaviour.
Summary source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Dweck