Why there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.
Over the years teachers have been asked to plan and deliver lessons to specific models. These models have included meeting various learning styles, multiple intelligences, and differences in ability. Teachers are now being asked to adopt a “growth mind-set” approach when dealing with learners (if they do not already have one what are they doing in teaching?) Views on how best to teach a particular aspect also change and teachers have been instructed in the way to teach reading and mathematical concepts with each supporter or instigator claiming theirs to be better than the other. Strangely enough we could have expected this dichotomy to have been resolved by now if there was one way to teach and to learn! Perhaps this is evidence of sorts for there not being a “one way”.
This situation of new ideas replacing old and then being replaced by old ones re-discovered and of to-ing and fro-ing is unhelpful for teachers and for learners in a number of ways. Firstly it ignores teaching and learning experience. Experience of what works and what does not work and in what circumstances. I suggest that a variety of approaches and teaching strategies is the hallmark of a seasoned teacher. They are able to respond and adapt to meet the dynamics of a lesson in a way that maintains engagement and supports learning. To ignore, or in some way supress this experience, is not helpful. I have seen excellent teachers be sacrificed on the altar of the “one way” because instead of going with their instinct they stuck to the plan. Instead of using experience to take another way in achieving the same aim they tried to apply an inappropriate strategy determined by the one way. At the least the one way produces conflict and at the worst high levels of job related stress.
When the “one way” does not have a level playing field and there are high stakes implications for not reaching the same standards then a second undermining condition occurs. This can be summed up by the term “playing the system”. Ways are found to produce the required output at all costs because these are far less than the impact of not doing so. Once discovered then this leads to attempts to strengthen the original one way systems. This is a spiral of pressure, playing the system, tightening the system controls and more pressure.
Wanting to do things one way also calls for conformity rather than supporting or stimulating innovation. This is something I claim leads to much narrower inspection frameworks. Frameworks that by their very nature, become inflexible and constraining. There is a natural outcome of an inflexible framework and that is any responsibility for lack of success is directed not at the framework itself but at those operating it or being inspected by it. The logic flows along the lines of if it’s not the framework at fault, and it cannot be, then it must be the people. The spiral of decline and blame is there for all to see whenever we have this situation. The result is a very toxic environment for the people as the means to support the framework is strengthened in an effort to make it work. It never will but that does not stop those that believe in it trying to make it. Efforts are made to drive up standards and grades re-assessed or re-defined even if the framework standards are being achieved. This is because the framework is fundamentally flawed and cannot produce the desired outcomes. The stupidity of this approach defies only those who instigate and support it.
When the one way is not working then changes occur, not in broadening the approach but instead as I have suggested earlier, in standards or grade definitions. This adds an element of insecurity and confusion for those involved. What is the old “C” in terms of the new level? Why is this subject included and this one excluded? Changes of this nature also make demands on time and energy as the people work to accommodate the changes.
What is worse is when eventually the current one way is dismantled to be replaced not by an amalgam, a variety or a blend, but once again by the new one way. Yesterday’s best way becomes today’s “must avoid” as each “new way “undermines earlier “new ways”. What is worse is the latest ideas fail to be the one way it is claimed to be and the old way becomes the new way once again.
I have seen first-hand the draining nature of this approach, of imposing a one way approach to teaching and learning. Teachers keep their heads down, they have little enthusiasm, or energy for new ideas or innovation, be it good or bad. Some vote with their feet and leave the profession.
Yes we learn from experience and so things evolve but surely this should make us aware of the dangers of the “one way” mentality in teaching and learning. The power of Learning Intelligence is that it opens our eyes to the effects of the one way and empowers us to do something about it. It also provides the reassurance and boost to confidence we need when being challenged by the one way syndrome.
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.
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
What has an ability to manage your learning environment and a world record sprinter got in common?
When Usain made his way onto the world stage, first as a junior and then professionally, he was not the “traditional” shape of a sprinter. When we look back pre Bolt sprinters were short, well built, muscular, powerful athletes not like the tall, lean Usain. There were mechanical problems to overcome in his running style to get his tall 6 feet 5 inch frame off the line and down the track making use of his long legs which cut the number of strides down from 45 to 40 for 100 metres. Even so, size is not enough and Usain needs to maintain a level of fitness in order for his body to work at maximum efficiency. Usain has been able to adapt to his environment overcoming what may have initially been seen as limitations rather than advantages.
What if we changed the environment?
Usain Bolt is the fastest man on earth at the moment but that is just one environment and one that is particularly engineered having a flat surface and designed for running fast on. I wonder if he would be the fastest in space or immersed in water, two totally different environments. Would he be able to adapt to these environments and maintain his position as the fastest man in space or in water?
Usain Bolt defied conventional wisdom when it came to the mechanics of running. Somebody had a vision of how things could change, how doing things differently could lead to doing things better. The next generation of fast men will be modeled on what we have learnt from studying Usain and his way of adapting to the challenges he faced in becoming the fastest man on earth. How does this fit in with learning?
Learners face a similar challenge in adapting to their learning environments. To be the best you can be requires not only effort but also being aware of your needs in a way that allows you to maximise the advantages you have got and adapt in a way that minimises the limitations you face. There are a number of skills and attributes that can be practiced to help develop your LQ and hence your success in learning. Figure 2 shows some of the elements that impact on being able to manage your learning environment to meet your needs.
If you would like to learn more about how LQ can help you or the learners you manage then please get in touch. Developing LQ is one of the workshops now available along with the effective management of learning needs.
Contact: email@example.com for more information.
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
Q1 Just what motivates us to learn and has an impact on that process?
Q2 Is there a formula for learning?
Just two questions that most teachers ask themselves at some point. Here are my ideas for the “Learning Equation”
- Success = effort x talent
- Talent = positive experience x repetition
- Effort = application x time
- Application = interest x success
- Motivation = engagement x reward
- Reward = success x acknowledgement
- Interest = curiosity x access
- Engagement = creativity – (barriers + limitations)
- Problem solving = motivation
- Repetition = effort + application + motivation
- Limitations = engagement / (- beliefs)
- Creativity = problem solving
- Positive experience = (+beliefs)
It is interesting to experiment with substituting terms in different equations. For example:
In place of “interest” we have “curiosity x access” and for “success” we have “effort x talent”
Application = (curiosity x access) + (effort x talent)
You can of course build new equations. For example:
Problem solving +Effort = (engagement x reward) + ((interest x success) x time)
Thus in order to solve problems you need to be able to engage in the process which means you need a certain level or knowledge or understanding. This in turn will require some effort on your part before you start but this needs to carry with it some form of reward (not delayed gratification). Getting this right provides for motivation, shown as (interest x success) which emphasises the need to look on failure as a path to success in order to maintain interest. All of this requires time which is an essential aspect of the process of problem solving and which sets constraints under which make the best of efforts.
Of course this all makes perfect sense to the “analytical” minds out there.
If you have a more holistic approach then this probably makes no sense at all!