Why are standardised education systems failing?
For over 30 years or more the concept of standards and testing have characterised the mechanism by which policy has sought to improve education outcomes. There is such a belief in standards and testing that even as it sweeps away all other aspects of education to the point of resulting in teacher recruitment and retention crisis and teachers’ and pupils’ well-being plummeting no other approach has been allowed. In that time all we have seen is a strengthening of the political belief that standards and testing will bring about improvements sought for – well they don’t and won’t.
What many believe, including myself, is that it is the act and support of creativity that will bring about the excellence in education we seek. Sir Ken Robinson amongst others have campaigned for such an approach but without success. At what point and what argument has to be made to make the change happen? To use one of my analogies
How do we sell HD colour TV’s with surround sound to people who are both colour blind and deaf?
My own work led to setting up Advocating Creativity in Education over 12 years ago and during those last 12 years I have worked at developing a narrative that can be easily and without added burden translated into the activities in our schools and that puts creativity first.
Two narratives have evolved – the first is based on a set of pupil engagement needs (Power/Belonging/Choce/Fun) and the second a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that allow learners to manage their own learning (Learning Intelligence, or LQ).
My work has led to the publication of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them. Building effective learning relationships’ in which I show how focusing on four needs and developing in our pupils their LQ we can bring about the change we so desperately need in education.
One of those needs fundamental to creativity is power, our ability and the opportunity to express ourselves. Standardisation robs us of that power and that is one reason why as a policy or strategy it fails. I have attached a picture that I hope demonstrates my point.
If you want to explore my narratives, either PBCF or LQ then my book, written as a learning journal for teachers, is reviewed by #UKEdChat and there are a number of interviews available online including:
- Pooky Ponders Big Questions with Brilliant People How can we build effective learning relationships with every student?
- Interview by Rebecca Hanson
3) The call to adventure – How can I be a better teacher?
Essentially this book is about the final stage of the call to adventure, that which in the form proposed by Christopher Vogler is called ‘Return with the Elixir: the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world’ Although I am no hero each chapter of my book is about something you can do to improve your teaching and ensure that you remain a learner.
Question: How can I be a better teacher? For teachers, no two days are ever the same and no group or individual pupil is guaranteed to learn or behave in the same way from one day to the next. Teaching is a full-on job and often with only time to respond to the challenges and changes.
Answer: To be a better teacher I recognised that teachers need to have time and the opportunity to reflect and that they need to remain learners. It is important to me that the book gives you the tools to manage your time effectively and to successfully meet the day to day challenges as well as encourage you to reflect.
In reflecting on what worked and why in learning and teaching I realised that after all the preparation, planning and resourcing it came down to pupil/teacher relationships. Establishing, building, and maintaining relationships is very important. There are many things that can damage a relationship in an instant but it takes time to repair or build an effective learning relationship.
Question: How do you build effective learning relationships and secondly what factors can support or undermine them? We are now getting to the heart of the question.
Answer: In observing and discussing the relationships pupils build with teachers and their peers it became clear that pupils will invest in establishing a relationship to meet certain needs. The pupil may not make a conscious decision or even be able to articulate why they behave in a certain way towards some people or when in some groups. Pupils may not even recognise the drivers of their behaviour at all. It also became clear that some needs are powerful drivers of pupil behaviour, so powerful even that they will override such factors as social or school expectations, personal safety, parental influence, or any pressure from existing relationships. It was also clear that not all pupil behaviour is predictable and that there are dampening and enhancing factors that can promote or subdue the nature of the behaviour a pupil will exhibit in any given situation.
Chapter 1 explores the challenges you will face as a teacher and includes a series of reflection prompts. Chapter 2 is an in-depth look at the learning relationship between pupil and teacher using an innovative ‘Learning Relationship Responsibility Ratio Graph’. The important role of leadership in nurturing and protecting the relationship between pupil and teacher is recognised and is also analysed.
Question: How can we interpret pupil behaviour to understand pupil needs?
Answer: Seeing behaviour as a symptom of a need rather than as a challenge is the first step in developing our understanding of needs and the impact they have on learning and teaching. What we want as teachers are engaged learners, pupils that are motivated to learn. Chapter 3 looks at what pupils need in order to engage in the process of learning.
Question: Who helped in my call to adventure?
Answer: It’s a long list! From my teaching mentor John, who’s 12 rules appear in chapter 11, to those I have taught and those I have taught with, the many who have challenged my teaching and opened my eyes. Some sources go back further than you may think too, some were suggested by the different online groups and education thought leaders we are familiar with through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, TEDx etc.
The next instalment of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ will describe the chapters that cover four learning needs and how you can plan to meet and manage them.
4) Our 4 learning engagement needs PBCF
Part 1: The one and only learning theory that counts is …
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 if there was a simple way of enabling learners to be the best they could be?
It’s the Holy Grail in teaching, to ensure all learners reach their potential, and we have tried all manner of ways to find it.
What if the answer was staring us in the face all along? Would we recognise it and would we grasp the opportunity with both hands? My experience as a teacher and consultant suggests not. Along with my solution, that of developing Learning Intelligence, here is why we have not taken the opportunity so far.
Politicians consider it too risky to leave education to what they perceive as chance and imagine they can dictate and control it through inspection and the setting of targets. The trouble with this is we only see the things we are looking for and only hit the things we aim for. This limits creativity, innovation, and risk taking. It also sets a limit on what can be achieved, if you are required to hit a target at 100m why try to hit it at 1000m? There is no point in making the extra effort. The target has got to be constantly revised otherwise there is no challenge and “moving the goal posts” hardly appears fair when you were so close to achieving it. Targets may do more to de-motivate than to motivate.
Leadership misunderstand their responsibilities. It is often interpreted as the imposing of policies sent down by politicians, even if it does not foster a learning relationship between the teacher and learner. This behaviour can inhibit them from reacting to local needs and conditions. The true role of leadership is to ensure only those initiatives and ideas that actually promote the learning relationship are supported.
I find that teachers are inclined to teach the way they learn and were taught. Perhaps it is difficult to even imagine another way when the way you learnt was so successful for you. The drive to be a teacher is often to help give the opportunities that became available to you as a result of your education to others, so why do it any differently. Teachers are the instruments by which policy is applied and targets achieved so they have little freedom to explore alternatives or little inclination to take risks.
Parents have bought into the passive learning model. Their children go to school to be taught and that model is one they themselves experienced. In this model the responsibility for a lack of achievement is easily directed at the teacher and certainly away from them as parents or their children as learners. They insist the school tries harder, sets more homework, and makes their children learn so long as it does not take up too much of their time.
Employers are not sure what they want an education system to do to prepare young people for the world of work. We hear that many of the jobs our students will be doing when they leave school don’t exist yet so I suppose this makes it difficult. In the absence of a clear picture of what is required we hear the common call for “the basics”, but often that is left vaguely defined and what is the basics for one employer may not be for another. Many call for “soft skills”*, skills that complement the job related or “hard skills”. Schools are not measured or given targets for these skills so they do not form part of the directed curriculum and therefore are not given a high priority.
The solution, the one that is staring us in the face. There is a simple way of enabling learners and we can find fragments of it scattered through current and past research, writings, and practices. Some call for better feedback in the learning cycle, building learning power, some for a more mindful approach to learning and others of requiring grit from the learner.
Each has a piece of the jigsaw but no one person or concept has it all. No one, until now that is, has brought what we know about teaching and learning together under one unifying approach or concept. So we move from one initiative or idea to another. Each time hoping that each will help find the Holy Grail. What we should be doing is unifying our efforts into working with learners to develop their ability to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs. Just take a moment to reflect on this statement before I go on to explain what this means.
I claim that successful learners are those who are able to interact with their learning environment and that their environment meets their learning needs. This explains why some learners do well at school but not as well as adults and why some learners who struggled in school do well in the real world. Where there is a match between the school environment and the needs of a particular learner they will do well, where there is not any learner will struggle to reach their true potential in that environment. Other factors must come into play for an individual who is mismatched with their learning environment to achieve their potential.
An analysis of this reality suggests that there are a set of skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours that learners who are successful in any environment have or display. They are able to adapt their environment to meet their needs and overcome environmental limiting factors. I call this “Learning Intelligence” or LQ for short and it represents the way we can help all learners to reach their true potential.
The evidence that supports the concept of LQ is there for us to see if we adopt an open mind to the issues of learning. Perhaps the first glimpses we have seen of LQ in action has been as a result of the changing of the learning environment through technology. For example the Khan Academy and YouTube have shown that learners can respond successfully to a different learning environment to that of the school. What these new learning environments provide is a better match to the learner’s needs. We hear also of the “gamification” of learning as we see the effort people are willing to put into these type of environments. It seems obvious then that if we develop the learner’s ability to manage different learning environments to meet their learning needs by developing their LQ that they will be in better position to reach their potential.
There are numerous benefits to the LQ approach to learning too.
- We do not have to worry about what new initiatives or ideas that may come along for the learner will be equipped to deal with them.
- The concept of life-long learning becomes a reality because the learner will be able to cope with any change in learning environment.
- Teachers are not asked to plan and deliver lessons to accommodate numerous learning styles and can focus on what matters – building relationships and turning knowledge into understanding.
- Parents can be helped to understand how the environment they create at home also impacts learning.
- Politicians can relax a little knowing that they have a society of learners that can adapt to changes in the skills, knowledge or understanding required of them during their working life.
- Employers will get the employees they are looking for.
So we have a simpler and better way to approach learning if we want it.
For an introduction to LQ go to: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence
To access over 30 articles on LQ explore: www.4c3d.wordpress.com or download the leaflet on LQ
For workshops, keynote speeches or for more about how developing LQ can release the potential of learners you can contact me at email@example.com
Graphic from: http://erdmute.deviantart.com/art/holy-grail-png-100234405
As a learner how important is self-belief and…
… what has it got to do with Learning Intelligence (LQ)?
Those of you who follow this blog will know of my aim and passion for developing a global awareness of Learning Intelligence and how it can transform learning. Through my company, Advocating Creativity, workshops, keynote speeches and writing I aim to provide access to my ideas, insights, and strategies. The number of people showing an interest in LQ is growing[i]. There have been over 1300 views of the info-graphic defining LQ in the last 4 months. With nearly 10,000 views of the blog since August 2013, (as of May 2016 this is now over 21,000)and with many comments, acknowledgements and questions being received, LQ is beginning to become part of the vocabulary of learning.
I am always looking for the science that sits behind the art of teaching and the desire to learn. At the end of August, as part of a comment I received about the article “Introducing Learning Intelligence”, ( http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p ), a link to a paper was provided. The title of the paper was “Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory” and was by Albert Bandura, Stamford University and appeared in the American Psychologist in September of 1989[ii]. My thanks to D Sharrock, who provided the link, and suggested that the article would help support the evidence base for why LQ is such a powerful learning concept. If you have read something that you think will support , or even challenge, the concept of LQ please let me know.
I have found Bandura’ work does indeed underpin several key aspects of LQ and there are conclusions in Bandura’s paper that I believe also find themselves echoed in the work of, among others, Carol Dweck . These include certain LQ related attitudes, attributes and behaviours (see diagram above) that enable the learner to manage their learning environment and exercise resilience. This post seeks to show how Bandura’s work supports the concept of LQ.
People Can Change
Bandura argues people can change and that the more confident they are, the better their problem solving capabilities and analytical thinking the better they perform. I feel certain that many sports coaches would agree, as they would with the suggestion that where individuals visualise success they achieve better performances. Motivation is very much linked to self-belief and problem solving is very much a part of LQ. Knowing you can change and by doing so learn to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs is the belief that sits behind LQ.
Self-Belief and Resilience
Self-belief also plays a part in resilience, getting back on the horse after falling off. Passion and a strong belief in what you are doing enables people to overcome many of life’s many problems. “It takes a resilient sense of efficacy to override the numerous dissuading impediments to significant accomplishments” (Bandura). People who believe in their ability to cope and overcome challenges tend not to dwell on their inabilities but instead look for ways of moving forward. This is important when we consider our “Learning Map” (what we believe we can and cannot learn). The learning map landscape is often defined by school based experiences and what is said to us by significant people in our lives (parents and peers). More about the learning map in another post.
Being able to re-define our learning map has the benefit of a long term impact on our ability to learn. “After perceived coping efficacy is strengthened to the max level, coping with previously intimidating tasks no longer elicits differential psychobiological reactions” (Bandura). We become imbibed with the belief that we can cope with what were possibly considered too risky or too demanding situations. This makes it more likely we will develop adaptive strategies. LQ requires creative and adaptive strategies to overcome learning limitations imposed by the learning environment rather than being impeded by them. As Bandura warns “Depressive rumination not only impairs ability to initiate and sustain adaptive activities, but it further diminishes perceptions of personal efficacy.” Believing you can do nothing about your situation is debilitating. Developing and being aware of LQ gives you the ability to do something about your situation.
Developing LQ is not only the responsibility of the learner. The responsibility for developing an LQ friendly learning environment in which learners can experience learning challenges and find ways of overcoming them is one that rests with the teacher. This is supported when we recognise “People tend to avoid activities and situations they believe exceed their coping capabilities, but they readily undertake challenging activities and select social environments they judge themselves capable of handling” (Bandura). This emphasises the role of the teacher as a coach and mentor in supporting LQ development. It is also important to note that all learners need to face challenges in their learning but to do so without support is debilitating. This is just as important for those who are recognised in school as Gifted and Talented as those who have recognised learning challenges. “Development of resilient self-efficacy requires some experience in mastering difficulties through perseverant effort.” (Bandura) By successfully overcoming learning challenges we develop a broader set of skills, more informed attitudes, are more confident in our aptitudes and more in control of our behaviours.
The implications for developing LQ go way beyond school and can follow us into work and careers. As a teacher, I have recognised that we are inclined to seek environments in which we feel comfortable and safe and are less likely to take on challenges if we are limited by our self-efficacy. “Any factor that influences choice behaviour can profoundly affect the direction of personal development… long after the decisional determinant has rendered its inaugurating effect” (Bandura). We can still face self-belief issues long after we felt uncomfortable, challenged, or inadequate in any learning situation unless it is resolved. How many people avoid subjects studied in school well into adult life? Developing LQ is a way of overcoming these negative emotions, limiting self-beliefs and improving learning at any stage of our lives. LQ is the tool we have been looking for to promote the idea of “lifelong learning.”
Motivation is also considered and describes our requirement to extending what we believe we can achieve or attain in order to undertake a new challenge, especially if we consider there is a risk. We can see this in the work of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development[iii] where we consider what we can do, what we can do with help and what we as yet cannot do. What we imagine we can achieve is very important in motivation and an attribute of LQ is imagination. “The ability to envision the likely outcomes of prospective actions is another way in which anticipatory mechanisms regulate human motivation and action.” (Bandura).
Importance of LQ
Finally the reason why it is so important we promote and develop our LQ in our learning journey and as teachers we create an LQ friendly learning environment is supported by Bandura’s conclusions.
“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.” (Bandura)
If you would like to be kept up to date with LQ and how to both promote and develop it then follow this blog. If you would like a more detailed introduction to both LQ and learn about practical school and classroom based approaches to developing LQ then contact me for an initial discussion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advocating Creativity 2014
The Return to School
The original post below was written
THREE FOUR years ago now. Has anything changed?
It’s not exactly easy re-reading an article you wrote some time ago and finding that it’s still so relevant to education in the UK. Hope appears to takes a bit of a bashing when this is the case. So here is my hope once again and what I see as the responsibility of school leadership to make it happen.
The leadership mantra
“If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own.
If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.”
The original article, see how many things have changed since 2014
“All Change – or is it?”
Here in the UK a new term is about to begin and we have new direction from Ofsted in the form of revised guidance and a new Secretary of State for Education. Some teachers will be joining new schools and many will be facing the challenges of getting to know and teach new classes. Some teachers may even be taking on new challenges in the way of responsibilities or even the subjects and syllabi they will be teaching. The school may be facing new challenges or targets and there may even be new leadership intent on bringing about improvements. A new timetable always brings with it a certain level of stress too as teachers and students try to remember where they should be and when and with what. A timetable can have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning and when the “tail wags the dog” instead of enabling as the timetable can sometimes do many pay the price during the year. You would be forgiven for being overwhelmed even before you sit and listen to the Head setting out the challenges and goals for the year ahead.
The principles on which teaching is based
Luckily there are the routines and traditions that can form the refuge for the bewildered and confused and these can be found in the classrooms, corridors, and playgrounds of the many schools facing the new term. There will be a desk and seat, a teacher, a focal point, a register to call, rules to follow, expectations and things to learn. These are the everyday realities of teaching and even with interactive whiteboards, improved planning rubrics, simpler assessment systems, computers and tablets, 3-D spaces and the odd new pencil case, little if anything really changes when it comes to the actual job of teaching.
It’s not all about resources
I have seen some of the best teaching with the most basic of resources and simplest of systems and some of the poorest teaching with the most sophisticated of resources and most intricate of systems. I have also seen some of the best teaching with the least motivated of learners and some of the poorest teaching with those learners so eager to conform and please.
If you are now expecting me to call for a back to basics approach or to ignore change because we have all seen it before and no doubt it will come around again then I must disappoint you.
Neither am I advocating that you jump in with both feet and take on board whatever change you face with as much enthusiasm you can muster. What I am reminding you of is the importance of building the firm foundations that will allow you to teach and then I am asking you to consider everything else in light of this one responsibility and this is it:
If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own.
If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.
In my view it is the role of the leadership team to ensure that the learning environment and the relationships between teacher and learner are protected at all times and from all directions.
Leadership responsibilities and change, reform and new ideas
Below is a diagrammatic representation of what I see as the principle role of leadership in this respect. There is a lot to take in in one go but focus on the learning responsibility ratio (the rectangle shaded blue at the bottom) which, if protected, should naturally over time move from an emphasis on the teacher to prepare, plan, motivate, engage and encourage to the learner taking more responsibility for managing the learning environment to meet their own needs. This transition has a great deal to do with “Learning Intelligence” and “Learning Needs”* (not learning styles). Although I have not shown what happens when the leadership fails to protect this relationship in effect the responsibility reverts to the teacher and we end up with a “saw tooth” rather than a straight line transfer. In extreme cases the learner may abdicate all responsibility for learning since any immediate consequences fall on the teacher and not the student.
If you would like to explore the Teacher Learner Relationship then please see this article.
If we accept that it is the teacher’s responsibility to manage the learning environment then here are my four foundation stones for teaching.
There are “Learning Needs” and we all have them. When planning lessons make sure you include these four headings. The 4 learning needs are based on 35 years of teaching experience but the headings come from William Glasser [i] Its an easy set to remember – just Please Be Child Friendly in your approach and planning!
1) Power – how will I give my students a voice and show them that I am listening to their concerns and needs?
2) Belonging – what can I do to build a sense of belonging as I develop my relationships with my students in a way that builds trust and loyalty?
3) Choice – what choices will I allow and how will I link these to consequences? How can I show them that they can have some control over their learning environment and that in doing so they can make learning easier?
4) Fun – how will I build the link between fun and achievement and how will I ensure we celebrate success to make learning fun?
* Want to know how you can develop this model in your organisation or find out more about how LQ can improve the performance of your students?
* For more on the school learning environment see an earlier article “The First LQ Topic Review – LQ and the School Environment”
I can be contacted by phone at 01604 891229 or 07519743941
By e-mail at email@example.com
Through Skype: ace-d.co.uk
* For an alternative way to explore planning through what I call “Learning Intelligence” then see the article “Learning Intelligence (LQ) and Lesson Planning” at: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6
For an introduction to Learning Intelligence then see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p and a graphic covering the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours at: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence
For a detailed exploration of learning needs I have published an e-book “Understanding Learning Needs” available for download at: http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html Priced at £4.95. This book has been recognised by experienced professionals as an excellent reminder of the important things in teaching and learning and by those mentoring and guiding new teachers as sound advice and guidance for a successful career.
[i] William Glasser (2001) Choice Theory in the Classroom, Harper