“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” George Orwell
Sometimes the obvious is on our doorstep, often ignored and rarely noticed. So it is with my experience as a teacher and in the development of the concept of Learning Intelligence, or “LQ”.
To read more of this article published at The Staffroom visit:
As teachers we break a subject down into components or elements of knowledge and understanding, into learning steps if you like. We then find the “best” way to deliver these steps in a way learners will, with a measured degree of effort, assimilate. This process is influenced by our knowledge and understanding of pedagogy and our relationship with the learners. In short we “scaffold” learning. Fairly straightforward but have you thought about it from a learner’s perspective? No? – Well read on!
Using what we know to learn what we don’t know
I have come to believe that we learn by building on what we know. This to me is a sort of mental map of my knowledge and understanding, knowing and learning (yes there is a difference, see this article: http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba). The bigger and more detailed the map the more confident we are and easier we find learning something new. For example it has been shown that speaking more than one language helps in learning a new language. I have a way of visualising this process of building on what I already know and call it “anchoring”. I look to make sense of what it is I am trying to learn or understand by referencing it with what I already know or understand what I have already learnt. I make links between what I already know and what I need to learn.
Anchoring essentially involves problem solving, an important aspect of Learning Intelligence, LQ (download a leaflet here: about-lq-with-lq-graphic). This is how this approach works and how a teacher can use it effectively in their lessons.
From the learner’s perspective
1) As the topic or subject is introduced we have to look and listen for words or phrases we already recognise.
2) We cannot assume they mean the same thing in this scenario as they do in others so we need to seek clarification and check meaning and relevance.
3) We take enough time to reflect on how what we know fits in with what we are learning. This also involves asking questions to check the links are valid.
4) Next is a sort of consolidation phase, where we explore a little further trying to see where what we know already and what we are trying to learn may take us.
5) This leads to as a sort of prediction phase where the links are established and we are ready to embark on a new learning journey. We can make educated guesses or predictions if given certain pieces of information.
So learning starts by seeing learning as a problem to solve and a period of analysis and reflection.
From the teacher’s perspective
1) Ask yourself what students need to know or understand in order to make a start on this topic and prepare questions you can ask to check before starting the topic.
2) Don’t assume understanding. Often the same words or phrases can be learnt without understanding. Build in a check and reflection phase during the topic introduction. Acknowledge and praise where students show understanding or can make links with relevant knowledge.
3) Create an opportunity for students to identify what they already know and how it can be useful in the learning process.
4) Introduce risk taking in the learning process. Encourage students to make assumptions or predictions about the new topic. Here are some questions that can be used to initiate this process. “Knowing what we know already what might happen if…?” “How do you think this might link to…?” You are actually leading up to “Let’s find out”
5) Don’t underestimate how much effort this takes on the part of the learner. Allow for structured mental breaks and reflection periods. Build in activities that create opportunity for pair or small group work and class feedback sessions.
The proof is in the pudding
I have tried this out on myself in learning about path-finding algorithms used in game programming and after 50 minutes I was in need of a mental break despite being very interested. I went through all the steps I suggest a student goes through here. During the process I was not passive, there is no good sitting there and hoping you are on the same page as the teacher. Learning intelligence, LQ, is about managing your learning environment and that means interacting with it.
There are two other observations to make about this approach. Firstly I was able to contribute much sooner than if I had just listened. I was in an active learner state earlier. This is important if we as learners are going to maximise opportunities for learning. For teachers it means a greater rate of progress.
Secondly I have a deeper understanding of the topic in a much shorter period of time and anchors that can be used to recall the learning links later. These anchors can be thought of the start of trail of “bread crumbs” marking our thought and learning associations. In case of reviewing or revisiting what we have learnt, and possibly forgotten, we can pick up the trail again starting from an established anchor point. By following the same trail we reach the same understanding but importantly we can do this independently using our internal prompts. A simplified example is knowing that 12 x 12 is 144 so when asked what 24 x 12 is we can start at 12 x 12 and quickly recognise we are talking about twice as much.
I would be interested if you scaffold your teaching or learning in this way too.
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?
Roy Leighton is involved with a school in Leicester in changing mind-sets of a group of Y11 students. They are 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
Here are the two elements of LQ, PBCF “Please Be Child Friendly” enabling and supporting the engagement of learners and SAAB the Skills, Attitudes, Attributes and Behaviours that form the enabling aspect of LQ. You can read more about LQ, starting with an introduction 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.
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:
The skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours you need to take control of your own learning environment.
There is a truth in education, we believe in “ability“, the abilities of the students we teach. The common belief is that students have an ability in a “subject”, good at science or maths, yet subjects are an artificial construct. I would argue that a truth based on an artificial construct, purely designed to make teaching more manageable, is fundamentally flawed.
What then if this truth is wrong, a form of reflection of something we don’t directly see but that determines our ability to learn?
I believe we are born to learn. However before developing a spoken language we are not aware of what we can or cannot learn, we only experience learning. We do not have these experiences in isolation, we are bound to our environment and those we share it with. It is impossible our learning experiences are without influence from our environment and those within it. Our behaviours are moderated by the social norm we live in. Our attitudes are influenced by how those around us approach their challenges. We develop attributes that are encouraged by our peers and mentors. The skills we acquire help us to navigate this environment and in part adopt a role within it.
We may be blind to the influences of our environment through our learning experiences and that of others too. We could just be accepting “ability” as a simple truth because it is far less complicated and easier to accept.
My own learning experiences and those of teaching others suggest an alternative truth, one that takes into account the influences of our environment. I suggest that there is such a thing as Learning Intelligence, “LQ” and that it can be developed.
I define LQ as: the ability of the learner to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs.
There are parallels to this theory that we exhibit in our early learning years.
Learning to walk we use props to steady us and to help raise ourselves up, we show resilience when we fall over.
Learning a language involves mimicking others and responding to feedback. It involves trial and error and risk.
These are just some of the strategies we use to manage our early learning environment. Those we need for later learning are the result of the subtle and often unrecognised influences of our environment. We begin to build these influences into what I call our learning map, a representation of what we believe we can and cannot learn. They take the tangible form of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours and are the tools by which we navigate our learning map and hence our learning environment.
Those learners that are successful in schools are often those whose learning map and LQ profile match the school environment. They have the skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that allow them to access the learning and they feel comfortable within that particular environment. Whilst many go on to achieve within life there are some who find learning outside of the school environment difficult perhaps because they have through the lack of challenge, of being compliant, failed to develop their LQ. I have asked the question “Is compliance a learning disability?” and you can find the article here.
There are many who don’t do well in learning at school too. These pupils are either seen as being “unable” to learn (less able), or who have emotional or other behavioral challenges that cause them to respond poorly to the school environment. Once again I claim this can be dealt with successfully if we look at the symptoms rather than the outcome (often the behaviour) and develop their LQ.
My belief is that we desperately and urgently need to address the issue of this false truth.
We need to develop in learners the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours so that they can manage their own learning environment to meet their learning needs and in doing so take control of their learning. When we do learners will be able to demonstrate their true abilities.
Do you try to learn what you are teaching the way you are presenting it to your students?
To put it another way.
When you begin to plan lessons do you see it through the eyes of your students or do you rely on the way you learnt it to plan your teaching?
This is an important question not only for those starting their teaching career but for those who have been at it some time. I believe learning is a personal thing. What motivates, engages, enthuses, or frustrates one learner is not always the same as another. We can feign enthusiasm, hide our lack of engagement, or explain a lack of motivation but hiding frustration is difficult. This is why the first step in teaching has to be building relationships with learners. Frustrated learners with whom you have a relationship tend in my experience to be a little more ‘forgiving’ than those with which you do not. I am not talking about the ‘compliant learner’ who will feign engagement but those who can be more disruptive when not engaged.
To build relationships we need to understand something about the other person, as a teacher we need to understand our students. One aspect of building this relationship is to see the learning experience through their eyes as if we too are encountering it for the first time. Do you do that when planning lessons?
Take a moment to consider the conditions under which you learnt what you are now planning to teach.
- How long ago was it?
- How were you feeling at the time?
- How successful had your prior learning been?
- What relationship did you have with the teacher?
- What relationship did you have with your peers?
- What resources were available to you to help you learn?
Now think about how you plan to teach the particular topic. Will you make any changes as a result of this reflection?
Perhaps you will take a moment to judge how confident your students feel at this moment. Perhaps you will consider your own feelings when you approach something new or challenging. Lesson planning is more than just about content.
You can see much more about lesson planning at:
If you are finding it hard to remember what it feels like to be a learner, to learn something new, to face new challenges for the first time then may I recommend John’s rule # 12 which says:
“Always have a project on the go.”
This is translated as ‘always be a learner’. More of John’s rules at:
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.