Tag Archive | learning environment

The Teacher. Are they the only redeeming feature of the educational environment in our schools?

It is fair to say not all learners thrive in the educational environment that we call “school”. Some of the students who pass through school without achieving much do much better once they leave. Have you ever thought about why this happens?

Do we instead of investigating and remedying this situation allow ourselves to believe that there is nothing we can do about it? We may believe that more than enough reform, inspection and restructuring has taken place and that we are helpless in creating the change needed. We may wonder what a single teacher could do that politician, think-tanks, and significant financial leverage cannot.  Here is what I believe we can do to help every learner thrive in our schools.

Reflecting on my time as a teacher there has always been those students who do well in school and those who don’t but then go on to have great success in learning once they leave. We may say, and many have, that they eventually wake up to the necessity of a good education and knuckle down to it. Whilst this may be true along with other reasons, such as those I have listed below, it does not change the fact that some students don’t do well in the school environment.

Here are some of the reasons given by teachers for students not doing well at school that I have come across:-

  • they were lazy at school, did not make an effort
  • they mixed with the ‘wrong crowd’
  • they were too easily distracted by what was going on around them
  • had too much absence or were always late

Having thought about these and other reasons I have begun to see them as ‘behaviours’ that are symptoms of a problem rather than the cause of one. For example, we are know to be able to make an effort when we can access something that interests us and that we can sustain focus for extended periods of time when doing so. Sir Ken Robinson talks of being in your ‘element’ but I believe it is more than that, at least initially.

Sometimes a change of school brings a change in the learner, they begin to engage and often their learning improves.  Given that this happens we could ask is it really the school environment since all we have done is swap one for the other, it is still a school environment under the same influences and controls.  There are more than likely many reasons why students suddenly start doing well after a period of languishing in the bottom so to trying to find a single one is questionable and, in most cases, I would agree – except! There is something that in my own experience explains most, if not all of the ‘turnarounds’  and that is the effect of the teacher-learner relationship.

Ask any student if they had a favourite teacher and the answer is more than likely “Yes”, even if overall they did not do well at school. Without a doubt, a teacher makes a significant difference to the learning experience.  I was once ‘tracked down’ by an ex-student who told me it was their experience with me as their teacher some 15 years earlier that was now their motivation to become a teacher. Wow!

Any student who leaves school without realising their potential is a wasted opportunity. I have come across too many adults who express this very sentiment for it not to be so. Regrets abound.  We can go on saying it’s the students fault or even blaming each other or the system or we can do something about it.

As teachers we do far more than teach subjects, we build learning relationships with learners. Where learners find the school environment ‘toxic’ we have the opportunity to build relationships that help them overcome such effects, or we could say they were lazy, mixed with the wrong crowd or were not very bright!

The key to helping students not only survive in school but thrive is in meeting their needs. I am not talking about learning styles or developing grit or even the psychology of a growth mindset.  I am talking about the needs that are at the core of developing learning relationships. We all have them, we as teachers and as partners or as a member of a family all have them. Meet these needs and we have engagement and co-operation, don’t and we have ‘excluded’ and disaffected individuals.

As teachers, we know about the needs of the student and we work hard at building relationships. This is true except in teaching it can be difficult not to focus on just delivering the curriculum and assessing progress and this can overshadow meeting learner’s needs.  Is this the real reason some students do not do well in the school environment I wonder? If we have changed school targets, structures, organisation, management, examinations and testing and yet still do not meet the needs of some students then you have to ask yourself the question – “Do any of these things actually matter that much, will they lead to the changes we want to see in terms of student achievement?”

I have researched and written at length about each of the four learning needs so for this article I will not go depth. Luckily it is a simple matter to remember these four needs and to include them in our interaction with others and in our teaching, I have developed a mnemonic to do just that and even the acronym that represents them is easy to remember too.

So “Please Be Child Friendly” in your teaching and “Please Be Colleague Friendly” in your working relationships.

Here is a quick overview of the four needs, PBCF, and a useful graphic

Power – having a voice, being acknowledged

Belonging – being recognised and remembered

Choice – offered choice and understanding the resulting consequences

Fun – enjoying what you do and celebrating success

Using PBCF in your own work.

If you would like a workshop on how to develop PBCF in your teaching or in leadership or management then please get in touch. Look out for the book “Understanding and Managing Learning Needs” too, it is a comprehensive guide to all the factors associated with developing PBCF in teaching.

Why Learning Intelligence?

The original article was published at “The Staffroom”

why learning inteligence

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”.

After a career of nearly 4 decades in teaching I have taken an opportunity to step out of the classroom on a daily basis and take the time to reflect and research. It is a chance to read all those authors and study their ideas and theories with the benefit of experience.  If education is guilty of anything it is the jumping on an idea and wanting it to solve all the problems surrounding teaching and learning. The list of theories and game changing concepts in teaching is significant and probably an indication of the fundamental importance of needing to “get it right”. Do we need another theory or concept, that of Learning Intelligence or LQ[i]? I think we do and this is why. Let’s face it, it has to be better than “back to basics”, the “3R’s” or the PISA[ii] ranking stick we are often beaten with.

Imagine something so big that no matter which way you look, up/down, left/right, it almost blocks your view.  It is a colossal structure and its surface is a multitude of fine intricate patterns and textures coloured in every imaginable shade and tone. It is impossible to see it all at once and the best you can do is to look at one small area at a time. As an outsider you have no idea how it functions or really how it does what it does. It is too big to study all of it in any one lifetime. So people focus on just one small part and try to predict how the rest of it works based on the discoveries they make, no matter how small or controversial.  We call these people “researchers”.

Those who want to control or master it are not those that study it but they do make claims about what must be done to improve it.  As each new discovery is published new practices that sweep away the old are introduced. We call these people “administrators”.

Then there are those that work in it, know only what works and what does not work and follow their instincts. They have little time for studying it as they are too busy “doing it” but they must take on each new practice as if it will solve every problem and make whatever this huge thing is efficient. We call these people “teachers”.

This has been my experience in education, but after a career which included some challenging situations, I have had the benefit of almost 5 years to study what the researchers have come up with and piece together with the aid of experience something of the big picture.

I have not the space here to list all the theories or ideas I have been subjected to or tried to make work. Nor to list the authors and speakers I have listened to.  One thing I have been able to do though is to trace some of the ideas back in time and explored their roots through the lens of experience. It has proved enlightening.  For most I have found a grain of truth, an element that when blended with others does indeed work.

The outcome is simple, it occurred to me we may be going about teaching back to front and the evidence is there right in front of our noses.  This is the background to my concept of LQ so let me explain what it is.

Let’s start with a couple of propositions. Learning is a personal journey, whatever we see or experience each of us may take something different from it. The education system tries to standardise learning and assessment. This process involves both curriculum content and teaching but more significantly assessment.  Unfortunately assessment has come to mean only qualifications or standards. This is despite the work by Dylan Williams and Paul Black [iii] who promoted the importance of assessment for learning.

With this “engine” driving education it is easy to see how the process of teaching and learning is susceptible to a somewhat mechanistic approach. Use this tool to fix this problem, use this method to achieve this goal. The learner is only required to conform to the policies, practices and ambitions of the system, to be compliant, in order to be successful.  This standardisation though brings with it responsibility, that of having the right tool, policy or method.  If anything is wrong with these then we risk limiting individual achievement for the sake of compliance[iv]. I asked Sir Ken Robinson if compliance was a learning disability within the education systems we have. His reply was whilst it may not be a disability it is a disadvantage.

As a result of this approach we hit a buffer, we are brought to a halt, when it is found that not all learners are the same, or more to the point given the same input the outcomes are not the same for all learners.  We have seen this outcome explained by saying students having “abilities” or “aptitudes” in certain subjects or being referred to as “Gifted and Talented”, in short labelling learners.  These labels set expectations and the mechanism could grind on with the variable outcome now explained in terms of the raw material or the people who operate it

There was another shudder in the machine when it was suggested that we had what were referred to as “learning styles” or “multiple intelligences” [v]and that if we learnt in a way that satisfied these then standards would rise[vi].  The machine that is education duly took responsibility for changing practices, it could do no other.  When this did not “work” we looked for other reasons for why some learners are more successful than others.  Maybe it is not the machine that is at “fault” perhaps learners don’t have a “growth mind set[vii]” or display sufficient “grit” to do well.

I would claim that education is at fault for taking responsibility for learning and by trying to control the learning environment to suit every type of learner, although given the circumstances I have suggested it could do no other. The responsibility to raise standards weighs heavily and so ultimately becomes the only focus for teaching and learning[viii]. Anything that is not already credited with raising standards or is not the outcome of research or a product of legislation is seen as too risky to attempt. It will probably continue down this route too unless something changes and I suggest LQ is that change.

So what makes LQ unique or different? Well firstly it see the education system as an environment, one that with the right skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours we can manage in a way that allows us to meet our learning needs. I need you to read that again, it’s what’s has been right under our nose all along.  Instead of the learner being the passenger we teach them to be the driver able to understand and navigate their own learning. This is not “learning to learn” , it’s about understanding and managing learning.

LQ is a construct; a form of narrative that brings all the pieces, ideas, and theories of the jigsaw together in a meaningful way, it’s the 3D viewer that allows us to explore the colossal structure that is education.  LQ is something we need to develop in learners if they are to manage any learning environment they encounter. LQ  will allow us to create lifelong learners. As Albert Toffler[ix] warns “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”

LQ round

There is much more to LQ than I can discuss here and to date I have published well over 50 articles on the various aspects of LQ both from the perspective of education, the teacher and the learner. You can find them all on my blog at https://4c3d.wordpress.com/  You can also find out about my work as an author, consultant, coach and speaker at www.ace-d.co.uk

Should you wish to find out about how LQ can make a significant difference to you then please e-mail me at kevin@ace-d.co.uk and we will start a conversation!

[i] If you want to skip the rest of this article and  don’t suggest you do, and go to the heart of LQ go here:

http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p

 

[ii] The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/home/

[iii] INSIDE THE BLACK BOX: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment Jan 1990

[iv] For a discussion about the impact of compliance on learning see the article “Is Compliance a Learning Disability” at http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd

 

 

[v] See Howard Gardner regarding Multiple Intelligences  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Gardner

[vi] See Barbara Prashnig’s article on this subject “Debating Learning Styles” http://www.creativelearningcentre.com/downloads/Debating%20LS.pdf

[vii] See Carol Dweck Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

[viii] To explore the “Responsibility Ratio” see “The Return to School” article at: http://wp.me/p2LphS-kk

[ix] https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3030.Alvin_Toffler

 

 

The original article was published at “The Staffroom” visit:

Why Learning Intelligence? By Kevin Hewitson

The Trouble with Symptoms in Education Terms

symptoms

In education it is more often than not that we treat the symptom and ignore the underlying cause.  In life we will often hide the true cause of our distress by adopting or presenting the symptoms of a much lesser illness, perhaps a cold instead of stress or depression. It is no different in education where we may present a symptom rather than admit the cause.

Let me give you an example, that of attendance in schools. Interestingly when we want a day off school we are more likely to feign the symptoms of an illness rather than just come out and say “I need a day off”.

Attendance can be an issue in many schools and a symptom in itself that could signal underlying problems yet it is dealt with as if it is the primary issue. Our actions are to make the symptom go away, make students attend school.

The standard response to an issue is to adopt the two P’s strategy, praise and punish. Praise the behaviour we want and punish the behaviour we don’t want, the “carrot and stick” approach. This rather simplistic model will evolve to include praise in the form of rewards or certificates for levels of attendance that are acceptable or sought after and forms of punishment for those that fall short including detentions, letters home, and perhaps loss of privileges such as school trips.  Sound familiar?

The trouble with the two P’s form of response is that it takes up a great deal of time, pits the offender against the teacher or school and only deals with suppressing the symptom and does not deal with the underlying cause.  We are establishing compliance and not promoting learning.

A strategy I use when looking at behaviours as a symptom rather than a primary issue is to ask the question “Why would someone behave in this way?” After all why would somebody not want to come to school, unthinkable right!

Firstly school is a “learning environment” and one full of challenges, relationships, groups, rules, customs, expectations, etc. Indeed school is a complex environment and one that can be both nurturing and toxic depending on your disposition and experiences.  We respond to our environment in ways that we have learnt “work” for us.  Unfortunately nature has a significant influence when it comes to the environment and the “flight or fight” response so involved with survival can take over our thinking and behaviours.

If we find a certain learning environment more than mildly uncomfortable then without the right set of tools and strategies to deal with it we are likely to flee rather than stay and work out a solution. Thus a lack of attendance may be the only strategy a learner has developed to deal with finding themselves in, what is to them, a toxic environment.  By dealing with the symptom we are doing nothing to help address the underlying cause.  It is my experience that once the learner has been made aware of this and coached in developing at least the basic strategies then they can cope. Given more time and support they can even begin to master their environment.

This idea of understanding and mastering your learning environment is an underlying principle of the concept of Learning intelligence or “LQ” that I have developed.  LQ is based on my experience as a teacher and accepted learning theories and forms a narrative for working with learners.

Returning to attendance then my advice is to explore it as if it is behaviour in response to a situation.

Find out what the situation is and you’re on your way to a solution. Better still develop in the learner an awareness of LQ and provide opportunities to develop skills and to have experiences of managing their learning environment to meet their needs in a constructive way that supports learning.

Take the “fight or flight” response and turn it into “fight to learn and learn to ignore flight”

Scaffolding learning – a different perspective?

scaffolding2

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.

brain-map-transmitters1

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.

 

 

Part 4: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

Part 4.  The impact of the no one learning environment cont.

blame

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:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

diagram of LQ and SAAB

Part 3: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

'There Is No One Way', World Economic Forum protest.

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”.

tug of war

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.  

Part 4

Part 2: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

 

magic-bullet

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.

diagram of LQ and SAAB

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.

Part 3

Part 1: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

yours

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.

multiple padlocked-gate

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.

Part 2

LQ and PBCF

The Final Part of: What if everything we thought about learning was wrong?

foundations

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.

clean-slate-board

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.”

teacher and class

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. 

pbcf4

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.

Teaching and Learning Responibility diag v2

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.

hero's journey adapted for learning

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. lQ graphic 6

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.

Education learning foundation

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?

What is in a name and how important is it that people know your name?

baby’s-name

What is in a name and how important is it that people know your name?

What does your name say about you?

We are all given one but have you ever stopped to think how you would find your way in the world or how others would find you without one! In fact there a lot more questions about your name once you stop to think about it.

  • Do you like your name?
  • Does your name reflect who you really are?
  • Do you think people treat you a certain way when they meet you for the first time possibly because of your name?
  • Does your name help or hinder you as you make your way in the world?
  • Would you, or have you ever thought of, changing your name?
  • If you decided to change your name what would it be?
  • Do people call you by your given name or have you a nickname they prefer to use?

So now you may be thinking about your name a little more and if it is Kevin, like mine, then you may be happily reflecting on the “fact” that Kevin means  “handsome”.

You may be asking where am I going with all this name stuff? Well let me get to my point.

In 2011 I had achieved  33 years of being a successful teacher and a few more after that outside of the school environment exploring and working in the “real world”. Having a little more time at hand I started to reflect on my learning experiences. It occurred to me that successful learning and teaching was based on a set of skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours. The more I have prodded and probed this notion the more secure I am in my belief but I digress, more of that later. I truly believed then, as I do now, that I have something unique to say about learning and teaching and decided I needed to tell the world about it because as far as I could find out no one else had put the various bits together in the way I had. To me it is both blindingly simple and obvious at the same time, not complicated at all. A sort of eureka moment you would call it.

I needed a way to spread the word and let others know of this simple truth about how to make learning easier, be a great teacher and have successful schools.

In 2011 I decided to set up a company, a website, blog and Twitter account and tell the world about what I have discovered. In order to do so I needed a name for the company. Something that said what I was about and was easy to remember and search on the web so people could find me easily. This is where I was probably too clever for my own good because I have come to realise how important a name is and I may have got mine wrong. Let me explain.

I realised that if we did more of what we have been doing in education, especially in the UK, then we would get more of what we have now. To summarise: stressed teachers, stressed students, a waste of talent, mediocre results, more of a focus on meeting a target than being the best we can be, a lack of creativity or individual expression, too much change and a lot more negatives along the way. I realised we needed to do something different and that we needed to be creative in the way we did it. I still have the same aspirations for students, schools, and education as those who set targets or standards to aim for I just think there is a better way of going about achieving it, one that does not carry with it all the negative aspects we are seeing now. I wanted my company name to reflect this more creative approach and to emphasise the possibilities of being the best as a result of adopting it. There was also the need to be unique on the World Wide Web, a challenge in itself.

The name I chose, “ace-d” ,takes the “a” from advocating, the “c” from creative  and “e-d” from an abbreviation of education and stands for advocating a creative approach to education. The word “aced” is also an idiom for doing very well.

Did you get all that or have I been too clever for my own good?

So “ace-d” was born along with a “leet speek” version for the blog and Twitter called “4c3d” (the 4 replacing the “a” and  3 as a backward “e”. I had to use this approach because “aced” had already been taken as a Twitter and blog name and since creativity is a core principle of ace-d it seemed appropriate to find a creative solution.

Then there is the “ace” connotation of the name and its meaning in general use. We do not have to tear down walls to bring about positive change in teaching and learning, to ace it (too clever again?). As Ellen Langer has pointed out in her theory on mindfulness, we just need to be creative and approach things differently. A one degree change in your course when sailing can bring a different shore into view. Going around an obstacle is just as effective as going through it and there are plenty of obstacles in education!

So why do I think I got the name wrong? Well because it is now 4 years since I set up ace-d and although some people have found me and some of those have become colleagues, some have become listeners and some have asked questions I feel I have only been able to directly help a handful of individuals and schools. That is far less than I know that can benefit from ace-d’s approach and that is what makes me think I got it wrong. If people are looking for help would they find it, would they find ace-d? Try Googling “ ace-d LQ”  and let me know if you found me.

Advocating Creativity Ltd is the formal company name for ace-d and I offer an independent advisory service for those seeking significant and sustainable improvements in learning and teaching. This is primarily achieved by adopting a concept developed by me based on experience and research and called Learning Quotient, LQ for short, or Learning Intelligence. LQ is about developing a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours shown to significantly impact learning and teaching. You will find elements of Dweck, Hattie, Glasser and many more embedded in the concept of LQ. LQ is about an approach to learning that is both simple and powerful but one that as we chase targets and standards I fear we may move further away from.

You can download a leaflet about LQ here: About LQ with LQ graphic. You can also view a presentation about LQ to a TeachMeet at Northampton University here.

If you are a teacher, leader, or a learner and would like to find out more about how ace-d and LQ can help you I would be pleased to hear from you, now you know the name of course.

You can contact me at kevin@ace-d.co.uk

Links to website

Link to Twitter

The 7 e-learning skills of Learning Intelligence

E-learning skills for managing your learning environment.

e-learning

Technology has the capacity to allow us to break out of any contrived education system and expose the motivation behind it but only if we master it and are not mastered by it.

Learning Intelligence, LQ, is about the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours we require in order to manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs and therefore cannot ignore the opportunities technology makes available.

We have to be careful though that we do not swap one restrictive environment for another, that we extend the limitations and controlled focus of education into the infinite and complex environment that is technology. We need to master the technology so it becomes our tool and the technological environment so that it provides for our learning needs. We need to do this being aware of bias, by respecting views and opinions and by contributing through our own original or derived content, acknowledging both the source and foundation of it honestly.

The term e-learning is used with LQ to describe the management of technology and the environment it creates to meet our learning needs. It is not about publicising our opinions or views or persuading others to our cause. It is about using technology to overcome those aspects or elements of our learning environment that are prohibiting us from learning or that make learning harder than it needs to be. It is about being able to go exploring ideas in a ways unique to the technological environment so that we can creatively create useful resources that we can use to assist us in our learning journey.  To this end I have refined the list of e-learning skills to those listed here.

e-learning revised

So there you have the 7 e-learning skills that are part of LQ, so far anyway!

If you would like contribute or challenge any of the above please send me your thoughts.

The asterisk indicates a contribution by those named through an online discussion about e-learning.

My 13 Tips For When Starting University or College from ace-d

20775-mars_leaving_home

What advice would you give somebody about to start on the next stage of their education, one that may involve leaving home too?

If you have ever packed a son or daughter off to university then you know they need to take the creature comforts with them in order to re-create the ‘home from home’. This may, and in my experience does, differ for the male and female of the species. For example entertainment technology and bike versus comfy duvet and matching pillowcases.

Apart from recreating the home environment, it is also important to take action to maintain the learning environment we need so what about the nature of the learning and the learning environment they are about to enter? There are some big changes about to take place so what advice would you give? Here in the form of a list are those from Advocating Creativity. They are in no particular order – they are all important.

1) Learning relationships with tutors/teachers/lecturers/other students will be different to school. This means your learning support structure will be different. Where you go for help, who to ask or even how to ask will have to be explored and established.  Those that have read the articles from Advocating Creativity about LQ will understand how important this element is in learning. Those who knew you, possibly over several years, and knew how to guide and support you are no longer part of your learning environment. To start with you are on your own but don’t delay in seeking out and building your learning support structure. There is evidence to suggest those that find a mentor are more successful than those who try to go it alone.

2) Recognise that learning pathways are different. You may be used to having a group of people around you all doing the same thing, going to the same lessons, and being able to share the same learning journey. This is not necessarily the case anymore. Modular courses mean you may share modules but people may be on different courses and have different aims or interests to you. You need a clear picture of what you are doing and why you are doing it and how it all fits together. If you do then you can manage roadblocks or obstacles in your learning such as poorly taught courses or a lack of a learning relationship with a lecturer or tutor.

3) Make time for yourself. It is easy to say yes to everyone and everything. No one wants to be left out or not part of a group but it is also important that you take time to maintain your energy and focus. It takes only a few moments each day to think about (meditate on what you want to achieve and the challenges you face. Ask your inner self if what you are being asked to do or considering fits in with what you want to achieve. No harm in thinking about trying something different or new but evaluate the possible impact on what it is you want.

4) Learn to ask for help when you need it. Do not see it as a sign of weakness or anything to do with your inability to learn something new. There is always more than one source of information or explanation and if the one you have just received does nothing more than confuse you then look elsewhere. There are ways of asking others who do get it to explain it to you without making it obvious you are struggling. Try this one “How would you explain what we have just learnt/experienced to somebody who asked what it was all about?” Look it up on the internet! Well yes, but be careful of the validity of the source.

5) Keep fit, eat well and get some sleep! The body and brain run on fuel, energy and nutrients, derived from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. Get the balance wrong and our energy levels drop and we become sluggish and thinking becomes harder. Plan to eat. Don’t leave it until you are hungry. If you do you will reach out for whatever is the nearest and quickest solution and this is often what we know as convenience food. In reality you can prepare your own food often quicker than it takes to order, collect or wait for it to arrive but if your energy level is low you will not want to. Much convenience food does not provide what the body and brain need, especially during the learning process. Don’t allow yourself to fall into this trap and a downward spiral.

6) Be organised and tidy (well “ish”)! I know, something your mum always used to say and there are some sound reasons why you should. Firstly it saves time because you can find what you are looking for. Secondly, it reduces stress levels because you can find what it is you are looking for. Finally, it helps in the thinking process because you can maintain focus. Although a tidy desk may equal a tidy mind it is more about being mentally organised and an organised environment helps.

7) Don’t leave things to the last minute. You never do your best work when under pressure, even if you think you do. Your brain needs time to take in, reflect and come to decisions or reach insights. Plan to get the reading or research done in plenty of time to allow you time to think and not just react.

8) Be prepared to get things wrong or even fail and be resilient. Learning something new often means taking on something different, something you have not done before, something out of your comfort zone. Take heart from the fact that you have got through all of the early challenges in your life, you have got this far, so why should you not also overcome new ones.  Although we don’t want to plan to fail we often fail to plan for the “what if.”, the situations that come along and upset our plans. It’s like having an alternative strategy ready just in case. It is hard not to focus on a low grade or mark but what you should be asking yourself is “Why?” and “How can I do better next time?” Honesty with yourself is always the best policy and remember number 4.

9) Stay active. Physical exercise helps maintain and improve your level of metabolism (your ability to convert or use energy from your food). Having a suitably performing metabolism means you feel less tired, have more stamina, and cope with stress much better. Learning will require bursts of energy as well as determination over periods of time and it will challenge you by putting you under stress. You are better prepared for these things if you keep active.

10) Do the things that need to be done and don’t distract yourself with things that make you busy but do not need to be done then and there. This is a classic coping mechanism when there are things in your life you do not want to do or face so be aware of it. It is easy to convince yourself that once you have made yourself a coffee or had a biscuit you will get down to work. You bump into somebody else doing the same thing and then ask yourself “Where did the hour/morning/evening/day go?” You’ll say to yourself: I’ll just finish playing the game”, watching a film, sorting my notes out. Whatever it is, WATCH OUT. Do what you need to do not what keeps you busy.

11) Learn to feel good about overcoming challenges. Take a little time to enjoy getting things done ahead or on time, of finishing something you feel proud of. Add what you have achieved to what you believe about yourself, you will be better prepared and more confident when it comes to the next challenge.

12) Keep some level of contact with the past. You may not be able to wait to leave it all behind. You may out-grow it or over time drift apart from what were once great friends. You often see things differently when you are separated, or have a different perspective because of your new learning journey and experiences. There may still be support there when you need it. There is a saying about burning bridges – don’t burn too many and don’t let too many fall into disrepair either.

13) Develop routines. Routines help us get over the times when we do not feel like doing something that needs to be done. You don’t have to be slavish to the routines but you may find them helpful when you are feeling low. Once you have qualified you may find yourself working alone or even from home and getting used to setting up and following routines is good preparation for this stage of your life. Routines can also help give you more time to do the things you want to do too by saving time thinking about what needs to be done.

You may also be interested in the seven stages of “How to Learn Anything” .

Well there you have ace-d’s list of 13 things to bear in mind when trying to take control of your new learning environment. They are all based on the principles behind LQ (Learning Intelligence). For a graphic covering the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours of LQ go to:

LQ banner

The Return to School


Teacher and class traditional

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.

Responsibility diagram upadated

If you would like to explore the Teacher Learner Relationship then please see this article.

learning responsibility diagram ideal

If we accept that it is the teacher’s responsibility to manage the learning environment then here are my four foundation stones for teaching.

Learning Needs

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) Choicewhat 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?

LQ and PBCF

* 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 articleThe First LQ Topic Review – LQ and the School Environment

I can be contacted by phone at 01604 891229 or 07519743941

By e-mail at kevin@ace-d.co.uk

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

Is Compliance a Learning Disability?

Teacher and Class 3

As teachers we know that our classes can fall into three groups, this is especially evident at reporting time.

There are those that do well, are active participants in the learning, question and who are confident. You know these well and find it easy to say something about their progress, attitudes, and behaviours. “Well done. Keep it up” There are those who have presented challenges, often of a behavioural or engagement in nature. Once again you know these well and you do not struggle to offer advice on how to do better next year. “Learn to focus and avoid distractions” The last group are not so well known to you. They are often quiet, do as they are told and take up little of your time. In short they are compliant and when it comes to writing reports often provide the biggest challenge.

The size of each group may vary but I would bet they still exist in many classes.

The first group

We could argue that the first group find the learning environment to their liking and are comfortable within it. They are comfortable with the approach, resources, pace, language and tasks. This group are often the “volunteer” group and will take part in extracurricular activities or be members of out of class groups. As a result of their learning needs being met they do well and make progress. 

The second group

The second group do not find the learning environment to their liking, something is missing, and they are not comfortable but do not have the language or skills to express what is wrong in an appropriate and helpful manner. Although they seek to express their needs they do not fully understand what it is that is missing or what to do about it. The result is a series of challenges as they seek attention to help them resolve the issues they have with their learning environment.  This group will often take up a greater percentage of resources than their numbers suggest both in terms of the teacher and support provision. This support may not produce as much impact as wished too because it often does not address the issue of the learning environment and the missing needs. A little like giving glasses of water to somebody when they ask for water when actually what they need is the fire brigade to put out a blaze. 

The third group

The third group, the compliant learners, don’t make a fuss even if the learning environment is not meeting their learning needs. They may “self-label” as not very bright and have reduced expectations of themselves as they reflect the expectations placed upon them. When we rely on past performance as a predictor of potential or future performance this group often go unchallenged since they achieve within the expected or predicted range even if this is way below their true and as yet untapped potential.  When there is a threshold associated with targets and grades this group will often be seen as the “borderline” students, those who with more help could achieve a little more. What we give them though is more of the same and yet we are still not meeting their learning needs although some will do better because of the greater expectation we have of them.

Do you disagree with me?

If you disagree with me then for you these groups don’t exist, you have never experienced them, and report writing for you is a case of limiting what you have to say rather than trying to find things to say about some of your students. You do not see compliance as a learning disability?

If you agree with me and these groups do exist what can we do about them?

Firstly we know there are students who do well in everything they do at school. We may see or recognise these as “more able” or “gifted or talented” students. Perhaps we should also see them as students who have the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours to manage their learning environments to meet their learning needs in whatever learning environment they find themselves. They know that whatever they face in terms of learning challenges there are ways around the obstacles and they can do something about it, a form of “acceptance compliance.”

Next we have the anomaly of a student who does well in one subject and not in another. Rather than exploring the differences in the learning environment we rather comfortably explain this by saying they have a natural ability in a subject or perhaps it is because they get along with the teacher of that subject. For whatever reason we accept their lack of performance or achievements in other subjects as a result of this “reasoning.” The students go along with this and see themselves as being better in some subjects than others, another form of “acceptance compliance.” We do not question their ability to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs nor do we seek to develop their skills or challenge their attitudes and behaviours. It is uncommon to find those students who do not do well

It is uncommon to find those students who do not do well in any subject at school being offered a “different” or “alternative” curriculum. This has the radical effect of changing the learning environment in a number of ways. Something they are likely to go along with for their present experience is nothing more than uncomfortable, to say the least. There are many cases where students unexpectedly excel in this different environment and this is often put down to the lack of academic demands or the student being more interested and therefore more motivated to learn. Once again what is not explored is the learning environment and the match to the learning skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours of the learner that may bring about this change. Further, we do not take this success and use it to demonstrate that where the learner has succeeded in a learning environment that suits their needs that with the appropriate support they may be able to learn to manage other learning environments too and therefore extend their achievements.

The case for Learning Intelligence or LQ

LQ is the ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. In the examples I have given above I would argue that we tend to ignore the learning environment and our ability as learners to manage it. We find ways of explaining achievement in some areas and not others and ultimately may reject some learners. We accept compliance and make no link between the level of success of a learner and their ability to manage the learning environment to meet their needs. I argue that it is at least worth exploring LQ as a factor in learning and that working to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours of learners will ultimately be a better approach for all learners than compliance, more of the same, support or an alternative curriculum.

Link to Learning Intelligence graphic:

LQ banner

LQ in Identifying and Developing Learners

engaged and disengaged learner
Not all learners are bright eyed and bushy tailed, well not all of the time.

There may be a coincidence that many “turned off” learners try to hide and themselves away and adopt the “hoodie” because it offers them a form of anonymity and way of withdrawing. What we think we see when we look at the learner on the left above may be as untrue as the world being flat.  If you could not dance and were gangly you would probably want to melt into the background and more than likely would not be found on the dance floor at any party. So it is for many learners in our schools, they don’t fit in and have learnt to be anonymous and, if challenged, sometimes aggressive or uncooperative. They rarely put up their hand or venture an answer willingly.

What can be done to re engage reluctant learners?

The carrot and stick approach is unlikely to work. They have learnt that the carrot tastes awful and they have become immune form the stick.  The key is in discovering two critical things about themselves and one truth.

  • The first is that ability is not just measured by tests or examinations
  • The second is that their learning environment can impact their ability to learn more than they think.
  • The truth is more often than not we can if we think or believe we can!

Personal Potential

The first of the thing reluctant learners need to recognise is their potential and I am not talking about the 3 R’s or ability to remember and recall facts. Discovering that they have a host of abilities in a range of areas helps in developing self esteem and breaking down the idea of being a failure.

AIM Awards Email SmallI attended the National Conference of the AIM Awards this week and specifically the workshop on a new offering the Personal Potential Award. What is special about this qualification is the process learners undertake in ultimately recognising their abilities. In many ways it is learning without subject matter.  Through a series of activities and guided by the leader of the course learners discover they have a lot more to offer as well as recognising the need to work cooperatively with those around them.  A common factor with those who have faced the challenges of formal education and not succeeded is a mistrust of education and a fixed mindset.  The Personal Potential Award does much to dispel both the fear and the mindset. Once they see themselves as able to learn they are better placed to re engage in learning. Nothing comes easy though and this leads onto the second key fact.

 

The Learning Environment

In the same way as our physical environment affects our health and well being so does the learning environment affect our ability to learn. The type of learning experiences we receive can make us either put up our hands or turn our backs. We need to make the link between our success as learners and our learning environment. Unfortunately few learners understand that they can manage their learning environment in away that meets their needs.  Further few actually acknowledge or understand the emotional impact  of a negative learning experience. Unfortunately the experience itself is often forgotten but the effect lingers into teenage and adult life. This impacts on future learning opportunities and the spiral continues in the wrong direction.

How Can LQ Help?

The purpose of LQ is to provide a language to both challenge and explore past learning experiences as well as to develop ways of coping with future ones.

LQ asks “Is what you are doing working for you?”  This can be expanded to include setting personal goals or developing aspirations and to getting what you need rather than what you want. Being withdrawn and shunning any form of education or training rarely gets people what they need or furthers their journey towards their aspirations.

LQ challenges limiting self-beliefs by exploring our learning maps, what it is we think we can and can-not learn.  We build these maps as we encounter learning experiences and evaluate our successes often through the strength of emotions rather than objective reflection.

LQ helps the learner work smarter by learning how to cope with learning environments that do not cater for their learning needs and in finding other ways to achieve the necessary understanding or skill.  This works for any learner at any level and in any situation.

Summary

I would recommend to anyone to take the time to exploring the Personal Potential Award.  A common factor with those who have faced the challenges of formal education and not succeeded is a mistrust of education and a fixed mindset.  The Personal Potential Award does much to dispel both the fear and the mindset.

I encourage you to explore the many articles on this blog to do with Learning Intelligence, “LQ”. Understanding the link between the learning environment and behaviours and attitudes is as important for teachers as it is for learners. A negative learning experience can set up road blocks and fix traffic lights to red unless the teacher deals with it appropriately.

There is a strong link between the Personal Potential Award and LQ. I see LQ providing the answer to the question “Why?” the Personal Potential Award and then developing the understanding of how to apply the changes that take place in themselves as learners as a result of undertaking the Award.

Finally

I can be contacted via e-mail if you want to find out more about LQ or perhaps arrange a workshop to explore how it can make a real difference to the achievement of your learners.

Why “One Size Fits All” is Absurd in Education

 


dads-shoes

I would argue that in any new learning situation that the starting point for learning is different for each of us and that adopting a common approach is limiting. Do we ignore this when we operate education systems and if so what are the implications?

Sometimes to see the foolishness of an action or decision we need to look at it from a different perspective. Let’s explore the idea of a common starting point and activities, a one size fits all approach, in a different context and see if it makes sense.

In exploring our education systems I would need an example where a group of people are brought together in a controlled form for a common purpose but possibly with different needs and expectations.

Imagine 520 tourists getting off an A380 arriving in, say Singapore, for the very first time. No one has been here before; they are all new to this island country in Southeast Asia. This gives us the cohort, different needs and expectations but a common starting point.

It is highly unlikely they will want to travel as a group whilst in Singapore but that is not possible where we have controlled or timetabled activities. In normal circumstances they would not have the same intentions or interests, visit the same places at the same time, meet the same people, and have the same interactive experience with the country.

If we made them get off the plane as a group and manage them as a group (one size fits all) as we do in schools then this way of doing things would probably be unfulfilling for many of the tourists. Why? Well as they are organised and taken off to experience something they have no control over what happens. They may be made to see something they are not interested in at all and possibly miss out on something they were fascinated by and looking forward to doing or seeing, there would be disappointment and disengagement. Some would want more time in one area over another and possibly get frustrated by this. Some may want to explore on their own and others happy to be directed or guided here and there and some may be happy to dip in and out again depending on what was on offer and their interests.

Now image those 520 tourists getting on the same plane at the end of their  “group”  visit and the feedback they may present to the tour operator having this “one size fits all” type of holiday. Imagine many are unhappy and vow never to travel with the same operator again.

In an effort to make the next trip more successful the tour operator decides it is a case of needing to promote the idea of travelling in this way and not the idea itself that is in need of change. An obvious solution is to use the normally wasted flight time to prepare the passengers for their visit. He is sure that if the passengers understood why he did it the way he did that they would be more agreeable. He sets about having history and geography as well as language “classes” on the flight out with the expectation they will get more out of their visit and be more agreeable. There is a lot to cover and so a timetable is devised with short breaks in order to get it all in and flight attendants deliver the programme.

It still does not go as he had hoped and the feedback is not as good as he would like. He sees the need to find ways to further improve the service.

As the passengers fly back he decides to quiz them to see if they have taken it all in and to see where improvements can be made. Papers are issued and questions asked and short essays written about what they have seen and experienced. Flight attendants issue the papers, mark, and return them to the passengers having entered the data into a database for review later. Small rewards are given to those who have done well in an effort to encourage them to use the same tour operator next time. It is hoped that when others see the rewards they will try harder next time.

He finds some have had a great time and will fly with him again, others speak of being bored having no interest in the things they have been made to see. Others complain about the lack of personal choice or freedom to explore on their own. Many say they feel the service is too impersonal and they do not like being treated as if they were just a number. The “quizzes” did not go down too well with some either. Flight attendants complain about the additional workload and de-motivated passengers.

A review of the data suggests 55% of people had what could be referred to as a “good time.” 10% had a “great time” and 5% a “fantastic time.” They decide that the aim for next year will be at least 60% of passengers will have had a good time and the flight attendants have been instructed to achieve this target. A series of inspections are planned to check that the on-board classes are delivered according to set guidelines and that they are good or better.

I hope you can see where I am going with this analogy. I have not even started talking about the cabin crew (SLT), passengers in first or business class (G&T), or economy (At risk)  or longer flight times, selection processes or  “free airlines” run by chains of tour operators who promise better satisfaction rates . At some point what was thought of as a good idea just becomes absurd. What follows is also absurd as we find ways of justifying what we are doing, often in the face of common sense.  Here is an example taken from the Sabre Tooth Curriculum [i]

“Don’t be foolish,” said the wise old men, smiling most kindly smiles. “We don’t teach fish‐grabbing to grab fish; we teach it to develop a generalized agility which can never be developed by mere training.

What also results is that people start to take sides. Those that support what we have  and those that propose something different.  For example Sir Ken Robinson [ii] is seen as a speaker of truth by some and a misguided snake oil salesman by others. Here is a quote from Pragmatic Education blog “Sir Ken’s ideas are incredibly seductive, but they are wrong, spectacularly and gloriously wrong.”[iii]

My point is that what starts off as a good idea can quickly get into trouble if we do not step back now and then and see where we are going in trying to improve what we are doing. It is easy to get drawn into the “make it better” or “try harder” rather than “change it” syndrome. We certainly need to stop treating all learners as the same because of their age and we need to stop doing all things for learners all of the time, and we need to stop expecting them all to reach the same stage at the same time too. In fact there is a lot we should stop doing in order to just improve our education systems.  We need to think outside of the box and this is where I am with my concept of Learning Intelligence.

Other posts on this theme:

The Need for Learning Intelligence as a Concept (http://wp.me/p2LphS-gY)

Knowing and Learning  – What is the Difference (http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba)

 

[i] http://www.nassauboces.org/cms/lib5/NY18000988/Centricity/Domain/57/TheSaberToothCurriculumshort.pdf

[ii] http://www.ted.com/speakers/sir_ken_robinson

[iii] http://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/what-sir-ken-got-wrong/

Learning Intelligence and the Challenge to Education

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I believe we can learn a great deal from our ability to survive when it comes to learning.

The picture shows such a challenge. It could represent the need to make a link between knowledge on the left bank and understanding on the right bank. The solution overcomes the challenge of the raging water and steep sides of the ravine by using what is available to build a bridge linking the two. We take knowledge and build a link to understanding within our learning environment. I would argue being able to build your own bridges means you have some control over your learning environment.

To survive we need to adapt to, and adapt, our environment. We need to make use of the things we have to overcome what we lack. We need to avoid what threatens us and embrace what supports us. We need to understand our purpose and possess the fortitude to overcome obstacles.  We need to take what we know and be able to apply it to what we have yet to understand.

In the same way as we cannot ignore the environment when trying to survive neither can we when we wish to learn.  We have a greater chance of surviving if we are alert and aware of our surroundings and so it is with learning.

We have made learning a process, one that ‘gives’ you an education and in doing so we have dulled the senses to the learning environment. As a result many learners look to others for solutions when they face challenges and fail rather than learning to use what they have, know, or understand. Using my analogy and the picture at the start of this article we would see learners waiting to have a bridge built for them or one pointed out.

Many are concerned by this and advocate an approach to education and learning that will rectify the situation. Problem-based learning, lifelong learning, enquiry skills, flipped lessons are all ‘solutions’ to an unspoken problem, that of learning to manage our learning environment to meet our needs.

It is my experience and opinion that we fail to share this concern with the learner. As a result, learners see subjects to learn rather than understand the challenge is how to learn the subject. We work at developing new flavours to entice the parched to drink when no one is thirsty. How can we demonstrate such things as independent learning, thinking, and enquiry skills are important and necessary if we have made learners so dependent?

We have made learners dependent by holding the keys to learning. We set the curriculum, the standards, and the value of knowledge. We have applied rules and regulations to education. We have constructed a ridged ladder of progression and labels to identify position and status in this most complex and fabricated of environments that we call education. To make students lifelong learners and thinkers we would need to shatter this illusion. We would need to de-regulate education.  Are we willing or able to do this? Shattering illusions is not anarchy or as dangerous as some who regulate education would have us believe for it can release our creativity.

Being creative is a human trait, if we allow it. I would even go as far as to say that not allowing creativity to thrive is inhuman.  There are ways in which learners can creatively work within the regulated education systems we have but we must first make them aware of their environment. This is the true challenge and one that the approaches I mentioned earlier seek to address. What they fail to do however is have the conversation with the learner, they do not start by explaining the ‘why’ of these approaches.  They do not start by sanctioning the process of challenging and exploring the learning environment.  They do not say it is okay to find ways of learning that suit you rather than learning the way you are being taught. They do not explain that failing to meet your learning needs is limiting your ability to learn and not your ability that is limiting your learning.

We have heard of long-term prisoners not wanting to go back into a world without rigor or regulation where they have to think for themselves. Is this any different to expecting learners to see the value in lifelong learning, thinking and enquiry skills when we have subdued them?

We develop learners thinking and enquiry skills by making them aware of their learning environment, the true environment not the one we have created for them.  Then we show how they can begin to manage this for themselves. We look at the skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that support learning. We do this by exploring and developing Learning Intelligence (LQ), the ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs.

You will find many articles on this blog about LQ.  Here here is one relevant to challenging your learning environment, one article exploring creativity and learning through the what I refer to as the design process. http://wp.me/p2LphS-40

Questions and challenges always welcome and my thanks to those with whom I have debated LQ over the last 5 years. Your input continues to help me refine the language and descriptions of LQ.

You can Skype me at: ace-d.co.uk or email me at:  kevin@ace-d.co.uk

The Link Between Learning Intelligence and Learning Styles

E-learning concept

In this article I want to explore one of theories about how people learn, that of learning styles, and why it has become discredited.  I am not going to explore the VAK approach or any other specific aspect on which learning styles is based. Instead I want to look at why it became so popular and why now, even though some try to discredit it, many still support it. I tend to come at issues from a different direction and this time it is no different. Although it may not appear initially as having much relevance to the issue at hand I want to start by asking a couple of questions.

 

What has astrology and the idea of learning styles in common?

Or

Why astrology may promote the idea of learning styles.

Surely we cannot use a “pseudo-science” to understand how we learn. Bear with me whilst I explore a theory.

One of the first questions I faced as a teacher was why some students “got it, kept it and used it” and others did not. I am of course referring to knowledge and understanding. My first instinct was that I took something for granted, that there was a step in the learning process that I missed because “I got it” and that I needed to look at what I was teaching again to find “it”. I even asked experienced teachers if there was something missing in my understanding that I was not conveying to learners who did not get it. I was reassured there was not, but this did little to help those students who were struggling learning, retaining or using what I was teaching. From this point I have always been on the lookout for anything that helps explain how people learn and for ways of improving my teaching.

A number of theories and ideas have come forward concerning how people learn. Science has begun to offer insights of its own through Neuroscience. There is even this thing called “IQ” which has been around for some time. Learning styles and multiple intelligences are other theories about how we learn best and how to manage learning. 21st century skills have made an appearance on the stage of learning due in part to the advances in technology and Cognitive Psychologists may be disproving everything we presently hold true about learning. Nevertheless this only goes to show that there is an interest in how we learn and how to improve learning. We want to explain things and possibly offer a few labels. This is okay so long as we do not return to a description of a patient found in the register of an asylum in the late 19th century that labelled them “Born an idiot.”!

We want answers to the learning equation.

We like the idea of unpicking this particular problem in the same way as we would like to find a cure to cancer. Once we have an understanding of how learning works we can prescribe the course of treatment that will allow everyone, who wants to, to reach their full potential. We will be able to categorise or label people. We will be able to give all the “slow learners” a speedup treatment, all those who are always mentally jumping all over the place a slowdown treatment, and those who forget things a memory improving treatment.

The fundamental problem is…

To me this is the fundamental problem in exploring how people learn. We use ideas or theories to label people rather than to start a dialogue about the challenges they face in learning. My way of exploring this problem is by looking at how people respond to labels and why we appear to like them. Although on first glance it may be a strange association between astrology and learning but what can your horoscope have to do with your ability to learn? Let us start by looking at what they both have in common.

1) both astrology and learning styles are believed by some and discounted by others, they each have their supporters.

2) they both try to predict something, either the future or how learners will learn best.

3) they both result in the application of a label, either a star sign of the Zodiac or a learning style.

4) both appeal to our need for an identity or to belong to a group.

5) they both offer characteristics which we may find inwardly attractive. For example the perfectionism of Virgo or the ease at which a visual learner decodes charts.

6) they are both a good way to start a conversation. Many strangers have started out by asking, “What star sign are you?” in order to start a conversation and many teachers have wanted to know how learners learn best and asked what they find difficult about the lesson.

I would claim that the first five are distractions of the true value that any of the theories or ideas offer, especially learning styles, is that of starting a conversation. Does it matter if theories such as learning styles, brain based learning or multiple intelligences are more fiction than fact if it starts a conversation and is only used in that way? What we must do as teachers is to avoid labels, no matter how seductive they are.

A final example of why I believe the theory of learning styles found support in teaching.

The theory of learning styles appears to be right because learning is often presented as just being a function of memory. About taking in formation and retaining it for use later. Learning is more than just creating a memory or storing information. Perhaps we would understand why many teachers  have, and continue to do so, supported the idea of learning styles if we see them as “learning cues“.  I believe that we initially pay more attention to some forms of information than to others, they get our attention faster. As teachers know getting the attention of students is key to engagement and then the trick is to help them learn.

Why do we “pay attention”?

Getting your attention has been a key survival trait and one that persists today. Advertisers know this and use it to sell, well to first get our attention. The smell of freshly baked bread, the colours, and warmth of a summer day, the freshness of a spring morning, the tune that reminds you of your youth. You get the point.

I would claim that whatever our learning environment is we are pre-disposed to notice things according to our senses. Some favour one over the other, although all are at play. Perhaps the one that is favoured is part of a distant memory because it was more of a threat in whatever environment we found ourselves in. If the danger came first as a sound then we may favour taking notice of auditory clues. If the danger presented itself not through auditory clues but was stealthy and we needed to recognise a shape or shadow then we may favour visual clues. The same may be true for identifying or recognizing danger through tactile means, identifying a particular shape from another in order to avoid danger. Failing to acknowledge or pay attention could have resulted in an untimely end. Has evolution got something to do with what we pay attention to and how we respond in the first instance? Possibly, it has certainly been used to explain a great deal of other forms of human behaviour.  The key from a teachers point of view is that once we have the attention of the learner we need to find ways of maintaining it. One such way is to recognise and celebrate achievement. Another is to show the learner how they can manage their own learning environment to meet their learning needs.  This last strategy is the basis for my own theory that of a learning intelligence or LQ for short.

Learning Intelligence (LQ)

LQ round

I define LQ as the ability of the learner to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs.

Link to LQ concept graphic:

It may be that at an early age we pay attention to certain cues within our learning environment and these are then developed through preferred use, or because they are successful or they bring reward. This may ultimately lead to a dominance or preference interpreted as a “learning style”.  In effect we are just paying attention to our environment in our preferred way.  Our preference can change over time and can be influenced by technology, friendships, experiences, in fact many things. I believe it is important to a learner to be able to recognise and interact with their learning environment in a way that brings success. I also believe that when they do not then they build a negative picture of themselves as learners.

In many ways LQ is a construct made up of skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours. You can find over 20 articles exploring LQ both from the teacher’s perspective and that of the impact on the learner on my blog here at 4c3d.wordpress.com

The link between Learning Intelligence (LQ) and Usain Bolt

What has an ability to manage your learning environment and a world record sprinter got in common?

When Usain made his way onto the world stage, first as a junior and then professionally, he was not the “traditional” shape of a sprinter. When we look back pre Bolt sprinters were short, well built, muscular, powerful athletes not like the tall, lean Usain. There were mechanical problems to overcome in his running style to get his tall 6 feet 5 inch frame off the line and down the track making use of his long legs which cut the number of strides down from 45 to 40 for 100 metres. Even so, size is not enough and Usain needs to maintain a level of fitness in order for his body to work at maximum efficiency.  Usain has been able to adapt to his environment overcoming what may have initially been seen as limitations rather than advantages.

Usain Bolt running metrics

Fig 1[i]

What if we changed the environment?

Usain Bolt is the fastest man on earth at the moment but that is just one environment and one that is particularly engineered having a flat surface and designed for running fast on. I wonder if he would be the fastest in space or immersed in water, two totally different environments.  Would he be able to adapt to these environments and maintain his position as the fastest man in space or in water?

Learning Intelligence

Usain Bolt defied conventional wisdom when it came to  the mechanics of running. Somebody had a vision of how things could change, how doing things differently could lead to doing things better. The next generation of fast men will be modeled on what we have learnt from studying Usain and his way of adapting to the challenges he faced in becoming the fastest man on earth. How does this fit in with learning?

Developing Learning IntelligenceFig 2

Learners face a similar challenge in adapting to their learning environments. To be the best you can be requires not only effort but also being aware of your needs in a way that allows you to maximise the advantages you have got and adapt in a way that minimises the limitations you face.   There are a number of skills and attributes that can be practiced to help develop your LQ and hence your success in learning. Figure 2 shows some of the elements that impact on being able to manage your learning environment to meet your needs.


 

If you would like to learn more about how LQ can help you or the learners you manage then please get in touch.  Developing LQ is one of the workshops now available along with the effective management of learning needs.

Contact: kevin@ace-c.co.uk for more information.


 

[i] http://www.slideshare.net/AthleticsNI/the-biomechanics-of-sprinting

The Need for Learning Intelligence as a Concept

There are difficulties and disagreements in not only deciding what an education should consist of but also how people should be taught and how we should assess the learning that takes place.

Fundamental Questions

These are three fundamental questions on which it is difficult to find any agreement. Do we follow the ideas of “experts,” politicians, teachers or learners and who do we choose and how do we choose them? Is there one right approach and solution to the education equation and can we afford the answer?

There is no doubt that collectively we are trying to find a way forward in education and that many individuals and groups have their ideas as how best to proceed. There is no one way, no one right way for everyone yet we still seek this “golden token” that will unite us all. It was the dream of Victorian engineering that everything could be broken down, improved, mass produced and re assembled to make a better product all of which behave in exactly the same way. In terms of education this idea has proven to be a false compass and we are, dare I say it, lost!

education compass

Finding your way

If we become lost in any landscape running around in circles is not the way forward or the intelligent thing to do. The clever thing to do is to look for indicators for the “best” direction to go in and plan how to get there. Again we face the dilemma of choice. Assuming we are not alone and not the sole decision maker I am sure there would be a host of “best” directions to go in and each person would have their view and ideas. Some may form into groups in order to strengthen their argument and secure the direction based on what they thought best. Whatever direction people set off in there would be a constant challenge and pressure to go another way when things looked hopeless. I would argue it is this lack of consensus that seriously affects education in the same way as it affects people who are lost and cannot agree which way to go.

If you are alone and lost then you only have yourself to argue with! You are responsible for surviving or not. Having the right skills, attitude, and attributes and making decisions based on objective reasoning may greatly enhance your chance of survival.  

Whilst there is something to be said about being part of a group, “There is safety in numbers” but there are also compromises to make. Where these compromises impact on your chance of survival then you have to make arrangements not to be “caught out” by them. For example if your calculations, based on what you know about your needs,  suggest that you will require 20 litres of water but the group consensus is 15 litres do you “follow the herd” or do you carry the extra you know you need?

You can be part of a group but you can also take responsibility for your own survival and make your own arrangements. The caveat is if you do things in the “right” way of course and this needs certain skills, attributes and attitudes too, often referred to as “diplomacy “and “Emotional Intelligence (EQ)”.  Get it wrong and you will most definitely be on your own. You can contribute to a group, change groups, form your own groups and seek to influence groups according to what you need. Throughout your chosen involvement with others though you need to understand and recognise your own needs. You need to know which of your needs you can do without, need most, can modify and how to satisfy or manage your needs in whatever situation you find yourself.

Are we lost in the educational landscape?

If we think of our education as part of our learning landscape then we can see how we could do with our own compass instead of relying on somebody else’s. A learning compass that will help us navigate the environment in which we find ourselves in order to meet our learning needs.  Being equipped with our own compass we will not need to rely on others for direction although we may ask for assistance. We will have to understand our own needs though if we are going to try to navigate the learning landscape and use our learning compass effectively. We will have to recognise when our learning needs are being met and when they are not as well as having strategies we can deploy to manage whatever learning situation we are in. We will need to understand the effect of the learning environment has upon us as individuals, how we are motivated or hindered in our learning, how we find energy or become bored, what makes us confident, and what undermines us. In short we will have to develop our Learning Intelligence.

For more on LQ please look back over the 20 articles on this blog covering many of the skills, attitudes and aptitudes involved in LQ.

The link to the original article is here : LINK TO LQ

Comments always welcome.

 

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