Tag Archive | teacher

What happens when we interfere with the learning relationship?

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.

learning responsibility diagram ideal

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.

LQ round

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.

Learning Responsibility line Distorted

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.

car crash

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.


[i] https://martinrobborobinson.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/teachers-cheating-and-selling-achievement/

[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

Learning Intelligence and the link to Technology

LQ concept

Why have we welcomed technology into our lives but resisted it in our education systems?

Technology is so much part of our everyday life it is hard to image a time without it, except that is, unless you think about education. Education has made use of technology but in many cases only to add to or enhance existing teaching methods and practices. There is a resistance to allowing technology to revolutionise formal education. If you move away from this then the instances of using technology to support and aid learning are numerous and all around us. Young people learn to dance by watching YouTube videos, facts are looked up, people researched and questions and issues discussed across cultural and geographic boundaries, all with the aid of technology.

What we take as technology or our description of it will include a link to computing in some form. The role of computers in our lives is pervasive and it has changed the way we do things for ever. There is no going back without the destruction of computers. There is no ignoring technology without being left behind. Technology is a great enabler if used purposefully. It is also capable of consuming great amounts of time for little obvious return.

As for the benefits, without technology I would have great difficulty in communicating my ideas to an international audience. For example this blog is being read in over 80 countries around the world.  Technology allows me to easily share ideas with those who find them, who are part of the same connected world, and to receive feed forward, challenge and encouragement. If I am willing to explore and to listen I can learn from others and possibly innovate and develop new concepts based on this experience. Technology can support lifelong learning in the true sense, to use the familiar term perhaps, more of a 24/7 learning model if we let it.

My theory as to why we are so ready to accept technology is because what it offers appeals to our very core. It is the same list of things that is essential in engaging students in learning or employers in their work. In understanding how these needs impact learning it is easy to see the role technology plays. As I have discussed earlier we have a need for four basic elements one of which is fun. Computer based games that make use of the technology fulfil this aspect and some have tried developing learning games to tap into this need we have. In fact technology can help us meet the remaining three needs too and this is, in my view, the draw of technology. Technology can improve or enhance our sense of belonging (Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) Through the use of technology we can be heard (Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, etc). Our choices are widened because we can research and find information quickly helping to develop a sense of freedom (Google, YouTube etc).

What technology is effectively doing is giving us the tools to manage our environment. Here are some of the things technology allows us to do in terms of managing our learning environment:

  • we do not need to be left out through a lack of understanding
  • we do not need to experience the feeling of being lost, we can find our way around (metaphorically speaking)
  • we do not need to remain ignorant
  • we do not need to travel to see or discover
  • we do not need to travel to collaborate or discuss

Let me give you an example from my own experience. My formal education years were devoid of computers up until the age of 21 when I left university. I was an early adopter of the new technology and bought my first computer in 1981. It did very little by today’s standards and it was relatively expensive. I had an instinct that this new device was going to help me overcome my barriers to learning. Having said I went to university you may think I had no barriers to learning but I did and they were significant to me. I disliked reading, especially whole books to find the key passages or points. I disliked even more writing, due in part to the speed of the process but also because of my poor spelling. Ideas were stopped in mid flow as I stumbled for a spelling and had to slowly make my way across a page with a biro trying to make my handwriting legible. It was the second of these barriers that technology first solved. The word processor that was available on early computers gave me my voice and allowed me to explore the ideas I had without worrying about spelling and handwriting. There was an unexpected side to this too. My colleagues were more inclined to read something I had written when it appeared typed or printed, it had a sort of ‘authority’ about it that they accepted.

Moving to the present my use of technology to manage my learning environment is pervasive to say the least. Not counting this blog, which is the product or evolution of the early word processor, let me give you one final example of how I manage my learning environment, even when I do not realise that I am in one or there is an opportunity to learn.

Watching the television is a pastime or an opportunity to relax for many of us and so it was as I watched a drama based on events of the 40’s, this is a period I have no personal experience of and history was not my favourite subject at school (all that reading and writing!). Central to the events, characters and the story was an event of which I had no knowledge. Putting the TV on pause I turned to my wireless tablet and typed a few phrases into a search engine. Within less than a minute I had the background to the event in my hands. Putting down the tablet and taking the TV off pause I was now in a position to fully engage in the story and follow events with an understanding that allowed me to experience the richness of the writing and the various twists and turns of the story. I had experienced a learning event when least expected it but the process was only possible through the use of technology.

The link between LQ and technology is a significant one. I won’t even say “if used correctly” because as my second example shows we do not know when learning will or can take place and at times we do not even know the ‘what’.

I want you to contrast my examples and references to technology meeting our basic learning needs to your own experience of formal education. An education that is meant to be the best we can offer but which in many cases is severely limiting learning because it does not allow for two fundamental components – LQ and technology.

What this means for the Teacher

  • You may not be the source of all knowledge, be prepared to be challenged. Embrace this challenge in your approach to teaching
  • Use every opportunity to meet the needs of learners, especially if you want them engaged, and this includes the use of technology in your teaching and the learning of the students. Give them ‘permission’ by example to use their LQ and technology to meet their learning needs.
  • Accept that like when learning to walk people will stumble in their use of technology and may just enjoy the experience for a while before putting it to good use. Be a guide rather than a barrier at this point.

What this means for the Learner

  • Not all technology is bad, despite what you are told by those who would control your use of it, but you need to demonstrate its positive impact on your learning through the use of LQ in managing your learning environment and describing the impact to others.
  • Be ready for a learning opportunity even when you least expect it. When the opportunity presents itself take the time to learn because it will enhance the experience and deepen your understanding.
  • Recognise the draw of technology and allow yourself some time to explore these aspects but set limits and maintain a balance.
  • Look for ways technology can help you manage your learning environment to meet your needs. Here are a few to think about:
  1. Word processors will help with spelling and presentation but there is no need to use every font in the world.
  2. Presentation software can help you organise your thoughts and ideas in a flexible way. You can drop ideas onto a ‘desktop’ and link or move them in order to manage your thinking.
  3. Search engines can be useful, even more so if you learn to search effectively. It is worth exploring search terms to refine the results you get and save time. Use ‘bookmarks’ to record your search journey so you can re visit it later.
  4. Don’t believe everything you read or see. Maintain a healthy scepticism and look to build evidence and argument by exploring different sources and points of view.
  5. Technology can provide you with an opportunity to experience and engage in learning from different angles or perspectives or even means. You may prefer to watch than read or listen and contribute to a discussion instead of being passive in the learning.
  6. You can learn outside of formal education systems. This means if in class you do not fully understand a topic there are opportunities through technology to revisit or explore these in your own time and at your own pace (Khan Academy etc).

One final point concerning the mobile phone.

The mobile phone continues to evolve way beyond its primary purpose. In doing so it seeks to provide for or satisfy many or all of our needs. In my view it is doing this in a random way, as evolution often dictates it should, including services and facilities that may as time progresses fade away or no longer be offered. It has the opportunity to become an effective tool in managing our learning environment if we use it in that way. It also has the opportunity to become the next step in the evolution of the television (which it is beginning to emulate in so many ways). A technology that has so much to offer and yet we use it for such banal purposes as we use it to feed the most basic of our needs. Many schools will not allow students to use mobile phones in the classroom and often with good reason for we have seen them used for the worst of all reasons. It strikes me odd though that we teach learners to read so they can access books which, at the time, were the communication tool for learning and our approach in formal education to new technology is to put up barriers.

A word about future LQ articles

This is the 16th article I have published exploring Learning Quotient and during that time the number of people reading the articles had doubled each month. I think it is time to let people catch up, I have often led charges in educational concepts only to look behind me and realise I am alone!  I will not be publishing a new article next week. Instead I will be reviewing each aspect of LQ and what it means for the teacher and the learner. If you are a parent you may be wondering why I left out that particular perspective on LQ, more of that to come later.

Whilst I am not writing any new articles concerning LQ I am busy putting things together in the form of three books. Early adopters of my concept of LQ have provided positive feedback on its impact in their own lives and their teaching. Whilst this is encouraging I would love to hear challenges or questions about how LQ can make a difference in teaching and learning. You can write to me at kevin@ace-d.co.uk if you do not want to leave a comment on the blog.

%d bloggers like this: