In the final part of this article I will suggest that it is time to re-evaluate the foundations of teaching and learning and describe what I believe are the true foundations of any education system we should seek to build on to ensure learning remains at the heart of what we do.
It is time to go back to basics of teaching and learning, not those of the 3 R’s, or of rote learning, of the industrial revolution or that of the information technology revolution but instead the basics of relationships and trust in education. It is time to rethink our pedagogy. A time to wipe the slate clean and rethink things from the beginning and not keep adding things that we think will or should “work”. It is not a case of what can be done but rather a case of what should be done with the tools education has at its disposal to promote teaching and learning.
Imagine starting again knowing what we know now about how education has evolved and been influenced by the revolutions that have occurred over the last 150 years. I hope you will have decided that the foundation of any education system must include building relationships between the teacher and the learner. Apart from three other key elements all the other “stuff” is just, well stuff. It comes and goes according to, for the want of a better word, “fashion.”
Some time ago I wrote about understanding learning needs. This led to an e-book based on both reflection on my time as a teacher and research. As I read studies and ideas about teaching and learning, old and new, time and time again I came across references to the importance of the relationships between the teacher and the learner. Thinking about my own time in the classroom when things went well I had a good relationship with my classes and when things went badly or were stressful for me it was because these relationships had not yet formed. A target driven system that distances the teacher from the learner is not what learning is about.
Building relationships and maintaining them is not always easy and is often more complicated than we think. Perhaps the divorce rate confirms this! I have boiled it down to four key learning needs that require being satisfied most of the time if we are to build learning relationships. The graphic below describes the four learning needs. It would be my approach to include these in any foundations. The acronym Please Be Child Friendly offers a suitable reminder of the aim as well as providing a memory key for the four learning needs. Ignoring learning needs is not what builds engagement and is not what learning is about.
I have also developed a “learning responsibility ratio” graphic. The graphic aims to show how the dynamics of the learning relationship should change over time. It highlights how the learning relationship may also come under strain at times, especially during a transition point. At the start the biggest responsibility lies with the teacher in learning about their students, planning the curriculum and developing resources. At this point the learner has only a small responsibility, that of “paying attention”. Later as time passes the ratio of responsibility should transfer from the teacher to the learner. There are points where there is some element of reclaiming responsibility but these need to be part of the learning journey. If there are too many occasions where the teacher reclaims responsibility the downward trend of the line, the responsibility transfer, is slowed and may never reach a satisfactory stage. The result of such an action means the learner remains dependent on the teacher and takes little responsibility for learning. In a high stakes system it is all too easy for the teacher, who is often most “accountable” to reclaim responsibility in order to maintain control of the learning. Incorporating the dynamics of learning relationships is also a key element in the foundation of an education system. Making or allowing the teacher alone accountable for learning is not what learning is about.
The third block in the foundation is the continued professional development of the teacher. It is important that the teacher models learning to their students. This has two effects. Firstly it will demonstrate that learning requires effort. As the teacher shares the emotional challenges of learning as well as the practical aspects they can show how taking on a learning challenge can be both daunting and rewarding. Secondly it grounds the teacher in the learning experience. This is important because in building successful learning relationships there needs to be both empathy and understanding of the student perspective. Roy Leighton’s work on the Butterfly Model and specifically the Learning Line demonstrates this aspect of learning. Another example of the trials and challenges of learning can be seen in the Hero’s journey once it is adapted to learning. Ignoring the learning journey and expecting a standardised approach and progress is not what learning is about.
The fourth block is a natural requirement of the learning transition. It is no good expecting the learner to take responsibility for and manage their own learning unless they are prepared for and supported in doing so. This last element is one that appears obvious but we do so little in education in this area. We need to directly develop the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours that support the learner in managing their own learning environment to meet their learning needs. The term I have used to describe this is “Learning Intelligence” or LQ. Failure to develop in learners an understanding of how they can manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs is not what learning is about.
So there we have it, the four corner stones of the foundation of any education system we care to develop based on learning. I would claim that if we remain true to these foundations then we can adapt and adopt all that is good and useful in teaching and learning from whatever source. We are in effect guided by the foundations in selecting only those that adhere to the principles and therefore sustain them. I would claim that such a foundation is both agile and secure. It is able to respond to changes in curriculum, forms of delivery and use whatever technology is appropriate to support teaching and learning.
Want to see any of the first 4 posts?
Part 1: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nz
We need to go back to the start, to look at teaching and learning from the beginning to find out if we have lost our way.
Part 2: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nD
How far back can we go with teaching and learning?
Part 3: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nJ
We go back and explore the simplest of learning models to see if we can re-establish secure foundations on which to build.
Part 4: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nZ
What are the influences of the industrial and technological revolutions on education?
Is there anything special about the home learning environment and the student’s ability to manage it to meet their learning needs?
We know that schools are but one learning environment, although of many hues, and that students are able to access others either through the internet or more traditionally at home. To see just how important is the home environment in influencing achievement we can look at the work of Hattie. Hattie’s work attempts to answer the question “what has the greatest influence on student learning?” Hattie[i] calculates that home environment has an effect size of 0.57 (just over a grade) the same as socioeconomic status. By comparison the class environment scores an effect size of 0.56 and a student’s disposition to learn 0.61.
What do these figures tell us?
Taking the above effect sizes together the environment, be it at school, or at home, has a significant influence on learning. I doubt few teachers would argue with this. My argument with LQ is that where the learning environment suits the learner they learn better. These figures suggest this is true. My rational for developing LQ is for the occasions when there is no natural match between learning needs and the learning environment, for when the learner finds themselves in a “toxic” learning environment. The opportunity for homework could be a way of overcoming a toxic environment before the learner develops their LQ and understands how to manage the environment to meet their needs. This would only be true if the home learning environment differed from that of school and more closely met the learner’s needs. If the home environment mirrored that of the school then without developing LQ we would see no discernable difference in a student’s disposition to learn or their achievement.
Just how important is homework anyway?
Now let us look at the effect homework has on achievement. Hattie suggests an effect size of 0.47, almost a grade. The trouble for teachers is that they have no control over how this work is completed. This opens up a dark side to homework. One where the learner is passive “companion” rather than active “explorer” in completing homework. I refer to those occasions where as a teacher what you see before you has in your opinion obvious parental finger prints all over it. Or has it? We may only make this assumption because the quality of the work is out of context when considered in the same light as classwork. One reason for the improved performance could be that we are creating a classroom environment which actually limits the learner and when at home he/she is in a learning environment better suited to their needs and therefore is able to produce much better work. This is not something we as teachers are likely to easily accept but is there any supporting evidence for this theory? I’ll return to point this later but if you have been following the articles on LQ you may have already guessed that I think there is. If not start with a look at “The LQ rich environment” (http://wp.me/p2LphS-3u) in this blog.
What about the “home” in homework?
The home environment varies enormously from ones where education or learning features little to those that actively promote learning and value it highly. Access to the internet and on line learning resources has the ability to level this playing field a little but only if it is actively sought as a support for learning. Parental influence has always been shown to be a major influence on a student’s engagement in learning. This influence can be in the form of encouragement and establishing values to actively providing resources and activities that support homework. The home is obviously not a level playing field but despite this some learners produce original and good quality homework. A learner who needs quiet reflection time in order to assimilate and apply knowledge may find such opportunities at home and not in school. A learner who likes to discuss concepts and tasks may find he/she is allowed to do so at home whereas class discussion may be discouraged. Could we see this as further support for finding ways of matching learning needs to the learning environment and therefore developing LQ in learners?
Will any homework in any conditions do?
If we accept Hattie’s findings then the nature of homework and the value given to it as a way of learning can be a significant factor in student achievement. There are two important issues at play here. The first is the characteristics of the learning environment associated with the home and how this supports homework tasks. I have briefly mentioned this above. There is though the aspect of the benefits of collaborative homework that can take place in the home environment too. The second is quality of the homework and perhaps the motivation for the setting of homework (I believe there is often a link between these two).
Homework that is not done is of no good. The common outcome of this is sanctions and a negative learning experience as well as time expended by the teacher on enforcing rather than encouraging. Homework that has little substance and does little to aid the learning process is of little value other than in establishing routines and expectations. Neither of these examples I believe would rate an effect size as substantial as almost a grade increase as suggested by Hattie.
So why homework?
Well let’s consider LQ and homework. Homework offers the learner an opportunity to explore the link between the learning environment and learning needs and the effect on achievement. This will only occur though if there is discussion about the link. It is my experience that this rarely happens. The learner is kept in the dark about how the environment impacts their learning. What is more they are not supported in developing their LQ to overcome environmental limitations or effects. I believe strongly that when we are explicit about the impact of the learning environment on learning and discuss learning needs then we are able to develop LQ in learners. Knowing what to do about your learning environment and how it is affecting you is a critical factor in raising achievement. It is my contention that used appropriately homework gives us an opportunity to develop LQ.
Could homework be the antidote to school?
There has been a long running debate about the value of homework and even if Hattie had not shown an effect size of almost a grade many would continue to say it has no value. Perhaps I have just added to the debate by suggesting that homework could be the antidote to the learning environment we know as school.
Continued Professional Development Opportunities
I am now offering Continued Professional Development (CPD) courses about LQ and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to include building LQ awareness in your staff development programme.
Also on offer is a course on understanding and promoting learning relationships. You can find details here at the Good CPD Guide. http://goodcpdguide.com/courses/promoting-learning-relationships