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.
What does being a better learner mean?
If I asked you the same in terms of football, or any other sport you would more than likely think about skills, attitudes, understanding, motivation and a few other things besides. Would you tell me it was the number of goals you scored (yep I am in the UK!), the number of passes you made or goals you saved? I doubt it yet in some ways we judge learning success by the number of grades or qualifications and not how effective we are as learners.
Being a better footballer means being better at playing football, all aspects of it, and finding strategies to overcome challenges when faced with a better player or team. So I believe it is with learning, being a better learner is about managing your own learning to overcome learning challenges. Let me explain.
The concept of LQ or learning intelligence that I have developed is a way of focusing our minds on not just outcomes but the act of learning itself, becoming a better learner. This is not just about “learning to learn” it is about managing learning too. We can use LQ as a way of overcoming any challenges we face as a learner. By understanding how our environment, and those in it, impacts our ability to learn and in recognising the challenges it lays down we can begin to see learning as a problem to solve and not just a subject to master.
The problem we face in education is similar to a man who is running wearing one shoe and holding the other in his hand. We recognise he is slowed by the lack of shoe on one foot but we dare not risk losing time whilst he stops and puts on the other. So we continue to rush on knowing full well if we only took the time to put on the other shoe we would run much faster. We worry about never catching up if we take our focus off mastering subjects. This limits our learning.
If you have ever heard the story of the two men coming face to face with a bear you may recognise it. One man turns to the other and shouts “Run”. His friend replies “We will never outrun a bear” to which he replies “I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you!” So it is in education to get the top marks you only have to be at the top, in front of others. What potential you could have realised is unimportant so long as you out perform others.
My argument is if we took a little time to learn about how our learning environment impacts our learning and how to use LQ to leverage our learning we would learn easier, understand better and make quicker progress. You would also improve the chances of reaching your true potential. Well its more than an argument, it’s common sense just like running in two shoes is faster than running wearing one whilst holding the other.
*I have reflected on nearly four decades of teaching and spent the last five researching and trying to confirm theories to finally end up with the concept of Learning Intelligence or LQ for short. I define LQ as our ability to manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs. Once we are aware of the skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours we possess and use or exhibit in response to learning challenges we can begin to leverage our learning.
This diagram shows those skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours I have identified that are held or practised by successful learners.
LQ will make learning easier, better and quicker.
Don’t believe me, then I encourage you to challenge me. For every learning challenge their is a strategy. Explore this article to see what I mean: How to Learn Anything
No matter what the subject or the situation developing your LQ will make you a better learner. It’s like stopping to put on that second shoe. You know you should do it but for some reason you fear falling behind so you don’t. Where is the logic in that?
For more on LQ please read through past posts on this blog. If you are interested in workshops to promote or develop LQ then please get in touch.
More about the services I offer and LQ can be found at www.ace-d.co.uk where you can also download leaflets and free teaching resources.
How we see ourselves as a learner has a significant impact on the “what” and the “how” when we are in a learning mode. But how accurate are our self-perceptions when it comes to learning and how do we build them?
In part one I will suggest that our self-perceptions as a learner are formed as a result of the idea that there is one way we all learn. In further parts I will describe the impact of this notion on learners as well s explore the impact on the learning environment as we try to find the one way to teach and to learn.
Unfortunately as we experience school we are not encouraged to develop our view of ourselves as learners. We are given labels and expected to live up or down to them. This all stems from one false “truth”. Let’s explore this “truth”.
Education theory has a demon it cannot shake off and the outcome of this is that we are constantly being directed towards a “better way”. We seek to find a better way to learn, a better way to teach and a better structure on which to base our education system. This emphasis on the “better way” suggests there is one, and only one, way. This is why we see theories come into fashion and then go out again only to be re-discovered when the latest one has failed to “do it for everyone”. Those with influence on policy and practice also carry with them their favourite which they are reluctant to accept may not suit everyone. In the UK we have seen, and continue to see, education formed in the image of some individual or persuasive group who believe their way is the right way.
The real truth is that there is no one way. No one way at any moment in the challenge of learning. No one way to teach. No one design on which to build an education system that will meet the needs of everyone. This is hard to accept. Even harder to consider when you want to standardise things. Impossible if you want to monitor or predict outcomes.
The sad thing is that so long as we look for one way to learn, to teach and structure education we fail to see the benefits of those ways that work for some of us, some of the time. It’s like holding a bunch of keys and trying them, one at a time, in a lock that does not have a single key to open it. We pick up a key, try it and then throw it to the floor and try another. When we run out of keys we pick them up off the floor and continue to try them one at a time again. When you have more than one person jostling to try their key in the lock then we see the real dangers of this approach. Power and influence are brought to bear to get to the front. Any other key holder is attacked in order to diminish their chance of trying their key in the lock. They would be just getting in the way anyway and delaying us opening the door to the “better way” wouldn’t they!
See this site for a list of learning theories. Then ask yourself how many are still “popular”, how many have been “attacked” and why some still have supporters despite being attacked. http://www.learning-theories.com/
There are no one set of circumstances, no single way to teach, no one system of education that will produce a “better way”. The way that counts is the way that works for you.
To discover what works best for you requires you to be allowed to explore learning and evaluate the “how” for yourself. You need to be exposed to different learning strategies and shown that what we see or regard as “ability” may be influenced by more than one thing. We need to avoid labels.
Warning – this may produce “challenging behaviours” in a system that believes in and promotes “one way”.
What I am proposing is not revolutionary in terms of new theories but it is in terms of approaches to learning. Well it appears to be to me and I have been in the education profession for nearly four decades! The fact that we have not yet changed our approach to education that we persist along the “one way” path suggests one of two things. Firstly there is a vested interest in this process that it serves some purpose we have yet to discover. Secondly our egos are bigger than our view of education. If there is a third reason then please let me know.
What I am proposing is based on the idea that there is no “one way”, no “best way” to learn, that the lock on the door of learning needs multiple keys to open it. It may even be that the lock changes from time to time too making it necessary to look for a different combination of keys. This is the concept that sits behind my idea of “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short.
More about LQ in part two.
As a way of introducing my idea of Mindful Teaching I am going to describe a scenario any teacher will recognise and then ask how the teacher should respond. It should be noted that my ideas on mindful teaching are based on the ideas in the book “The Power of Mindful Learning” by Ellen Langer[i]. A book that is well worth a read.
Mindful teaching by the way is not “mindfulness”, a phrase that is being used in education at the moment and is more to do with awareness of ourselves and the world around us.
So you have planned, resourced, and delivered the lesson. All appears to have gone well. As you studied the faces around the room, you saw no confused looks or got the impression you had wasted your time. Behavior ( I prefer the term “learning relationships”) had been good and all students appeared engaged. The questions you asked about the topic were answered succinctly and accurately. You begin to think it was a job well done.
The bell is about to go and the students start to collect their things. As they do so you go for one last confirmation by walking around the room asking the odd question and making enquiries about how the lesson went for them. That is when a student says, “I didn’t get it!”
With a couple of minutes left what do you do and say?
Let me suggest the typical response and it will possibly start with a question. For example, “What did you not get?” It will then probably lead to the teacher trying to explain the key points again and more questions. This often leads to further confusion on the part of the student. The result – they still don’t get it.
As teachers we have all almost certainly been here. The temptation is to repeat, question, repeat, question, re phrase, question, on so on. There is a significant chance that the learner will leave the lesson feeling negative and carry this into the next lesson you have with them. They will have added to what I call their “Learning Map”, a belief about what they can and cannot learn.
Tackling the problem in this way the teacher may know that the student does not get it, what they do not understand, but they are no nearer getting the student to understand. This is not a mindful approach. The opposite of mindful is mindless so let’s consider this a mindless form of responses on the part of the teacher. They are going over what they planned, rehearsed and delivered without establishing the students perspective.
The mindful teaching approach is slightly different and it does start with a question, but a question of a different kind. The mindful teaching question would be “Tell me what you do understand?” There can be some prompting from the teacher guiding the learner through the lesson topics/key stages to discover how far they got in their understanding. This after all is what the teacher wants to know.
This simple change of approach has significant consequences for the learner and teacher. Here are some to think about:
1) the focus is not on a failure to understand. It is instead on what has been understood. This is a much better place to start from for the teacher and the learner. An assessment can then be made as to how significant the claim is and how much time will be required to deal with it. This suggests a more focused response on behalf of the teacher and more targeted strategies.
2) the learner is not “lectured to” about something they appears not to understand, a strategy that does little to build confidence. Asking what they do know helps to build confidence and in my experience makes people more open and willing to listen.
3) because the response is personalised the learner is treated as an individual with their own needs and this does much to build a sense of belonging (a key learning need and part of developing learning relationships)
4) there is an opportunity for the teacher to actively take some responsibility for the learning too. A phrase such as “I see, I did not explain that too well did I? I will try to be better next time.” can go a long way in helping learners see learning as a journey you are both on (and that it is not a linear path either).
As a teacher it is easy to adopt a mindful approach to teaching. All you have to do is decide what you want to know before you ask a question. As a learner Ellen lists 3 characteristics of mindful learning, one of these is “an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.” Since teachers should also be learners these two things come together to form the approach I talk about here: As teachers we need to ask questions to discover what our students perspective is regarding their learning rather than just about what they have learnt.
Well we have been wrong about things before!
People argued that the world was flat and even now people have different views about the earth revolving around the sun (just go on line and Goggle it!). It is easy to build on shaky foundations if you believe in those foundations. There may come a time when you have to find ways of discounting new discoveries in order to maintain your original beliefs too. You may even re-interpret things in order to fit in with what you believe to be true and attack or try to convince those who do not believe as you do. It may be a human condition that we act this way.
Whatever foundation we build on there is the potential, as we rise so far from them, that we no longer even recognise them for what they were and what they were based on. We become slaves to tradition, to the “basics”, to doing more of what we have always done. Going back to the start is often a cathartic way of trying to determine what is, and what is not, “right” of what actually works and what does not rather than what is. I believe there is a saying attributed to Albert Einstein that goes along the lines of “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I suggest that to expect that in doing what others have done for different reasons or needs than those of your own will bring about what you need is misguided at least and insanity at worst.
Dismantling existing practices or held beliefs in order to establish their validity or truth can reveal some of our shaky foundations and give us the freedoms to rebuild and establish more informed pathways or beliefs. The caveat though is only if we are open, unbiased, and honest with ourselves and we are willing to assess the process and not just the outcomes.
I believe there are many things about education that we presently believe that we have wrong. Or perhaps there are many things in education that we do that are driven by the wrong motives and beliefs. We need to go back to the start, to look at teaching and learning from the beginning to find out if we have lost our way.
The next part of this article will ask how far we can go back in teaching and learning.
Part 2: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nD
How far back can we go with teaching and learning?
Part 3: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nJ
We go back and explore the simplest of learning models to see if we can re-establish secure foundations on which to build.
Part 4: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nZ
What are the influences of the industrial and technological revolutions on education?
Final Part: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-pv
The four foundations of learning and what learning is not
A key part of being a teacher is being a learner yourself but what happens when you stop being a learner? As a teacher one use of coaching is to regain your view on the world as a learner. Another is to become a better teacher. This article looks at the “awkward” side of coaching, that of not being at your best, and shows how you can regain control and be the teacher you know you can be.
Let us explore some of the symptoms of what happens when, as a teacher, you stop being a learner.
Teaching is a “full on” job and can leave you tired, if not exhausted at times, meaning you can find yourself on the treadmill that is preparation, teaching, assessment, and reporting all too easily if you do not take time for yourself. You may feel that there is no option but to work harder and longer in order to get it all done. Instead of going out with friends and family do you find yourself staying in to mark work or plan lessons? Things get sacrificed as more and more of your time is taken up with the job of teaching and before you know it there is little room for anything else. Holidays and weekends become “catch up days” rather than a chance to recharge the batteries. At some point the pressure begins to invade your sleep and you may even lay awake planning lessons or reviewing the day you had and how to do it better next time.
You may come to realise that you are no longer a learner and just a teacher! There is no doubt that your teaching will suffer as a result of this.
Once you get into this position it is difficult to get out. The quality of your teaching and relationships with students suffers, as does the learning of the students. You may begin to experience behaviour problems from students in your lessons perhaps because you have lost your sense of fun. More and more things trigger your escalating need to be in control as you struggle to cope. Your capacity to deal with change becomes limited and you can find yourself doing more of what you are comfortable and familiar with rather than what needs to be done or try anything new. You rely more and more on routine and have less and less capacity for innovation. Simple questions can become challenges and interpreted as criticism as your confidence fades.
You may recognise yourself exhibiting these symptoms (or even colleagues) occasionally but what if it gets to be too much?
Once in this state lesson observation may not go as well as they used to adding to your growing frustration. Pressure can grow from the leadership of the school to maintain standards that were once easily within you reach as a teacher but which now form an almost impossible target. Achieving the standards required is increasingly difficult as you struggle to find the time and the energy you need. As your performance falls the number of lesson observations and the number of occasions your work is scrutinised increases causing further pressure. Offers of help are seen as threats and an effort to undermine your position even further. Ultimately there will be a price to be paid and this normally means your health and relationships suffer as you struggle more and more to do what once was well within your reach.
Where do you look for help?
There is a balance to be achieved if you are to be an effective teacher and continue to learn yourself. Achieving this balance is much easier when you work with somebody, somebody who can help you regain your perspective and help you to start being a learner and therefore an effective teacher once again. Finding a way out of the cycle is easier than you think, you just have to make the first step, that of realising the position you are in.
Arranging for help is not a sign of weakness, it is actually a sign of strength, of wanting to fight back and regain your perspective, life, and health and once again enjoy your teaching. The alternative is to accept that you cannot do anything about your position and let the consequences lead where they may.
Working with a specialist teaching coach can be the best way for you to regain the balance you need.
Here is a genuine review written by a teacher when they looked back having received coaching from ace-d. It demonstrates the challenges they faced and how they successfully found a way to regain their perspective and once again enjoy their teaching.
“When my Deputy Head announced that I was to work with Kevin, I was sceptical to say the least. What he had to say was great, in theory, but I never imagined that it would work in practice. I guess, that not believing that my current situation could be resolved by anything, other than me resigning from my post, made it more difficult for me to try out the strategies. Initially, they didn’t work. And they won’t, unless you change attitude. ‘It is not what you do, but how you do it that makes the difference.’
Thanks to Kevin’s coaching, ten months down the line, I have a different approach to teaching. I work smarter, and when I started to believe in the strategies, and wanted them to work, they did, to my surprise. It felt good. All of a sudden, I got respect. I learnt that it was ok to say no; that I had a right to be heard and that not everything requires 100% effort. Most importantly, I started to respect myself, and my own time. It is about balance. It is about ‘What’s best for me?’ I have begun to change my work/life ratio, and am still working on it. More to the point, I have discovered that I like it when I am not working; as in itself, it isn’t the only thing that defines who I am.
I am thrilled that I gave the coaching a chance, and am grateful for the new perspective that I now have of teaching.”
As you can see there is an alternative, you do not have to put up with decreasing amounts of “me” time or time with family and friends. Nor do you have to face mounting pressure alone. You can once more become the learner and the teacher you once were by taking control.
Is the time right for you to explore being coached?
However you go about making this transformation it is much better to work with somebody who has the strategies and experience to guide you successfully through the challenges you will undoubtedly face. As you saw in the example from a teacher who went through this process there comes a time when you want to take back control, when you change your attitude to your situation. A time when you want to be with family and friends without feeling guilty about the work waiting for you when you get back. A time when you don’t want to get that sinking feeling on Sunday evening because of the week ahead anymore.
Are you there yet or do things have to get worse before you do something about it?
You may think that only you know the answer to this question but my advice is to ask those around you, your friends, and your family what they think.
How do you find the right coach and how do you arrange the sessions?
Successful coaching does not have to involve a direct meeting with the coach nor does it mean an added burden to cope with or fit in. Arranged correctly coaching is a supportive process. Coaching can be arranged across the internet at a time to suit you and in an environment you prefer. Of course the key aspects are finding a coach who understands you and your situation and who you feel comfortable working with and can develop confidence in. Reputable coaching services will always provide an initial discussion for free during which you and your coach can make a decision about the partnership. It is important it is the right partnership for both parties if it is to be a successful experience.
Whatever you decide ace-d will be there for you when the time is right for you. For more details of the ace-d coaching arrangements please download the linked document from our website.
Click the link text to download Coaching and Mentoring Model for Teachers