Today is publication date and there are only 3 chapters left to explain.
Time management is a critical factor in teaching so it was important to me that any book that suggested making changes, no matter how demanding, dealt with the use of time management. It is my experience that trying to do too much in too little time limits our capacity for change and change rarely gets truly embedded.
Question: Why is it that in teaching there is never enough time?
Answer: Well, the short answer is because you try to do too much!
‘Teaching is a full-on job; there is no doubt that it is demanding both physically and mentally. Teaching can be draining and leave us without the energy or motivation never mind capacity to change our approach. It is only fair then if I am suggesting change, although much of building learning relationships and PBCF is about approach and attitude, that I consider how you can best manage this often scare resource -time’
Starting with a look at the Urgent/Important matrix I develop a formula referred to as the ‘Not Enough Time Equation’. This is a tool I have developed to help you explore how you use your time and to make better decisions on how to use it effectively. Don’t worry if you have maths anxiety, there is no adding up or multiplication involved!
Question: What’s Johns 12 rules all about?
Answer: Chapter 11 is one that highlights the importance of a mentor during your time as a teacher. I was lucky when I started teaching, I had John as a mentor.
‘My teacher training course involved both my subject specialism and the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching and lasted three years plus a probationary year. It was a good grounding, but I have said that to be a teacher you must remain a lifelong learner and in doing so you should be open to advice and ideas. Sometimes you learn without really knowing it; that was the case with me and John’s 12 rules.’
John had a number of saying he would drop into our conversations, but it was not until his passing that I sat down and reflected on them. Then I realised they were integral to the way I approach learning and teaching and that I had taken them on board without knowing it. John’s rules are very much associated with learning needs and so I have listed all 13 of them (yes 13) for you along with a detailed explanation of how they can be applied.
Question: Just what is Learning Intelligence or ‘LQ’?
Answer: The short answer is that LQ is about seeing learning as a problem-solving activity. Another way to put it is your ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. It is not something to be measured but something to develop. It consists of a set of skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that are needed to manage your own learning. Chapter 12 looks at different intelligence and learning theories before introducing the concept of LQ. and describes how I came about the concept and the definition.
‘An important aspect in your teaching is about having a story to tell pupils that draws them in.’
‘You need a narrative, a story that brings all the elements together in a way that makes sense and can be related to learning experiences. ‘
‘Our ability to learn is not just defined by a single general intelligence (IQ) nor through our emotional awareness (EQ) or what learning abilities or intelligences we demonstrate (MI) and the learning preferences we have. It is defined by all of these things as well as the yet to be fully defined working of the brain which we are only beginning to understand. ‘
‘Providing a narrative that will allow you to embrace all these elements and understand how they fit into the learning jigsaw has been my breakthrough. ‘
If you have found the insights into the how and why my book came about then perhaps it’s time to buy a copy. You can do so through Critical Publishing or Amazon
Essentially this book is about the final stage of the call to adventure, that which in the form proposed by Christopher Vogler is called ‘Return with the Elixir: the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world’ Although I am no hero each chapter of my book is about something you can do to improve your teaching and ensure that you remain a learner.
Question: How can I be a better teacher? For teachers, no two days are ever the same and no group or individual pupil is guaranteed to learn or behave in the same way from one day to the next. Teaching is a full-on job and often with only time to respond to the challenges and changes.
Answer: To be a better teacher I recognised that teachers need to have time and the opportunity to reflect and that they need to remain learners. It is important to me that the book gives you the tools to manage your time effectively and to successfully meet the day to day challenges as well as encourage you to reflect.
In reflecting on what worked and why in learning and teaching I realised that after all the preparation, planning and resourcing it came down to pupil/teacher relationships. Establishing, building, and maintaining relationships is very important. There are many things that can damage a relationship in an instant but it takes time to repair or build an effective learning relationship.
Question: How do you build effective learning relationships and secondly what factors can support or undermine them? We are now getting to the heart of the question.
Answer: In observing and discussing the relationships pupils build with teachers and their peers it became clear that pupils will invest in establishing a relationship to meet certain needs. The pupil may not make a conscious decision or even be able to articulate why they behave in a certain way towards some people or when in some groups. Pupils may not even recognise the drivers of their behaviour at all. It also became clear that some needs are powerful drivers of pupil behaviour, so powerful even that they will override such factors as social or school expectations, personal safety, parental influence, or any pressure from existing relationships. It was also clear that not all pupil behaviour is predictable and that there are dampening and enhancing factors that can promote or subdue the nature of the behaviour a pupil will exhibit in any given situation.
Chapter 1 explores the challenges you will face as a teacher and includes a series of reflection prompts. Chapter 2 is an in-depth look at the learning relationship between pupil and teacher using an innovative ‘Learning Relationship Responsibility Ratio Graph’. The important role of leadership in nurturing and protecting the relationship between pupil and teacher is recognised and is also analysed.
Question: How can we interpret pupil behaviour to understand pupil needs?
Answer: Seeing behaviour as a symptom of a need rather than as a challenge is the first step in developing our understanding of needs and the impact they have on learning and teaching. What we want as teachers are engaged learners, pupils that are motivated to learn. Chapter 3 looks at what pupils need in order to engage in the process of learning.
Question: Who helped in my call to adventure?
Answer: It’s a long list! From my teaching mentor John, who’s 12 rules appear in chapter 11, to those I have taught and those I have taught with, the many who have challenged my teaching and opened my eyes. Some sources go back further than you may think too, some were suggested by the different online groups and education thought leaders we are familiar with through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, TEDx etc.
The next instalment of ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ will describe the chapters that cover four learning needs and how you can plan to meet and manage them.
4) Our 4 learning engagement needs PBCF
In teaching and learning terms that is.
Asking somebody to do something or giving instructions to be followed is an everyday thing but when we teach there is another dimension, we are directing learning. If there are two paths to the same objective does it matter, through our teaching, which one we direct our students to use?
We know that there is often a sequence to learning, an order in which we learn things and on which we base future learning. I find that we can learn things out of sequence, but it severely hampers our understanding later when called on to apply our knowledge or undertake a problem-solving activity. We also know that it takes an effort to learn something and the major part of that ‘learning’ involves cognitive activity: we must think in order to learn!
How hard can learning be?
The effort of learning is proportional to what we already know, what we understand and what we can use to learn what we don’t yet know or understand. Make sense?
A teacher who can make each of these steps proportionally ‘easier’ for a learner is often regarded as a ‘good teacher’. Making things “easier” of course involves many things such as providing encouragement, a good learning relationship, an accurate assessment of what is already known and understood as well as choosing the appropriate learning path.
What part does memory play in learning?
Let’s get back to the thinking aspect and let me give you a simple example of how the right path can make something easier by considering what we need to hold in our memory as we carry out a task.
Finding something: the instructions.
- The item you are looking for is in the large inside pocket of the blue bag in the third room on the left of the corridor.
- On the left side of the corridor look for the third room. In that room look for the blue bag and inside the blue bag open the large inside pocket where you will find the item you are looking for.
I’ll start by asking you if there is any difference between instruction a) and b) since they both direct you to the object in the pocket of the bag.
You will notice the sequence of information is different. Sequence “a” starts at the end, at finding the object and “b” starts at the beginning, of looking for the object. Which do you think load your memory the most or are both the same? In order to remember or follow the sequence would you involve imagery at all, would you try to visualise the sequence and see in your minds eye (the pocket, the bag, the room and the corridor)? If you were given only sequence “a” do you think you may reverse it to make it easier to follow?
Thinking about how our brains work – working memory and cognitive load theory
I am of course hinting at two theories of how our brain works and how they may influence our learning. The first is “working memory” (different to short term memory as it involves some ability to process information and was coined by Miller, Galanter and Pribram and first used in the 1960’s[i]) simply put a type of memory that has limited capacity. It is from this memory that we may transfer information to our long term memory, the type of information, knowledge or understanding that is involved in learning. We may get told an address and recall it minutes later but the next day we will probably have totally forgotten it.
The second theory is “cognitive load theory” (credited to John Sewell of the University of New South Wales in 1988[ii]) and is directly proportional to how much effort we need to make to learn something irrespective of our ability. We can ‘load’ the learner with unnecessary demands by confusing them, making things overly complicated or by making the learning environment ‘hostile’ or ‘toxic’.
Addingto the challenge – the issue of time
Now let’s add a new dimension and see how it would impact our ability to find the object, that of having only a few seconds to find it after which a severe penalty will be imposed.
Consider our example again and instruction a) and b). For me path “b” offers the least effort in terms of working memory, I do not need to re arrange the sequence and can easily visualise the path to the object. No time will be lost in ‘reverse engineering’ the instructions and I believe I would be calmer or more confident of success even with a time penalty being applied.
As for cognitive load, well I think path “b” again would make things easier since there is a logical sequence in the order of direction helping me process information, but the time penalty certainly adds to the load. Once again though to me the complicated nature of instruction “a” would add to the cognitive load.
As teachers and given these two theories where are we in creating our teaching paths?
I would suggest that it is certainly worth exploring these
two theories prior to planning our lessons, building learning relationships and
creating learning environments especially when we consider the claims of each
in terms of learning.
This was my 5th time at the festival but this year I spoke at the festival about the importance of learning relationships and our learning needs when we are in the learning zone. What I was reminded of, and what I have always believed is that ….
“Teachers need to remain learners“
And this is why….
I don’t mean the compliant type of learner who takes on new initiatives, learning ideas or theories and adds them to their teaching repertoire just because they are asked to. I mean the type of learners who challenges the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’. The type of learner who sees learning as a problem-solving activity for to do so shows they are already looking for ways to improve learning. They are the type of teacher who is observant, reflective, see opportunities, is collegiate, supportive and open.
The second reason teachers need to remain learners is firstly the dynamic of learning and how this impacts our view of self, our confidence and our energy. To place yourself in learning situation, to move out of your comfort zone requires confidence but it is where the magic happens. It is where you discover something new about yourself and add to your view of the world and those in it. The second reason is you get to visit the emotions, experience the anxiety, and celebrate the successes and failures of learning. You get to be reminded what your students go through each and every day and this is a valuable reminder of the type of learning relationship you need to build with your students.
Compliance then in both teaching and learning could be regarded as a disability and not an advantage. Think about that as you as a teacher seek compliance from your students. Accept the challenges that come your way from learners and as a teacher learn to use these to your advantage. There is no such thing from a learner as a “red herring” questions for they are an insight into how they are thinking and an expression of a learning need.
Teachers are heroes!
This is my version of “The Hero’s Journey”, I have adapted it for teaching and learning, for learning is a journey often involving challenges and teachers are heroes. “The hero myth pattern studies were popularized by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Jung’s view of myth. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern” (1) and we can recognise these in such things as Disney adventures today. See if you can recognise it in your own teaching and learning.
This year, actually on Thursday the 20th of June, I will be speaking at the 10th Festival of Education. I have attended the festival in previous years and enjoyed listening to the broad range of speakers and exploring some very interesting topics. So what am I talking about?
The title of my talk is “Closing the Achievement Net”.
Not all that clear perhaps so here is a breakdown:
- The session will start by reflecting on the types of learners we find in our classrooms and how they respond to learning challenges.
- A discussion of the ‘teacher/learner relationship’ will help identify the key elements, after ‘safety’, for building effective learning relationships.
- We will also look at typical behaviours when these elements are lacking encouraging us to see them as symptoms of need and respond accordingly
- Each of the four elements, (Power, Belonging, Choice and Fun) will be discussed in practical teaching terms in order to identify opportunities to build and strengthen them in our lessons and around school.
In preparation for the talk I have run this past a number of people, and I have been surprised by some of the comments, so much so I thought I would highlight a few issues that I think need explaining and that I will need to address in my talk.
- What net? The ’net’ is a metaphor of course but what am I hoping to catch? Well I am hoping by ‘closing the achievement net’ we will ensure that we acknowledge all learners and that we create an environment that positively promotes learner engagement.
- Types of learners. I am not referring to terms like “learning styles” or “multiple intelligences” I will be using three very practical identifiable types taken from an analysis of school reporting and teacher comments over a number of years. In defining the learner types my focus is on ‘learner approach’ and ‘potential’.
- Language, it appears that not all words mean the same to all people and we need to be mindful of the context in which we have both heard and used them. The word “Fun” for example is the “F” part of PBCF which I claim is essential in the teaching and learning relationship. One teacher said I am not hear to entertain and tell jokes and I agree so what do I mean by “fun”? This is something I will be careful to explain along with other words I have used like “effective”.
- The possible mix up between symptoms and behaviours. I see behaviours as symptoms of a need or needs. If I buy a bottle of water this is a behaviour that is symptomatic of needing to quench my thirst.
If you are attending the Festival then I hope you are able to come along to my workshop on Thursday (14:15 in Maths 3) or say hello during the day, if not then I will be publishing the slides and notes from the day.
Recently I met with Charlotte Davies to find out more about her work in person. I have followed Charlotte’s work for some time both out of interest and knowing that it has something to do with my own work but not sure how. My head is still buzzing! Charlotte’s profile on LinkedIn says “Education Consultant, Tomatis Consultant” she is also Director at “Fit-2-Learn” and she is co-author of “The Maze of Learning”[i], a book written to ensure “that your child has the best foundation for learning”. So why am I so excited about her work?
Like so many in education Charlotte has a great passion for learning, especially when it comes to the human developmental aspects that need to be in place before we can become ‘efficient’ learners. Her second passion, like so many dedicated teachers, is to make things right. Those that have followed or read my work on my concept of “Learning Intelligence” (LQ) and student engagement through “PBCF” will know I share both passions so it was natural that we should meet at some point. Let me share the outcome.
My work with LQ focuses on enabling the learner to understand and manage their learning environment. Doing so involves us meeting our “learning needs”, developing or possessing a set of skills, attributes attitudes and behaviours (SAAB) that are needed to efficiently do so. Having identified what is needed to manage your learning environment and understand the impact it has on us both physically and emotionally, it can be tiring and stressful, I have been exploring ways of developing our learning needs. This is where Charlotte and her work comes in. What if there is something that is preventing you developing your LQ and aspect of SAAB, something that is causing far more stress than it need be. What if you can’t put your finger on it, or worse still, if it has been given some broad label that often suggests there is something wrong with you or something that can’t be put right. Both dreadful scenarios and ones we have all come across as teachers. I hope you can see why I am interested in Charlotte’s work.
Charlotte has taken a ‘parental’ view of both these scenarios, I say this because there is nothing like the drive, the energy or the open mindedness like that of a parent wanting to find a solution to their child’s needs and challenges. A parent will move mountains to find a solution or an understanding and do it with un-exhaustible energy and commitment. You may now understand why my head is still buzzing!
Developing LQ in learners works, I know, it is my own learning story and it is the way I taught, it may have lacked a definition in those days but seeing learning as a problem solving activity is the way forward – without doubt. But, and here is the caveat, if the right pieces of the developmental jigsaw are in place. Sure we are not all perfect and we can find coping strategies to overcome limitations but ultimately this will either slow our learning or limit us in some way, possibly even causing elements of stress or anxiety. So if it can be ‘fixed’ why not fix it? Surely this is a better way forward.
Charlotte has identified these developmental aspects and in my meeting we discussed and explored how to identify them and check they have evolved correctly. You may say it’s ‘child development’ and teachers are taught about child development. True, but in my experience many teachers are subject specialist first and child development specialists third or even fourth. Teaching is a full on activity and with the additional pressures of administration etc. etc. you can understand why they have little time to spend on identifying and fixing developmental problems. I am not making excuses, it is just the way it is, my approach of LQ and enabling students to manage their own learning environment is a way of trying to help too, after all we all want ‘independent learners’.
It all starts with motor skills but there are other pieces of the developmental jigsaw that need to be in place. We have sound processing and visual processing to consider too. Each element is part of the developmental sequence that will enable us to become efficient learners. Trying to rush learning, to learn things such as skills or carry out certain types of learning such as reading before all the pieces of the jigsaw are in place is surely morally wrong. It can also lead to a degree of ‘damage’ to the learner and the learning process that stays with the learner for life. How many adults truly believe they cannot learn because they were put into a learning situation before they were ready, before they developed the necessary motor skills or sound processing necessary? Meeting with Charlotte was an eye opener in this respect and also underlined why LQ works. When I help learners re- visit something they believed they cannot learn it may well be either they have now developed that aspect that was not ready earlier or they have developed a coping strategy that will allow them to be successful.
We do not need to leave things to chance though, we do not have to leave learners to develop coping strategies, as Charlotte clearly showed me, we can do something about it. Yes I was ‘tested’ and asked to perform some strikingly simple actions to find out if, even as an adult, I had motor developmental or sound processing issues that needed to be addressed. This too was interesting, it’s never too late to fix things and some of the people Charlotte works with are not just the young, teenagers, they are middle aged or even older like me.
So my head is buzzing and my way forward with LQ a little clearer, although a little more complicated too. I have much to learn if I am to integrate this into LQ. I will also be working on my sound processing much to the delight of my family who have had to put up with my lack of rhythm or ability to hold a tune over the years.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the fit-2-learn website.
“We believe that everyone can move beyond coping strategies and use all their senses and motor skills in a coherent, efficient manner to learn and to live calmly.”
How important is that!
Why I miss teaching and the reasons many leave the profession is that their needs are not being met.
“It’s better than sliced bread” was my reply in September 1977 when my dad asked me about my first teaching job. I was at the ‘chalk face’ for almost 33 years, that was eight years ago, and a lot has changed about the ‘job’ of teaching but not the fundamental aspects of teaching.
I have considered making a list of the things that I miss and I may still do that but really it all comes down to relationships and needs. Two things most people will say they get from their job along with a sense of satisfaction, of doing something well or worthwhile.
There is something special about relationships in teaching that is different, let me try to explain.
I know that in many careers that are ‘front facing’, in contact with the customer or public, there is a relationship that needs to be built if you are to be successful and teaching is no different in that regard. What is different is the nature of that relationship and it is unique. I call it a ‘learning relationship’, one where over time you built trust in you as the teacher, you build confidence and self-esteem within your students, you set them challenges and support their efforts, you offer encouragement and praise, you guide their learning and you celebrate success together. Coaching or mentoring may offer the same relationship but not on the same scale or with the same degree of challenge.
Meeting a teacher’s needs
It is this teacher/learner relationship that is better than sliced bread and that I miss the most for it satisfied some of my needs too. So what of my needs and why does teaching satisfy these needs?
The job of a teacher is strange in that collectively we may plan, resource and review but as for the ‘doing’ bit we do this alone more often than not. It is a case of you, the professional teacher, and the pupils in your care in a room together, often with the door shut for single or multiple lessons or even whole school days at a time. Once with those pupils it is a ‘full-on’ job, hundreds of instinctive decisions to make, constant observations and assessments to make, strategies to weigh up and those learning relationships to build. When it goes well you bounce out of that session full of energy and when it does not you reflect in a more sombre mood wanting to know why. Either way you share what happened with your colleagues, telling them of your achievement or listening for advice that will guide you. It is within this ‘interpreted dance’ that I find my needs met.
My needs are best described as a set of characteristics and I am sure these are shared with many teachers.
- I am a learner, hard to be a teacher and not be,
- I am creative and love a challenge,
- I like responsibility and autonomy, and
- I thrive on the energy that comes of working with others.
Having your personal needs met is what draws you to a role, to a career, and so it is with me.
You may be wondering why I am no longer at the ‘chalk face’, why I did not continue with my career as a teacher since I loved it so much and continue to miss it. Well I am still a teacher, it’s hard not to be, but not in a school or employed as one.
There are many things that have changed about the role of a teacher since 1977 and for me those changes increasingly limited my opportunity to build learning relationships, limited my creativity and autonomy as well as drawing on my energy in a way that had a profound effect on my health.
You are not fulfilled if your needs are not being met.
What we need to ensure that we recruit and retain teachers is simple – we need to ensure that they are fulfilled. Anything that limits or hinders this should be removed from the ‘job’ of teaching.
Recruitment and retention is simple
In my opinion, if we are to recruit and retain teachers we need to address the environment that is ‘need’ limiting. Teachers leave the profession for a number of reasons but they are also willing to put up with a lot if they are able to build effective learning relationships and have their needs met. The debate is not about workload, pay or hours, it is about being able to build learning relationships and meeting needs on a deeply personal level.
It may appear simple to say that there has to be a beginning, middle and end but is important that we do not miss any of these stages and they must be in balance.
I have known lessons where the beginning went on too long, or where there is not enough time for the students to engage or immerse themselves in the learning or there was not enough time at the end of the lesson to conclude it in a meaningful way. Get it right and lessons are meaningful, full of learning and there is a great teacher/learner relationship. Get it wrong and lessons are often characterised by boredom or conflict and challenge.
The risk of poor lesson planning
I have experienced lesson planning pro-forma that seek to address these issues but become so prescriptive that they do not allow for the natural dynamics of a lesson and risk creating the same outcome they are trying to avoid.
There is a simple but effective way to ensure lesson planning creates the type of lesson we would ideally like in our teaching and that is to plan a lesson as a learner and not as a teacher.
Think about how, as a learner, you would like the lesson structured and the pace or balance of the lesson. As a learner, you would like time to become familiar with the learning challenge, time to explore or practice and to establish your understanding and then to have an opportunity to consolidate the learning or perhaps ask questions to further your understanding. These stages should characterise the beginning, middle and end of a lesson. The ‘mindful’ teacher addresses these needs in their planning and delivery.
Power Belonging Choice and Fun in lesson planning
Planning lessons around subject material is only one aspect of the planning, we need to consider the learner needs too. I define these needs as power, belonging, choice and fun and suggest we ignore them at our peril. Within a calm learning environment, a teacher needs to lead, to guide their students not to push them or over-regulate their behaviour and we can do this if we meet their learning needs. In doing so we can create effective learning relationships and improve learning outcomes.
The beginning, middle and end
Meeting learning needs (power, belonging, choice and fun) is important at the start, during and at the end of all lessons. Addressing them in our planning will help us create the engagement we are looking for as well as creating effective relationships. A relationship that allows for that dynamic of being able to respond to the unexpected teaching and learning challenges in a meaningful way without disrupting the lesson flow. We may on such occasions leave the subject content planning path but by doing so we will better support our learners because we are meeting their needs.
The start of a lesson should include how we are going to meet the need for belonging. Perhaps the greeting and arrival are ideal opportunities to do so. Offering guided choice and listening to the ‘student voice’ can be included too during the lesson. Linking fun to achievement is our greatest challenge and we must include opportunities to celebrate learning at the end.
“Please be child friendly”
My way of remembering learning needs is simple and apt. “Please Be Child Friendly” when planning and teaching. The graphic is also something you can print off and keep at hand.
A different way of looking at teaching and learning
PBCF is part of an approach to teaching I refer to as “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short, and looks at how the learner and teacher can manage the learning environment to promote better learning and improve learning relationships. If you are interested in LQ or just PBCF then get in touch I am more than happy to talk you through how, with only small changes, the approach can make a significant impact on teaching and learning.
It’s not often, unfortunately, that I find another teaching professional who writes a post that corroborates my work on LQ and PBCF but here is one by Jodie Jasmin
Jodie shares her first thoughts when students are not engaged in the learning.
“My first thoughts when I hear a student is consistently misbehaving are;
1. What’s happening at home?
2. Do you have a good teacher-student bond?
3. Does your teacher speak to you with respect?
4. Are the lesson activities engaging and tailored to your needs?”
Sound familiar? It will if you have been reading this blog.
Jodie’s list clearly points to the four learning needs of Power Belonging Choice and Fun that we all have and must fulfil to be engaged in the learning process.
It’s a great article, and I am not just saying that because it looks as though we are of similar mind. Jodie hits the nail on the head quite nicely. By meeting learning needs you will find learning behaviour the primary behaviour in your lesson. As Jodie sums up by saying
“It’s about taking simple ideas and seeing how we can deconstruct a basic task to recreate a better idea in support of all students learning – knowing them and what they need in order to focus, because they truly are all worth it.”
Jodie’s full article is hosted here on Te@cher Toolkit:
You can find my article on LQ and lesson planning here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6
My introduction to PBCF can be found here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-4
Is creativity important, and specifically is it so in teaching and learning?
My short answer, “Yes”.
I would argue that without creativity there is the danger of not challenging what we do and why we do it. Possibly to go blindly along with what we are told without question for we have no drive, no vision of how things could be different, no need even, to do anything different. Without creativity in our lives, we risk seeing the world only as a series of things we are directed to achieve in the way we are shown to achieve them. Should we forgo challenge and accept obedience? This may be fine when we want or need compliance[i] but do we want compliant learners or those who challenge us to explain or justify what it is we want them to learn?
What’s this thing called, love? (it’s all in the punctuation!)
It would appear that how to define creativity is a bit of a problem. My evidence for this is the number of texts that have set out to do just that, to put creativity into a box, to define it. A good review of the thinking on creativity is by Arthur J Cropley in “Creativity in education & learning a guide for teachers and educators”[ii] . It is one of those books I have to force myself to read lightly, to almost skim read, at first for there is so much to think about on each and every page. I would describe his work as a comprehensive review of almost every work on creativity up to that point. There are a staggering 17 pages of references to support his review and thinking.
In his book Cropley declared “Creativity is understood here as production of novelty”. You have to start somewhere! I cannot imagine the world where things remain the same, always. I like to think of creativity as an act of doing something differently. Either in the process or the outcome or even the approach can be different it does not matter, what matters is there was some purposeful thought or action that preceded it or that was involved that was different to how it was before. Looking at things in a different way, from a different perspective, and perhaps discovering new insights or ways of doing something.
The act of being creative is important to me. I find it is a driver, a force, an energy that pushes you to do things. I know when the opportunity to be creative is being withheld a form of stress builds within me. I have seen the same effect in others too. Without the opportunity to be creative in whatever we do or to have an outlet for our creativity people suffer. It does not matter how creativity is expressed only that it is allowed. For me, this may be through innovation, humour or in any form of problem-solving or making. I believe that by being creative, it helps in seeing the world and its challenges as a problem or series of problems to solve. Possibly and more importantly, as problems that can be solved.
Problem-solving or being creative is my approach to teaching and learning too. It is why I formed Advocating Creativity (also “4c3d”*); it is my way of promoting creativity in education as well as being creative myself. Creativity is not just as a subject but a way of thinking, a way to improve learning. Creativity is a way of changing “can’t do” to “how to do”. A way of doing what is needed and not just what is asked for. I see creativity as a way of making things happen rather than waiting for them to happen. Being creative also means taking an element of both control and responsibility for whatever it is we are involved in, this is because we will affect the outcome in some way.
Why I believe education systems are particularly poor at being creative is twofold. The first is because the process of becoming a teacher and of gaining mastery can inhibit creativity. Teachers need to master their subject, they need to know it so well they can explain it to others and guide them through knowledge to understanding. Teachers need to set challenges and assess progress all of which requires mastery. Teachers are not novices; they are practised masters. Traditionally teachers are not solving a problem when they teach but instead delivering a solution. Importantly it is a solution they have derived from their learning. Further, they are familiar with the material way beyond novice and may forgo in their teaching what may now appear to be a trivial and unimportant element. Cropley puts it this way “Working in same area over a long period of time leads to high levels of familiarity within the field but blunts acuteness of the vision or inhibits openness to the spark of inspiration.”
The second reason we may see limited or no creativity in the process of teaching and learning is the focus on reaching targets. To be more precise the single focus on reaching a target that prevents us doing something different. Doing only that which is already being or has been done (despite success or the lack of it) to achieve the target is a real problem.
Being creative means we could be taking a risk by doing something different in a risk aversion environment. A target driven focus often means doing things an approved or recognised way. We can quickly get bogged down in our thinking with doing things the “approved” way rather than exploring different approaches. In doing things differently, there is also the risk to the teacher of returning to the novice stage once again, to revert to being a learner. I think I saw this most in the 1980’sand 1990’s with the development of IT in schools. At the time many teachers had been taught without such a resource and struggled to include its use in their lessons or to adapt their lessons to make good use of it. Many were fearful of the technology because they felt like novices once again. Having learners know more than you do is frightening for some teachers, at least it was!
I would argue that an emphasis on “success” rather than learning results in the system being driven towards a “ready solution” focused mindset. This is one where any “recognised” theory (seen as having an academic backing or reputed to have worked in the past) or approach that offers a solution to improving learning is more often than not readily adopted. This is especially the case if the theory has a research or academic pedigree. It is my experience that theories with such a pedigree will outweigh practical experience every time. Creativity from practitioners, from teachers, rarely gets a look-in if there is an “expert” spouting a solution.
Adopting a creative approach to learning is tremendously powerful if you see learning as a problem-solving activity. Once you adopt this approach to learning and a creative mindset, then many more pieces of the learning jigsaw begin to fit together. We find by adopting a problem-solving approach a landscape occurs in which theories can be seen for what they are, attempts to explain how learning takes place.
More accurately by adopting a creative problem-solving approach we see the ways in which we attempt to explain why some people learn some things easier, better or even quicker than others. The danger is when we mandate or replicate ways without applying a degree of creativity in supporting a process of adopting the practice as opposed to just adoption. Adoption only is a form of pseudo-creativity for it is not a problem-solving approach but one of solving a problem.
We can try to adopt what some other institution or organisation does to solve what we perceive as the same issue only to find it does not work. In such circumstances, the lack of creativity in adapting the approach means it fails, but worse still it is not the approach that is blamed but more often those who implement it. People are asked to work harder and are monitored closely and more frequently to discover where the failing lies. What they are not doing is considering the unique nature of their situation and adapting the approach to suit. I have seen the stress and damage this creates in an organisation first hand, and it is to be avoided at all costs!
So why is creativity important in teaching and learning? Here are a few of my suggestions.
- It is because it causes us to look at processes and practices in an objective way and challenge them.
- It asks us to consider our unique situations and how we can best achieve our aims within them.
- It encourages us to think outside of the box, to take risks but confirms our sense of ownership and responsibility.
- It helps us see what works and why and what to avoid doing what does not no matter what the pressures are.
- It is a way of getting things done, to break the cycle of doing what has always been the practice before without considering the value.
- It helps us lose our fear of being wrong.
- It creates and sustains the energy of learning, of discovery and of challenge.
**”4c3d” is leetspeak for “ace-d”. I had to get creative as ace-d had already been taken on Twitter and WordPress!
[ii] Creativity in Education & Learning: A Guide for Teachers and Educators, A. J. Cropley
Psychology Press, 2001
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”
As teachers we break a subject down into components or elements of knowledge and understanding, into learning steps if you like. We then find the “best” way to deliver these steps in a way learners will, with a measured degree of effort, assimilate. This process is influenced by our knowledge and understanding of pedagogy and our relationship with the learners. In short we “scaffold” learning. Fairly straightforward but have you thought about it from a learner’s perspective? No? – Well read on!
Using what we know to learn what we don’t know
I have come to believe that we learn by building on what we know. This to me is a sort of mental map of my knowledge and understanding, knowing and learning (yes there is a difference, see this article: http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba). The bigger and more detailed the map the more confident we are and easier we find learning something new. For example it has been shown that speaking more than one language helps in learning a new language. I have a way of visualising this process of building on what I already know and call it “anchoring”. I look to make sense of what it is I am trying to learn or understand by referencing it with what I already know or understand what I have already learnt. I make links between what I already know and what I need to learn.
Anchoring essentially involves problem solving, an important aspect of Learning Intelligence, LQ (download a leaflet here: about-lq-with-lq-graphic). This is how this approach works and how a teacher can use it effectively in their lessons.
From the learner’s perspective
1) As the topic or subject is introduced we have to look and listen for words or phrases we already recognise.
2) We cannot assume they mean the same thing in this scenario as they do in others so we need to seek clarification and check meaning and relevance.
3) We take enough time to reflect on how what we know fits in with what we are learning. This also involves asking questions to check the links are valid.
4) Next is a sort of consolidation phase, where we explore a little further trying to see where what we know already and what we are trying to learn may take us.
5) This leads to as a sort of prediction phase where the links are established and we are ready to embark on a new learning journey. We can make educated guesses or predictions if given certain pieces of information.
So learning starts by seeing learning as a problem to solve and a period of analysis and reflection.
From the teacher’s perspective
1) Ask yourself what students need to know or understand in order to make a start on this topic and prepare questions you can ask to check before starting the topic.
2) Don’t assume understanding. Often the same words or phrases can be learnt without understanding. Build in a check and reflection phase during the topic introduction. Acknowledge and praise where students show understanding or can make links with relevant knowledge.
3) Create an opportunity for students to identify what they already know and how it can be useful in the learning process.
4) Introduce risk taking in the learning process. Encourage students to make assumptions or predictions about the new topic. Here are some questions that can be used to initiate this process. “Knowing what we know already what might happen if…?” “How do you think this might link to…?” You are actually leading up to “Let’s find out”
5) Don’t underestimate how much effort this takes on the part of the learner. Allow for structured mental breaks and reflection periods. Build in activities that create opportunity for pair or small group work and class feedback sessions.
The proof is in the pudding
I have tried this out on myself in learning about path-finding algorithms used in game programming and after 50 minutes I was in need of a mental break despite being very interested. I went through all the steps I suggest a student goes through here. During the process I was not passive, there is no good sitting there and hoping you are on the same page as the teacher. Learning intelligence, LQ, is about managing your learning environment and that means interacting with it.
There are two other observations to make about this approach. Firstly I was able to contribute much sooner than if I had just listened. I was in an active learner state earlier. This is important if we as learners are going to maximise opportunities for learning. For teachers it means a greater rate of progress.
Secondly I have a deeper understanding of the topic in a much shorter period of time and anchors that can be used to recall the learning links later. These anchors can be thought of the start of trail of “bread crumbs” marking our thought and learning associations. In case of reviewing or revisiting what we have learnt, and possibly forgotten, we can pick up the trail again starting from an established anchor point. By following the same trail we reach the same understanding but importantly we can do this independently using our internal prompts. A simplified example is knowing that 12 x 12 is 144 so when asked what 24 x 12 is we can start at 12 x 12 and quickly recognise we are talking about twice as much.
I would be interested if you scaffold your teaching or learning in this way too.
Schools are pushing students at this time of year to make or exceed their target grades. A great deal goes on both during school, after school and during holidays to finish coursework or to revise topics. Revision strategies most commonly ask students to go over ground they have already covered, often in the same way with the same teachers and approach. What if there was a better way to reach those targets grades?
If we take a sporting analogy for a moment we can see that there is more to performance than learning how to do something and practicing it. Athletes have to believe in their ability to succeed and without this mental state it matters little how often they practice or train. What if our students did not believe in their ability and what if we did little to change that state of mind? Would it matter how much revision or practice they did if at heart they did not believe they would succeed?
In 2016 Roy Leighton was involved with a school in Leicester in changing mind-sets of a group of Y11 students. They were using a ‘better way’ to help students achieve and it does not involve revision in any school subject but it will pay off across all of them. In fact it will have a lifelong pay off for the students because they will believe in themselves.
I had the opportunity to accompany Roy on a visit to the school to meet with some of the students during the Easter Holiday and to see the better way in action. The better way is actually called the “Butterfly Model” and it is something Roy has been developing and refining very successfully. I have known Roy for some time and our work has a number of common elements including enabling learners to manage their own learning and to understand the emotional impact on our ability to learn. Roy once said to me: “We are holding different ends of the same stick” and I take this as a both a compliment and encouragement for developing my work on Learning Intelligence seeing how big the stick is that he is holding.
I recommend you check out his work on personal transformation here: http://www.royleighton.com/the-butterfly-model1.html
What gets students engaged and motivated?
From my own experience and work on getting Y11 ‘down to it’ I know that getting them motivated is the essential. I have identified four key elements that are necessary to getting people to engage and hence motivated. The first is PBCF.
PBCF “Please Be Child Friendly” is a way of remembering the four elements shown in my graphic below. I would challenge you to find anything in which you are actively engaged that does not involve these four components.
The second aspect is LQ and shares the same roots as Roy’s stick! It’s about a mindset and them enabling and supporting the engagement of learners by developing the Skills, Attitudes, Attributes and Behaviours that form the enabling aspect of LQ. You can read more about LQ, starting with an introduction here at LQ Introduction
Back to the school and students who voluntarily came in during the holiday to meet with Roy and carry on with the programme. This was his 4th visit and there are others to come along with “hangouts”, text messages and online resources that are part of the programme. This may sound like an advert for the Butterfly model but hey if you see something that works you should share it – right!
The session focused on being the person you want to be, making the changes you need to make and recognising the powerful emotions that influence our self-beliefs as learners. “Getting from here, to where you want to be”. Not your typical exam boosting session but one that is as essential as any in achieving success, just ask any athlete.
As students reflected on the last session and what they decided they wanted to keep, develop and let go you could see their energy rise ready for the challenges this session would provide. A significant difference to getting students to go over work they have already struggled with again which does little to alter their “learning map”, what they believe they can and cannot learn.
Looking at ourselves and recognising our strengths and our weaknesses is difficult, acknowledging these and then deciding what to do about it even harder, but hardest of all is actually doing something about it. I saw students fully engaged in this journey, facing up to the challenges and changing their beliefs about themselves as learners and having fun while they did so.
With the pressures schools face and not forgetting how these find their way to the teachers it is refreshing to see a school take a different approach, a better way, to achieving success. Some may even say a “braver way” and in many respects I would have to agree. Doing what is the norm, even if it does not always work, is less risky than doing something that is right when it is not recognised. The students who attended this session are in many ways pioneers and deserve recognition. I am sure they will show others there is a better way and I look forward to hearing of their success.
Want to explore the PBCF and LQ intervention and how it can help your students?
Get in touch with me via e-mail here:
Some time ago I came across a TEDx Blog by Krystian Aparta about an “Open Translation Project” where translators shared their secrets to mastering a foreign language. This got me to thinking about learning and what I call “Learning Intelligence” or “LQ”
First, a bit about LQ
LQ is our ability to adapt our environment to meet our learning needs. This is just what these translators were doing – managing their learning environment to make learning easier and quicker. LQ consists of a set of skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours (easy to remember “SAAB”) we can develop to help us learn. What the translators were doing is a great example of using LQ to learn and you can use this approach to learn anything.
So I set about changing the language and examples used by the translators to make it appropriate to learning anything using LQ.
The outcome is 7 things any learner you can do to learn anything. They are quite simple things to do but bring huge benefits making learning easier and quicker. See what you think, I have created a graphic to showcase the 7 stages in how to learn anything.
Here are brief descriptors of each one to go along with the poster.
Start with “Get real”, a way of ensuring your goals are achievable. Some people use the acronym “SMART” for targets or goals. SMART targets are specific, measurable, realistic and time-related. If you Google SMART targets you will find them in use in business, coaching and other areas of life. The meaning of some of the letters can change “relevant” or realistic” is an example. They are ideally realistic, achievable within the time frame and can be supported by whatever else you are doing. Don’t take on too much at once.
This task is about arranging things so that what you want to learn is part of your life, you are reminded or encouraged throughout the day to keep learning. Reminder or information notes around the house can be one strategy you use or joining a club another.
There is often more to learn about something than what you first think so go exploring. What you discover and experience can help you learn easier and remember much more making the topic far more interesting and memorable.
Technology (mobile phones, computers, tablets etc) are all excellent ways of accessing information. Just be careful and remember that not everything you read is accurate or true. You can also join forums and ask questions. For more about “e-learning” see this article and guide.
Knowing why you are learning something is important for being motivated. Find out what the benefits of learning will be for you and when. Learning to drive may give you independence and becoming awesome at manipulating numbers may help you get a job.
Learning on your own is hard, learning with others who want to learn the same thing is much easier. You will find you can quiz each other or set each other challenges or just revise. You can also receive encouragement from others when things get difficult to understand (they normally do when learning something new)
Task 7 is an important reminder not to worry about making mistakes. We all make mistakes and one common barrier to learning is the fear of failing but that this is just a step towards achieving your goal. Okay not a big step and perhaps a backwards step at times but a step none the less. Learn from your mistakes.
I am happy for you to download and use the above graphic but please acknowledge the source.
If you would like a high resolution graphic file to download and print then I can make these available, just drop me an e-mail, email@example.com and include “H2LA” in the subject.
A time of exams and a time of testing
Here in the UK we are rapidly moving towards the Y11 and Y13 examination or key stage 2 testing phase in our schools. These are significant transition points in education and carry with them considerable pressures. Get it right and learners have life choices, get it wrong and we are “picking up the pieces” in a number of ways.
How can parents help their children during this time?
The question I want to look at in this article is “What can parents do to support their children at such times as these?” It is a summary of the workshop I offer to schools and parent groups. I also want to provide strategies that can help both the parent and the child deal with the upcoming challenges by way of a PARENT acronym.
The issue of homework
Whilst examinations and tests are points of high involvement and stress for parents there is the issue of homework too. Homework tends to increase prior to periods of testing and is often seen as synonymous with revision. Much of what I say here applies to the daily issue of homework, especially if we aim to foster lifelong learning and don’t want the morning ritual in many homes that starts with the question “Have you got your homework?” and ends with both parents and children being stressed.
Let’s start by looking at things from the learner’s perspective.
They will have had mock examinations or practice tests by now and be rehearsed in the practices that are involved in taking them. They will be trying to reach expectations or maintain progress towards them. For some it may be an expectation too far, they may already be beginning to fold under the pressure. Even if they have done well so far there is the pressure to do it for real when the time comes. Revision and homework don’t have to be lone activities, you being in the same room can be a form of support. Without a strategy and without support we are expecting a great deal from our children.
The learning environment
Remember we are all different and where you like to study is not the same as your child’s. There are a number of myths around where study should take place but the common one is on your own and in a quite place. Think for a moment, at a time of stress and anxiety do you relish the idea of being sent to your room, to be isolated? Few of us do. I even moved my own home office into the “flow” of the home rather than be isolated from the energy that is part of family life. Remember we look forward to things we enjoy and put off the things we don’t! Working at the kitchen table, lounging on the sofa or on the bed, indoors or outdoors . With bright light or dim light, with music or without. These are all acceptable places and ways to study. The key though is to be organised.
Remembering the ways to help
Here is an acronym or mnemonic (I am not sure which you would call it) that can help PARENTs be supportive of learners and I am going to use it to outline the strategies parents can use to effectively engage with their children. A more detailed workshop can be provided for a group of parents or you can request a copy of “The Parents Guide to Study” from the link at the end of this article. The basic approach is to be “gently” involved, think of your role as being more of a “guide” than a task master or time keeper.
The meaning of the acronym PARENT is to:
Participate, Ask questions, Reflect, Encourage, Negotiate, Time
What each letter means
Participate – Find out what is going on. Know the dates and key times of all examinations or tests. Provide a reason and relevance for doing their best (not rewards). Work at using peer groups to provide support and not distractions. Understand what learning needs and preferences your child has (for example some like the quiet and others like a busy background). Homework does not have to be alone work either.
Ask questions – but do not interrogate – AVOID using “Why?” , it makes us defensive (try it, ask somebody why they are doing whatever it is they are doing and see what response you get). Find out what topics are being studied and see what you know about them. You can ask about how they remember best or what new things have you learnt. You can ask your children to explain things to you (pretend if you do know or understand that you do not). Ask how they think they can improve. Use positive emotional triggers – “How did you feel when you did well at….?”
Reflect – find or make opportunities for your children to reflect, recap, internalise, or explain. Short periods work best and if you can make them spontaneous so much the better. Remember mistakes are part of the learning process. Work at building self-esteem, it’s going to take a battering!
Encourage – it’s important you stay positive and purposeful and not to let negativity build. Focus on getting better and not just results. Show how much you believe effort leads to success and set a good example. Praise only when praise is due and make it specific.
Negotiate – it’s about goal setting and creating win/win situations. AVOID bribery. Talk about consequences and be consistent. Remember choice is a powerful motivator but not if it is free choice.
Time – our lives are influenced by every second. A break or leisure activity are as important as studying if managed properly. They can keep us fresh and can break negative moods. Plan ahead to try to minimise anxiety and stress where you can. Rehearse what will happen at key times so they are part of the process and as ‘normal’ or familiar as they can be.
The PARENT Poster
To make it easier to remember the parent role I have designed a poster that you can put on a wall, cupboard door or any place you find yourself passing by regularly.
As a PARENT learn to stand back
Although PARENTS is also a useful acronym I have left the “s” out of the acronym as it stands for “stand back“. Learning to stand back is probably the hardest thing for a parent to do. Let them make mistakes, it’s part of learning. Your job is not to do it for them. I know this can be nail biting and frustrating but better to learn the lessons of life early. I have worked with college/university students who are in a terrible state because they have not developed the skills to cope on their own or do not know how to handle failure.
Well that is how to be a PARENT at a time of examination or testing and during homework time. I hope you found it useful.
Using the PARENT poster.
I am happy for you to download and use the graphic in this article but please acknowledge the copyright. The poster in high resolution pdf format is available via a request sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, just put Parent Poster in the subject box.
If you are a school and want a license to print as many posters as you wish, starting at £25 a year, get in touch at email@example.com and I will send you the details
PS – Possible book for parents
I am considering extending this article into a guide for parents “The Parents Guide to Supporting Home Study”. If this is something you would like to see then please let me know (via twitter @4c3d or e-mail)and I will put pen to paper!
The Learning Relationship explained
Let’s start by explaining what a “learning relationship” is. This graphic is my way of showing how the responsibility for learning should, over time, pass from the teacher to the learner. The time period may be a single term, year, key stage, a course, or educational phase (primary/secondary). This is the form of relationship that will ultimately produce independent rather than dependent learners, learners able to manage their own learning rather than be dependent on others to manage it for them.
At the start the teacher has the primary responsibility and will have planned and resourced the course. Little is expected of the learner other than turning up and having some basic equipment appropriate to the course. For example the learner responsibility may consist of turning up with a pen and pencil or include a book, an apron, or PE kit or other personal specialist subject equipment. A positive disposition is always useful as is an element of motivation to learn. Where these do not exist then the teacher has an additional, but not insurmountable challenge.
Once the course has started and the teacher sets out their expectations it becomes increasingly the responsibility of the learner to engage in the learning, making an effort to take part, to work at understanding and applying knowledge. Think of this as being set a topic to learn or a book to review or completing classwork and homework. This does not absolve the teacher of responsibility, as the diagram shows there is still a significant requirement on the teacher and these may take the form of motivating, encouraging, coaching, or tailoring approaches and materials etc. There is never a point where the teacher is without some responsibility.
Planned responsibility changes
There comes a time in the learning relationship period when the teacher will temporarily take back some of the responsibility. This reclaiming some element of responsibility is primarily is a time of redirecting, initiating, review or assessment of (and for) learning. It is both a small percentage of what has already transferred and for a limited period of time only. There may be several of these occasions over the course but it important to recognise that each one is planned and forms part of the process. The teacher will prepare the learner for such occasions making sure that they understand the purpose and outcome of each one.
Lesson planning needs to account for this approach and I have written about how that can happen and what it looks like here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6 A more in depth lesson approach is in the form of mindful learning, again I have covered this topic in an earlier article. See here “An Introduction to Mindful Teaching”: http://wp.me/p2LphS-om and “Just what is Mindful Learning”: http://wp.me/p2LphS-u for ways to question and interact with learners that promotes learning responsibility both from a learner and teacher perspective. A great deal of my work on Learning Intelligence, or LQ, is based on finding ways to promote in learners the ability to manage their own learning environment to meet their learning needs. The idea of the learning responsibility ratio is part of that work.
So what can be so powerful as to distort this ideal model of teaching and learning?
Martin Robinson (www.martinrobinson.net) says in his article “Teachers, Cheating and Selling Achievement” [i]
“Different children every year are expected to perform better than children did the year before. This means that although every year the children change, the school is expected to improve, the children are not the reason for this improvement, the school is. This is not teacher centred or child centred education, it is school centred, and with statistical modelling it will be school eat school out there.”
How then does this impact on the teaching and learning responsibilities?
Consider for a moment the concept of responsibility and who is most likely to assume or feel responsible for examination or test results. I am not asking who is responsible but who is most likely to act in a way that shows responsibility. My experience is it is the teacher who immediately feels responsibility for their students achievement and rightly so. Few teachers lack any form of relationship with their learners and are inclined to feel an element of responsibility. There are however caveats to carrying this burden. If the teacher has done everything they can or could do and despite their best efforts the learner has failed to comply with instruction, complete work, or co-operate with the teacher then we would probably agree it is not the teacher’s fault. The outcome is not the teacher’s responsibility (fault).
In a high stakes environment that requires year on year improvement, that sets threshold levels or standards it is not acceptable to describe a lack of achievement as being down to the learner. Blame must be allocated. Blaming the learner[ii] will not wash with government and so it must be the school that is at fault. The school after all is both a responsible organisation and an identifiable target more so than any individual pupil. The stupidity of this is made clear if we take the following example.
A man is driving (the pupil) a perfectly good, safe, car (the school) and loses control and crashes.
Let’s consider who is responsible for the accident. Is it the car (the school) or the driver (the pupil) of the car who is responsible?
I think I would be safe in assuming most people would regard the driver to be at fault.
Distorting the Learning Responsibility line
The impact of blaming the school (and the school ultimately blaming the teacher) on the learning responsibility line is dramatic. It is no less dramatic on how learners can see themselves in terms of responsibility for the outcomes of their education. Let me give you a personal example of what I mean before showing you the revised learning responsibility line and explaining why it becomes so distorted.
I had a sixth form student join my class from a neighbouring school recognised as “outstanding”. He was struggling and appeared not to have a firm grasp of the basics despite having excellent GCSE grades. He was struggling and so I decided to ask why and see if I could not put things right. He listened attentively and politely said “You do it for me Sir. You know it will make you look good” Apart from being shocked by his answer, and his cheek, I began to wonder where this attitude had come from. What he had worked out was the distortional effects on the learning responsibility line brought about by the wrongful allocation of responsibility and accountability. He knew that because of his past track record of achievement any future “failure” could easily be accounted for by my teaching. It was I who was responsible for him succeeding. I was left wondering how long this particular student had known this! I did not “do it for him” and possibly that day he learnt his very first lesson. He never did finish the course!
Back to the distortion of the learning responsibility line of the Learning Responsibility Diagram. If the teacher takes back responsibility either by too large a degree or too frequently then the decent of the line is slowed and the transition becomes or assumes a “saw tooth” like profile rather than being gradually graded towards a transfer of responsibility.
The causes of the teacher resuming responsibility are always down to accountability. Teacher accountability arrives in a number of guises but always with the same drivers – assessment, inspection or observation. The higher the stakes the greater the number of occasions of imposed responsibility the teacher experiences. In such circumstances we also see a higher workload and greater levels of stress for the teacher. Teachers are for the most part compliant. They have their learner’s interest at heart and this makes them vulnerable to such pressures. Add in performance related pay, career impact of working in a “failing” school and you have the perfect storm conditions. If you make the consequences of “failing” high enough people, and teachers and schools are no exception, will do extraordinary things to make sure they don’t fail.
The outcome of the distorted learning line may not be seen in examination or performance results but it will be in the ability of the learner to manage their own learning to meet their learning needs. We will not have independent lifelong learners but we will have dependent learners who lack the responsibility for their own learning. We will have drivers that blame their cars for not preventing them from having accidents.
As for the teachers and the schools well we will probably have a teacher shortage and failing schools. There is no other possible long term outcome unless we change the focus of responsibility from the teacher to the learner. As Martin says “it will be school eats school out there” and this does nothing to promote learning or develop in the learner the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will enable them to manage their own learning – to be life long learners.
If you want to find out more about how the LQ approach can raise attainment and enable learners then please get in touch. I run workshops and I can address TeachMeets, run CPD events or the like.
Other related articles:
The return to school looks at how leadership influences learning relationships.
Part 4: The one and only learning theory that counts is … looks at how apportioning blame is the only outcome of one way of doing something. Blame follows after the tightening of procedures, monitoring and checking.
[ii] Once again I have explored the Blame Game in a series of articles called “The one and only learning theory that counts is…” You can find specific post concerning blame here: http://wp.me/p2LphS-r6
The way forward in overcoming the “one way” or benefiting from “other ways”.
How can learners deal with the one way if schools and teachers are unable to?
To put this into an action statement rather than a question we could say “How to not only survive your education but how to thrive during the experience”. Commenting on how things are is one thing, asking questions is another. The first is enlightening but not always helpful, the second is a little more proactive and starts us moving towards a solution.
Asking questions is part of having an open mind-set and of being creative. I like the idea of finding solutions, of solving problems, and there are known and proven strategies for doing so. Looking at learning as a problem is a good way of finding an alternative to the one way world of education.
Think of a time when as a student you enjoyed a lesson, enjoyed learning something. What was it about that lesson that left you with such an impression that it lasted long after the lesson ended?
My bet is that it’s a lot about the teacher and the way they taught. You probably found it “fun” but do any of these tally with what you were thinking?
- The lesson interested you
- You felt motivated to learn
- The teacher was passionate about the topic
- The pace and way of teaching suited you
- Mistakes were allowed not punished
- The teacher was helpful and patient
- You found it easy
- The lesson went by very quickly
What really happened in that lesson was that your learning needs were being met. Based on the work of William Glasser and my experience I believe that we have four learning needs and when these are being met we find it easier to engage in learning. I encourage teachers to “Please Be Child Friendly”, a mnemonic for the four learning needs PBCF. P is for power, giving students a voice. B is for creating a sense of belonging. C is for offering choices. F is for creating fun through learning. These are common needs and it is easy for the teacher to plan to meet these needs (see other posts inc: http://wp.me/p2LphS-4) but what about our learning preferences, how we like to learn. How easy is it for the one way to meet what can be rather individual preferences? The short answer is it isn’t!
Our learning preferences tend to develop because we favour them. This is because we feel comfortable in ourselves when we learn in this way, we are relaxed and not stressed. Unless we have the tools to understand and manage learning anxiety, stress and challenge then we tend to withdraw. It is like pulling your hand back from the fire when it gets too close and feels the intensity of the heat. If we were to employ a strategy, if we were to wear a glove, we would be able to hold our hand closer or for longer without the same level of discomfort. Preferences also change and are prone to influence from a number of quarters too.
The problems we face as learners is that we are not in control of the school learning environment, the teacher is. Teachers create learning environments that motivate and engage learners – well most of them do, most of the time. When they do it’s memorable. When it is not we are bored, restless, disengaged and finding learning hard.
It is not reasonable though to expect teachers to teach in a way that meets several learning preferences at the same time. We saw the folly of this when teachers were asked to plan and deliver lessons to meet different learning styles when this was the new “one way”. The result is learners with fixed mind-sets (I can only learn like this) and stressed teachers trying to spin several plates at the same time. Let me be clear I am not supporting the “one way “, what I am recommending is that teachers are encouraged to teach in a way that meets learning needs (essential) and that tolerates learning preferences but is as individual to them as their learner’s preferences are. There are a number of benefits to this approach, as I shall explain.
What learners are in control of is their learning preferences and how they respond to them in the learning environment. Learning how to respond positively in different learning environments is very useful. First however we have to distinguish those things that are our preferences. This may be easier than we think. Consider which lessons you like, which subjects and which teachers. If we remove the learning needs elements (PBCF) from the equation then there will be an element of your learning preferences present in each favoured environment. Preferences may include the ability to work in a group, to discuss ideas, to work independently, to receive guidance or being encouraged to take risks. Whatever they are you like them to be present in a learning environment. When they are not you feel uncomfortable and engagement and motivation are harder to achieve. You will also probably assume you cannot learn in that subject or with that teacher.
Carol Dweck [i] (Growth Mind-set) and Guy Claxton[ii] (Building Learning Power) are two educational thinkers who have taken steps to break the link between our ability to learn and a fixed trait, that of intelligence. Albert Bandura [iii], also the subject of an article by ace-d (see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-lg ) says “Given the same environmental conditions, persons who have developed skills for accomplishing many options and are adept at regulating their own motivation and behaviour are more successful in their pursuits than those who have limited means of personal agency.” So it is within ourself that we can turn to find the skills, attributes, attitudes, and behaviours to manage our learning environment to meet our learning preferences but we can also change our preferences or at least find ways of preventing them from limiting our ability to learn.
The benefit of experiencing “other ways” is that it can both encourage and support us in developing those skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours identified through Learning Intelligence that are essential in managing our own learning. A student who experiences more than way of teaching, more than one way of learning is more likely, with the right support from the teacher or parent or mentor, to develop ways of overcoming learning limitations by exposure to them. Those who just face the “one way” may do well in such environments so long as their learning needs are being met along with their learning preferences but this is limiting for as soon as they move outside of this zone they are lost. They do not possess the skills to deal with such experiences. This applies to the compliant learners [iv]as well as those who regarded as “gifted and talented” within the school environment and context.
The impact on the learner of the “one way” is significant. Consider a scenario where the learner is struggling and how the teacher is able (allowed) to respond within the constraints of a prescribed model. If the teacher models learning as prescribed then the implication for the learner self-image is that they are unable to learn that subject or topic. The logic may be flawed, the result of an inexperienced learner but then many learners are not experienced at learning, only being taught.
My view and recommendation is that:
- schools should ensure that learning needs (PBCF) are being addressed and
- that teachers are teaching to their strengths and in a way that is organised and supports their passion for their subject. It is essential that that passion is tangible to the learner.
- ensure learners understand their learning preferences and that these are neither fixed or where absent barriers to learning only challenges to overcome.
- we should work hard at promoting the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours identified through Learning Intelligence that ultimately enable the learner to manage their own learning environment.
We must also remember that the school is but one learning environment and that there are others both traditional (parents and peers) as well as those that are present on the internet (YouTube, Khan Academy, MOOC’s etc). If we do not assist the learner to learn in the environment we create then we risk them either learning outside of it (without guidance) or not learning at all.
What we need to do to combat the one way is to promote and develop Learning Intelligence in our schools.
Below is the collective list of the skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours that form LQ. All can be developed given the desire to do so.
Link to part 1 of this series of articles on learning theory.
Part 4. The impact of the no one learning environment cont.
A blame culture, the ultimate outcome of the “one way”.
Earlier I explored the impact of the one way not working. I described how in my experience it leads to the tightening of monitoring and checking systems, inflexible frameworks and the limiting of creativity (or in some cases finding “creative” ways around inflexibility). Now we turn to whose fault is it the one way is not working.
If the one way to learn, the prescribed approach, is not working then it is the fault of someone. Who is that “someone”? At the start there are always a lot of things to point the finger at, after time though the number dwindles. That someone was the Local Education Authority, trendy (lazy) teachers, progressive teaching methods, low aspirations, parents, disruptive students etc. Now it is either the leadership of the school or the teacher or a lack of effort on the part of the learner (also the fault of the teacher). In such cases it is easy to get into a cycle of finger pointing or a blame culture.
We in the UK are definitely into a blame culture and as we move further and further into it the language used by government gives this away. We hear things like “we are introducing a new check”, “pupils at risk of falling behind” , “target those areas” and “children aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed”. More the language of war you would think (the outcome of desperation?) than education perhaps. Then there is the “takeover” manoeuvre (there is that war analogy again!), the one where those who were “in charge” or responsible are no longer trusted and a new regime is installed. In the UK it is academy trusts who take over “failing schools” but these are also failing (as we would expect if the one way does not work!). It’s certainly a dilemma for any government that persists on the one way path. I suppose with so much invested in the one way, both personally, as well as politically, it is hard if not impossible to even consider another way let alone more than one way.
What we do know is the learning environment created by the pursuit at all costs of the one way is very toxic for those involved in leadership, teaching, and learning. Finding a way to deal with this environment is the key to improving teaching and learning. We know that through regulation and inspection leadership and teachers have their hands tied so this leaves the learner. A simple analogy that describes how we may proceed in dealing with a toxic environment that is not going to change is living somewhere really cold and wanting to be warm. You can ask for sunnier days, less snow and ice each year or longer summers and shorter winters until you are blue in the face (ignoring climate change). You are asking for the unlikely if not impossible. The more successful way is to acclimatise yourself to the environment and seek ways of managing it in order to get what you want – to be warm. So you learn what clothes to wear and how to wear them, you practice ways of getting and keeping warm and after a while you are warm, despite the environment.
If we take the same approach in teaching and learning then it’s not about changing the learning environment to meet the needs of the learner it’s about equipping the learner to manage the learning environment to meet their learning needs. This is important not only because of the one way problem but because we do not learn just in schools or managed environments. We have the opportunity to learn in a number of different environments. For example at home, in work, during leisure and in a social setting are all potential learning environments. My experience is that some learners do not do well in one school environment but thrive in another, some do not do well in any formal education environment but thrive when on work placements, and some excel in leisure pursuits but do less well in school. They are the same person but achieve differently in different environments. If we wanted evidence that we need to equip learners with the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours (SAAB) to manage their learning environment then we need look no further than these examples. Where their SAAB matches the environment they flourish, where it does not they struggle.
My claim is that in these situations the learner possesses the appropriate SAAB profile for the environment in which they thrive but not the profile for those where they struggle. It occurs to me that we need to broaden or develop the SAAB profile of the learner such that they can thrive in any learning environment. We need to work with the learner to explore their learning needs and how this impacts on their learning beliefs. To build in the learner the ability to see a difficulty to learn not as a personal weakness but as a result of the environment they are in and not having the SAAB to mange it effectively.
Links to earlier parts are:
Why there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.
Over the years teachers have been asked to plan and deliver lessons to specific models. These models have included meeting various learning styles, multiple intelligences, and differences in ability. Teachers are now being asked to adopt a “growth mind-set” approach when dealing with learners (if they do not already have one what are they doing in teaching?) Views on how best to teach a particular aspect also change and teachers have been instructed in the way to teach reading and mathematical concepts with each supporter or instigator claiming theirs to be better than the other. Strangely enough we could have expected this dichotomy to have been resolved by now if there was one way to teach and to learn! Perhaps this is evidence of sorts for there not being a “one way”.
This situation of new ideas replacing old and then being replaced by old ones re-discovered and of to-ing and fro-ing is unhelpful for teachers and for learners in a number of ways. Firstly it ignores teaching and learning experience. Experience of what works and what does not work and in what circumstances. I suggest that a variety of approaches and teaching strategies is the hallmark of a seasoned teacher. They are able to respond and adapt to meet the dynamics of a lesson in a way that maintains engagement and supports learning. To ignore, or in some way supress this experience, is not helpful. I have seen excellent teachers be sacrificed on the altar of the “one way” because instead of going with their instinct they stuck to the plan. Instead of using experience to take another way in achieving the same aim they tried to apply an inappropriate strategy determined by the one way. At the least the one way produces conflict and at the worst high levels of job related stress.
When the “one way” does not have a level playing field and there are high stakes implications for not reaching the same standards then a second undermining condition occurs. This can be summed up by the term “playing the system”. Ways are found to produce the required output at all costs because these are far less than the impact of not doing so. Once discovered then this leads to attempts to strengthen the original one way systems. This is a spiral of pressure, playing the system, tightening the system controls and more pressure.
Wanting to do things one way also calls for conformity rather than supporting or stimulating innovation. This is something I claim leads to much narrower inspection frameworks. Frameworks that by their very nature, become inflexible and constraining. There is a natural outcome of an inflexible framework and that is any responsibility for lack of success is directed not at the framework itself but at those operating it or being inspected by it. The logic flows along the lines of if it’s not the framework at fault, and it cannot be, then it must be the people. The spiral of decline and blame is there for all to see whenever we have this situation. The result is a very toxic environment for the people as the means to support the framework is strengthened in an effort to make it work. It never will but that does not stop those that believe in it trying to make it. Efforts are made to drive up standards and grades re-assessed or re-defined even if the framework standards are being achieved. This is because the framework is fundamentally flawed and cannot produce the desired outcomes. The stupidity of this approach defies only those who instigate and support it.
When the one way is not working then changes occur, not in broadening the approach but instead as I have suggested earlier, in standards or grade definitions. This adds an element of insecurity and confusion for those involved. What is the old “C” in terms of the new level? Why is this subject included and this one excluded? Changes of this nature also make demands on time and energy as the people work to accommodate the changes.
What is worse is when eventually the current one way is dismantled to be replaced not by an amalgam, a variety or a blend, but once again by the new one way. Yesterday’s best way becomes today’s “must avoid” as each “new way “undermines earlier “new ways”. What is worse is the latest ideas fail to be the one way it is claimed to be and the old way becomes the new way once again.
I have seen first-hand the draining nature of this approach, of imposing a one way approach to teaching and learning. Teachers keep their heads down, they have little enthusiasm, or energy for new ideas or innovation, be it good or bad. Some vote with their feet and leave the profession.
Yes we learn from experience and so things evolve but surely this should make us aware of the dangers of the “one way” mentality in teaching and learning. The power of Learning Intelligence is that it opens our eyes to the effects of the one way and empowers us to do something about it. It also provides the reassurance and boost to confidence we need when being challenged by the one way syndrome.
As a result of our desire in education to find the magic bullet, the one way to teach and ideal way to learn that will make our education systems the best I would argue we are neglecting the learner. We are requiring compliance rather than seeking engagement. I would go as far as saying we are disabling the learner. For part 1 of this article the link is: http://wp.me/p2LphS-qA
Surely every new idea, theory, or approach is aimed at making it easier or better for the learner. So how can this be? The answer lies in the impact on the learner and their involvement in the learning.
Building our self-perception as a learner
Experience should suggest to anyone in teaching or wanting to learn that we each have learning preferences, those things that we believe help us to learn. Some feel more alert in the morning or like to discuss ideas with others rather than read about them. It may be the environment we are in, who we are with or any number of other factors that influence our moods and energy levels. Our learning preferences often change too, they are after all preferences. Like all preferences they are influenced by context, our own emotional, mental and physical development as well as our environment. We present our learning preferences as learning needs (tangibly some times as motivators represented by desired rewards) to be fulfilled in order to learn. Understanding about the impact of and of the changes in our learning needs is part of LQ.
In situations where we do not have our learning needs met we feel uncomfortable, see ourselves as “unable” or struggle to engage and require significantly more encouragement or motivation to participate in the learning. We are after all fighting off a driving need, trying to put it to the back of our mind. This subduing of need, of not having a preference met, requires energy and concentration. Both of these would normally be allocated to the learning task at hand. We are therefore left without a focus on learning with our efforts being divided between two tasks. We are in effect being distracted from learning. Just ask yourself what your concentration is like when you are hungry or cold or the chair you are sitting in is uncomfortable and I think you will understand my point.
The split in our efforts to learn and in our efforts to meet our learning needs does not have to be an equal one. In truth very little effort may be available for learning depending on how significant our needs are, to what degree they are not being met and how much effort is needed to achieve or repress them. This may go some way to explain why some learners learn easier and are more relaxed in some learning environments than in others.
Repressing a need can also lead to a build-up of stress. How we respond when stressed depends on a number of factors, the range, and type of behaviours that we have learnt as well as our environment and our perceived options (self-efficacy). Chronic stress often occurs when we feel we have no choices and no voice. An excessive stress level also limits learning as it robs us of our objective thinking and disturbs our emotional balance. We often make irrational choices when chronically stressed too.
I find that “inexperienced learners” often perceive this struggle between meeting learning needs and learning as an indication that they are unable to learn. It influences our perception of ourselves as a learners. This perception can be, and often is, wrong. It is the result of this conflict in application of energy and effort to have our learning needs met and to engage in the learning process. The long term damage occurs when this turns from a perception into a belief. The power of LQ is that it gives the learner both the tools and insight to challenge these false beliefs. It allows them to redefine their perception of themselves as learners. LQ broadens the strategies a learner can use to overcome learning barriers caused by not having their learning needs met.
Our self-beliefs as learners is critical to our success as learners. What we cannot rely on as learners is there being one way to learn and that this way will always be created for us. It is a false hope that I suggest can have a catastrophic impact on teaching and learning. It is up to the learner to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will allow them to master any learning environment. Learners need to focus on developing their Learning Intelligence in order to manage their learning environment.
In following parts I will explain why I believe that as there is no single ideal learner profile there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.