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.
As a result of our desire in education to find the magic bullet, the one way to teach and ideal way to learn that will make our education systems the best I would argue we are neglecting the learner. We are requiring compliance rather than seeking engagement. I would go as far as saying we are disabling the learner. For part 1 of this article the link is: http://wp.me/p2LphS-qA
Surely every new idea, theory, or approach is aimed at making it easier or better for the learner. So how can this be? The answer lies in the impact on the learner and their involvement in the learning.
Building our self-perception as a learner
Experience should suggest to anyone in teaching or wanting to learn that we each have learning preferences, those things that we believe help us to learn. Some feel more alert in the morning or like to discuss ideas with others rather than read about them. It may be the environment we are in, who we are with or any number of other factors that influence our moods and energy levels. Our learning preferences often change too, they are after all preferences. Like all preferences they are influenced by context, our own emotional, mental and physical development as well as our environment. We present our learning preferences as learning needs (tangibly some times as motivators represented by desired rewards) to be fulfilled in order to learn. Understanding about the impact of and of the changes in our learning needs is part of LQ.
In situations where we do not have our learning needs met we feel uncomfortable, see ourselves as “unable” or struggle to engage and require significantly more encouragement or motivation to participate in the learning. We are after all fighting off a driving need, trying to put it to the back of our mind. This subduing of need, of not having a preference met, requires energy and concentration. Both of these would normally be allocated to the learning task at hand. We are therefore left without a focus on learning with our efforts being divided between two tasks. We are in effect being distracted from learning. Just ask yourself what your concentration is like when you are hungry or cold or the chair you are sitting in is uncomfortable and I think you will understand my point.
The split in our efforts to learn and in our efforts to meet our learning needs does not have to be an equal one. In truth very little effort may be available for learning depending on how significant our needs are, to what degree they are not being met and how much effort is needed to achieve or repress them. This may go some way to explain why some learners learn easier and are more relaxed in some learning environments than in others.
Repressing a need can also lead to a build-up of stress. How we respond when stressed depends on a number of factors, the range, and type of behaviours that we have learnt as well as our environment and our perceived options (self-efficacy). Chronic stress often occurs when we feel we have no choices and no voice. An excessive stress level also limits learning as it robs us of our objective thinking and disturbs our emotional balance. We often make irrational choices when chronically stressed too.
I find that “inexperienced learners” often perceive this struggle between meeting learning needs and learning as an indication that they are unable to learn. It influences our perception of ourselves as a learners. This perception can be, and often is, wrong. It is the result of this conflict in application of energy and effort to have our learning needs met and to engage in the learning process. The long term damage occurs when this turns from a perception into a belief. The power of LQ is that it gives the learner both the tools and insight to challenge these false beliefs. It allows them to redefine their perception of themselves as learners. LQ broadens the strategies a learner can use to overcome learning barriers caused by not having their learning needs met.
Our self-beliefs as learners is critical to our success as learners. What we cannot rely on as learners is there being one way to learn and that this way will always be created for us. It is a false hope that I suggest can have a catastrophic impact on teaching and learning. It is up to the learner to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will allow them to master any learning environment. Learners need to focus on developing their Learning Intelligence in order to manage their learning environment.
In following parts I will explain why I believe that as there is no single ideal learner profile there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.
In discussing the importance of self-belief in learning I have described the learner’s beliefs about what they can and cannot learn as a “learning map“. A suitable metaphor for the way learners see the learning landscape built by them as a result of their experiences, emotional responses and successes or failures. Each time a new learning challenge is presented out comes the learning map and decisions made about how possible the learning journey is. How we view this map, our mindset, also influences the decisions we make about learning challenges. If we take this metaphor a little further we can use a form of the Highway Code, a Learning Highway Code, to describe a set behaviours we may exhibit. This is what I have done using either a “Limiting” or “Empowering” mindset in interpreting the signs we may establish on our learning map.
You can see the full chart with five signs that give orders and seven that are warning signs here: ace-d learning highway code graphic
You may consider using this idea in your classroom to show the advantage of a empowering behavioral response, a growth mindset, as opposed to a limiting or fixed mindset one. Perhaps you could get the learners to write their own descriptions. If you do I would love to see them.
Whilst I can not lay claim to the highway code I do hope you will recognise the idea of a learning map and the Learning Highway Code as being one from Advocating Creativity.
The Learning Highway Code is part of the concept Learning Intelligence or LQ. You can read the first article about LQ here: LQ Introduction
Comments always welcome.
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