Tag Archive | teaching and learning

2) Developing the narrative

In the first instalment, I introduced you to ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ I now want to explain to you the nature and format of the book.

Question: Where did ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them’ come from?

Answer: From my own experience, insights, observations of pupils and teachers, reflections on what worked and what did not in learning and teaching and the research I carried out when I tried to work out the ‘why?’

‘To be a teacher you must be and remain a learner. If you stop being a learner then I believe you give up the right to be a teacher and the right to be a leader too for teachers are learning leaders.’

Question: Why a narrative?

Answer: Much of teaching is about telling stories, those that draw pupils in, develop their confidence, set them challenges and celebrate their success. Story telling is an art, you must assess your audience, know what interests them and you must listen and in a way that retains their interest.  A good storyteller will build a relationship with their audience that allows them and their audience to take risks, to have emotional highs and lows together, to wonder and to celebrate together.  Story telling is a way of getting complicated messages across to your audience in a memorable and effective way. There are skills involved in being a good storyteller in the same way as there are in being a good teacher.

I want to take you on a learning journey.

The idea of a narrative, of telling a story of how as a teacher you can improve your storytelling is also a story. My driver for writing is the honest aim of helping other teachers be the best they can be by sharing my own learning journey.  In wanting to share what I have learnt and to widen my sphere of influence I realised I needed a story, a good one, one that would bring to light the complex nature of learning and teaching and convey a message in the gentle and thought-provoking manner a good story does. The message I wanted to get across is that if you understand and respond to learning needs you can be a better teacher and remain a learner.

Talking about story telling

In one chapter of the book I use the analogy of the Hero’s journey, a narrative attributed to Joseph Campbell. In Campbell’s version the hero experiences a call to adventure, takes on challenges, experiences a transformation and returns enlightened to share what they have learnt.  I saw a lot of similarities between learning and teaching and the Hero’s journey so I adapted it into a learning journey.  Whilst I don’t consider myself a hero I have certainly faced a number of challenges in my teaching career and the knowledge and understanding I gained as a result feature in the book making it the true story of a learning journey.

Question: What is the format and how is it differnt to other texts?

Answer: Whilst in a recognisable chapter format a key element is the use of reflective exercises and encouragement the recording of your own learning journey.

A learning journal

One feature I was keen to include when writing the book was the concept of recording your own learning journey, best thought of in terms of a keeping a journal. I wanted my book to be your companion on your journey. This is important to me because if we reflect on our own experiences, challenges and strategies as well as observe others then we remain learners. We remain open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, not blindly but with an enquiring mind. A mindset that challenges as well as stimulates creativity.  Throughout the book you will find reflective tasks, tasks designed to make you think, and you will be encouraged to record and share your thoughts and ideas.

The call to adventure

Having set the scene for my writing in the next instalment of this story I will describe my call to adventure and those who have helped me to develop my narrative.  

Keeping up to date

The publication date for ‘If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them‘ is February 2021 (link below). You can follow the story of its conception by clicking the follow button located to the right of this column.

https://www.criticalpublishing.com/if-you-cant-reach-them-you-cant-teach-them

Th enext article exploring If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them is:

3) The call to adventure – How can I be a better teacher?

Why I miss teaching

Teacher and Class 3
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.

Don’t you just hate “Target Grades”

Well perhaps not “hate” but they do concern me for a number of reasons.

It won’t be long before the UK starts school again but I would bet even now there will be computers crunching Key Stage or end of year test results running them through algorithms to predict future performance in order to set target grades.

This worries me, does it you?

I am no expert in statistics but I assume that with enough data and analysis you could begin to predict what could happen in the future based on what has gone before. But – this is only a prediction, a percentage chance that something could or could not happen. Life or car insurance must be much the same with certain categories resulting in much higher premiums as they are more likely to have an accident than others. The difference being as, far as insurance goes, if the model is right the company makes a profit and if not a loss. With target grades the model outcome is quite different, you are setting a challenge, an expectation and the conditions for failure or success. This is not a profit or loss situation, it is life chances.

What I am interested in as a teacher is the psychological impact of target grades on the students as well as how it changes the teaching and learning landscape.

Here are my questions so far.

  • Having a target for anything suggests accountability. “Why did you not reach the target?” is accusatory and you are on the defensive straight away.  Is this good for the teaching and learning environment and relationship?
  • Who decides, and how, on a suitable target?
  • Is prior performance a good predictor of future performance, can there be a linear gradient link between the two?
  • Do we understand and acknowledge the psychological effects of target setting and work to mitigate any negative aspects?
  • Are we clear and consistent in our use of the term “target grade”. Are there sub categories for example “aspirational target grade” or “minimum target grade” that confuse?
  • What happens if you exceed a target grade before the allotted time period or assessment point?
  • How do we account for and what are the implications for exceeding or not reaching a target grade?
  • If we accept that progress is not linear when do we begin to concern ourselves about reaching a target grade?
  • Who’s fault is it (or who gets blamed?) if a target grade is not achieved, is it the student, the teacher or whoever arrived at the target grade, or is it all three?
  • Boys and girls appear to react differently to target grades*. If this is the case why?
  • Do we ever ignore potential because of a set lower target grade?
  • Does setting targets based on a statistical model actually raise individual achievement?
  • Is everything needed to meet a target within the control of the teacher or the learner?
  • Is the time and effort spent assessing, recording and monitoring targets getting in the way of teaching? In short is it worth it?

It also occurs to me that those setting the target have a responsibility in terms of understanding the impact such an action has. I recognise that when students achieve or exceed a target we celebrate this and there are recognised systems in place to do so but where I am not so confident is in seeing similar systems for those who fail to reach a target grade.

If you feel like commenting on either the original interest topic or the questions please do so I would be glad to hear of your perspective, experience or view.

*See the article “Why many boys only do just enough

 

Part 5: The one and only learning theory that counts is …

The way forward in overcoming the “one way”  or benefiting from “other ways”.

one way x 2 sign

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!

pbcf4

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.

personalised learning environment

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.

diagram of LQ and SAAB

Link to part 1 of this series of articles on learning theory.


 

[i] http://www.edutopia.org/blog/watch-whats-working-carol-dweck-talks-growth-mindset-bob-lenz

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlYRhoWtoiM

[iii] http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1989AP.pdf

[iv] Is Compliance a Learning Disability? http://wp.me/p2LphS-kd

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

 

magic-bullet

As a result of our desire in education to find the magic bullet, the one way to teach and ideal way to learn that will make our education systems the best I would argue we are neglecting the learner. We are requiring compliance rather than seeking engagement. I would go as far as saying we are disabling the learner. For part 1 of this article the link is: http://wp.me/p2LphS-qA

Surely every new idea, theory, or approach is aimed at making it easier or better for the learner. So how can this be?  The answer lies in the impact on the learner and their involvement in the learning.

Building our self-perception as a learner

Experience should suggest to anyone in teaching or wanting to learn that we each have learning preferences, those things that we believe help us to learn. Some feel more alert in the morning or like to discuss ideas with others rather than read about them.  It may be the environment we are in, who we are with or any number of other factors that influence our moods and energy levels.  Our learning preferences often change too, they are after all preferences. Like all preferences they are  influenced by context, our own emotional, mental and physical development as well as our environment.  We present our learning preferences as learning needs (tangibly  some  times as motivators represented by desired rewards) to be fulfilled in order to learn. Understanding about the impact of and of the changes in our learning needs is part of LQ.

In situations where we do not have our learning needs met we feel uncomfortable, see ourselves as “unable” or struggle to engage and require significantly more encouragement or motivation to participate in the learning. We are after all fighting off a driving need, trying to put it to the back of our mind. This subduing of need, of not having a preference met, requires energy and concentration. Both of these would normally be allocated to the learning task at hand.  We are therefore left without a focus on learning with our efforts being divided between two tasks. We are in effect being distracted from learning.    Just ask yourself what your concentration is like when you are hungry or cold or the chair you are sitting in is uncomfortable and I think you will understand my point.

The split in our efforts to learn and in our efforts to meet our learning needs does not have to be an equal one. In truth very little effort may be available for learning depending on how significant our needs are, to what degree they are not being met and how much effort is needed to achieve or repress them.  This may go some way to explain why some learners learn easier and are more relaxed in some learning environments than in others.

Repressing a need can also lead to a build-up of stress. How we respond when stressed depends on a number of factors, the range, and type of behaviours that we have learnt as well as our environment and our perceived options (self-efficacy). Chronic stress often occurs when we feel we have no choices and no voice. An excessive stress level also limits learning as it robs us of our objective thinking and disturbs our emotional balance. We often make irrational choices when chronically stressed too.

I find that “inexperienced learners” often perceive this struggle between meeting learning needs and learning as an indication that they are unable to learn.  It influences our perception of ourselves as a learners.  This perception can be, and often is, wrong. It is the result of this conflict in application of energy and effort to have our learning needs met and to engage in the learning process. The long term damage occurs when this turns from a perception into a belief. The power of LQ is that it gives the learner both the tools and insight to challenge these false beliefs.  It allows them to redefine their perception of themselves as learners. LQ broadens the strategies a learner can use to overcome learning barriers caused by not having their learning needs met.

Our self-beliefs as learners is critical to our success as learners.  What we cannot rely on as learners is there being one way to learn and that this way will always be created for us. It is a false hope that I suggest can have a catastrophic impact on teaching and learning. It is up to the learner to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours that will allow them to master any learning environment. Learners need to focus on developing their Learning Intelligence in order to manage their learning environment.

diagram of LQ and SAAB

In following parts I will explain why I believe that as there is no single ideal learner profile there is no one learning environment and no one environment that meets all learning needs.

Part 3

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

foundations

In the final part of this article I will suggest that it is time to re-evaluate the foundations of teaching and learning and describe what I believe are the true foundations of any education system we should seek to build on to ensure learning remains at the heart of what we do.

clean-slate-board

It is time to go back to basics of teaching and learning, not those of the 3 R’s, or of rote learning, of the industrial revolution or that of the information technology revolution but instead the basics of relationships and trust in education. It is time to rethink our pedagogy. A time to wipe the slate clean and rethink things from the beginning and not keep adding things that we think will or should “work”.  It is not a case of what can be done but rather a case of what should be done with the tools education has at its disposal to promote teaching and learning.

Imagine starting again knowing what we know now about how education has evolved and been influenced by the revolutions that have occurred over the last 150 years. I hope you will have decided that the foundation of any education system must include building relationships between the teacher and the learner. Apart from three other key elements all the other “stuff” is just, well stuff. It comes and goes according to, for the want of a better word, “fashion.”

teacher and class

Some time ago I wrote about understanding learning needs. This led to an e-book based on both reflection on my time as a teacher and research. As I read studies and ideas about teaching and learning, old and new, time and time again I came across references to the importance of the relationships between the teacher and the learner. Thinking about my own time in the classroom when things went well I had a good relationship with my classes and when things went badly or were stressful for me it was because these relationships had not yet formed. A target driven system that distances the teacher from the learner  is not what learning is about. 

pbcf4

Building relationships and maintaining them is not always easy and is often more complicated than we think. Perhaps the divorce rate confirms this! I have boiled it down to four key learning needs that require being satisfied most of the time if we are to build learning relationships. The graphic below describes the four learning needs. It would be my approach to include these in any foundations. The acronym Please Be Child Friendly offers a suitable reminder of the aim as well as providing a memory key for the four learning needs. Ignoring learning needs is not what builds engagement and is not what learning is about.

Teaching and Learning Responibility diag v2

I have also developed a “learning responsibility ratio” graphic. The graphic aims to show how the dynamics of the learning relationship should change over time. It highlights how the learning relationship may also come under strain at times, especially during a transition point.  At the start the biggest responsibility lies with the teacher in learning about their students, planning the curriculum and developing resources. At this point the learner has only a small responsibility, that of “paying attention”. Later as time passes the ratio of responsibility should transfer from the teacher to the learner. There are points where there is some element of reclaiming responsibility but these need to be part of the learning journey.  If there are too many occasions where the teacher reclaims responsibility the downward trend of the line, the responsibility transfer, is slowed and may never reach a satisfactory stage. The result of such an action means the learner remains dependent on the teacher and takes little responsibility for learning. In a high stakes system it is all too easy for the teacher, who is often most “accountable” to reclaim responsibility in order to maintain control of the learning. Incorporating the dynamics of learning relationships is also a key element in the foundation of an education system. Making or allowing the teacher alone accountable for learning is not what learning is about.

hero's journey adapted for learning

The third block in the foundation is the continued professional development of the teacher. It is important that the teacher models learning to their students. This has two effects. Firstly it will demonstrate that learning requires effort. As the teacher shares the emotional challenges of learning as well as the practical aspects they can show how taking on a learning challenge can be both daunting and rewarding. Secondly it grounds the teacher in the learning experience. This is important because in building successful learning relationships there needs to be both empathy and understanding of the student perspective.  Roy Leighton’s work on the Butterfly Model and specifically the Learning Line demonstrates this aspect of learning. Another example of the trials and challenges of learning can be seen in the Hero’s journey once it is adapted to learning. Ignoring the learning journey and expecting a standardised approach and progress is not what learning is about. lQ graphic 6

The fourth block is a natural requirement of the learning transition. It is no good expecting the learner to take responsibility for and manage their own learning unless they are prepared for and supported in doing so. This last element is one that appears obvious but we do so little in education in this area. We need to directly develop the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours that support the learner in managing their own learning environment to meet their learning needs. The term I have used to describe this is “Learning Intelligence” or LQ. Failure to develop in learners an understanding of how they can manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs is not what learning is about.

Education learning foundation

So there we have it, the four corner stones of the foundation of any education system we care to develop based on learning. I would claim that if we remain true to these foundations then we can adapt and adopt all that is good and useful in teaching and learning from whatever source. We are in effect  guided by the foundations in selecting only those that adhere to the principles and therefore sustain them.  I would claim that such a foundation is both agile and secure. It is able to respond to changes in curriculum, forms of delivery and use whatever technology is appropriate to support teaching and learning.

Want to see any of the first 4 posts?

Part 1: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nz

We need to go back to the start, to look at teaching and learning from the beginning to find out if we have lost our way.

Part 2: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nD

How far back can we go with teaching and learning?

Part 3: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nJ

We go back and explore the simplest of learning models to see if we can re-establish secure foundations on which to build.

Part 4: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong? http://wp.me/p2LphS-nZ

What are the influences of the industrial and technological revolutions on education?

Part 3: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong?

2585609947_41943f8ab5_Okinawa Soba

So far I have suggested that we have lost sight of the foundations of teaching and learning. That the practices of science, those of ‘theories’ and ‘testing’ have come to dominate educational thinking and that some of the aspects of the art of teaching have been lost. I have also suggested that we go back and explore the simplest of learning models to see if we can re establish secure foundations on which to build.

So let’s take that simplest of learning models for a moment and let me suggest how it will look

  • I show you how to do something.
  • You watch me, ask questions and imitate.
  • I observe and evaluate what you do and provide feedback.
  • There is recognition of competence and progress reflected in the instruction and tasks.
  • You take note of my comments and try to improve, to become better, to master, to learn and perhaps ultimately understand.
  • I take note of your reactions and try to improve my instruction/guidance
  • We build a relationship and trust each other to do our best as either teacher or student although such roles are not always clearly defined. Often the teacher learns as much from the student as the student learns from the teacher.

2 sigma

This is in effect a model of the apprenticeship.  Problems may arise with this model as we try to scale things up, as we go from 1:1 to 1: many.   Bloom identified this as the “2 sigma problem” when he published his article “The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as effective as 1:1 Tutoring” in 1984 (1).  There are claims being made for being able to personalise learning through “adaptive learning” software in the context of “gamification of learning” . A TEDx talk by Ben Betts exploring the issue of the 2-sigma problem and gamification can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqLiLH6Sjnw

Whatever we do there are issues of quality, consistency, standards and resources as well as cost in whatever model we choose.

We can imagine 10 or 20 students and one teacher, and we may even imagine 60 students and one teacher. It is easy to see how a different model, successful in its own right and particular situation, can be looked to solve other problems.  The Victorians looked to mechanisation and standardisation, the process we refer to as industrialisation, and we are looking at the new technologies as we explore the latest revolution but as we scale things up one element of the simple model is diluted. Can you guess which one it is?

I believe as we scale up, as we increase the pupil teacher ratio, with our current approach we lose the intimacy element that is part of building the relationship between the teacher and the student. As yet, with current models, the teacher has not been able to provide the level of 1:1 observation and therefore focused and often immediate feedback that may be part of the foundation of the teaching and learning process.

This need to build relationships and trust in order to achieve effective teaching and learning systems may be the basic principle or foundation that we have lost as we have increasingly sought  to put things right in education.

By looking to the use of principles and practices from other models, perhaps first those of the industrial revolution and latterly the information technology revolution, have we moved away from the foundations of teaching and learning. The question is “Can we get them back in some effective form?

In the next part of this article I will look at the influences I believe both the industrial and information technology revolution have had, and continue to have, on education.

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

 

[i] http://web.mit.edu/5.95/readings/bloom-two-sigma.pdf

Image credit: Okinawa Soba http://www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2585609947/sizes/o/

What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong?

final examination

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

Learning Intelligence (LQ) and the link to Boredom

bored man

WAIT!

If you arrived at this page because you Googled “bored” read on you may find out why you feel that way. At the very least you will waste another 10 minutes but you will look as though you are doing something!

Down to business

Can boredom really have anything to do with learning and can you learn if you are bored?

The common thinking is that if you are bored you are not going to learn and, whilst this may be true, boredom can come about for a number of different reasons within the learning process and all of them have something to do with you learning environment and LQ. Let me explain.

Sometime ago I read an article that suggested boredom, or a session of being bored was actually good for you. This is something as a father I used often when my children complained of being bored. “I am bored!” was met with the quick reply, “Excellent, it is part of growing up and is good for you. Enjoy the opportunity.” Not always a welcome reply but it certainly did the trick. I could even claim to be a good parent because I created or provided the opportunity for boredom – result. I have come to give this notion some more thought as I have explored the concept of LQ. Can boredom be a good thing? The short answer is “It depends.” A bit of a cop-out answer in one way but in another it does highlight the need to explore what boredom actually is and why it occurs.

It would be childish to ask if I am boring you but I have anyway!

I hope you are still with me as I suggest why boredom can occur. Let us start by suggesting boredom is the result of a lack of interest in what is going on around us, a type of response like anxiety or fear or excitement. We may feel in some way, and for some reason, excluded from those events happening right now and within our current environment. Another word that springs to mind is “engagement”, we are not engaged whether physically or mentally with whatever it is we are meant to be doing at a given point in time when the state of boredom is experienced.

Exclusion from learning can occur for a number of reasons but one that appears to be very important is an understanding of what is going on. To one person who sees and understands what is happening around them the moments may be filled with an immense amount of information, all of it of interest to them. They may be taking part in an activity which brings them pleasure or enjoyment and time may mean nothing to them, as it appears to pass quickly. Sir Ken Robinson refers to this as being in your “element”[i] . Being in your element is described as a point where natural talent meets personal passion.  Certainly people who are in their element would be most unlikely to describe themselves as being bored. Having a talent often encourages you to keep practicing or researching or taking an interest in whatever that talent is related to. A talented footballer may have an interest in all things football related: statistics, players, news, transfers etc. They may notice things those who are not interested in or do not have a talent for football ever acknowledge or recognise. They are very aware of their environment and as a result take (learn) more from it.

People who claim to be bored, I mean genuinely bored not those who would rather be doing something else and so claim boredom as a strategy to move on, can be recognised by their show of a lack of interest in what is going on. This could be demonstrated by a reluctance to be verbally engaged  or even being very vocal indeed. If you are a teacher you will recognise that look that some students display from time to time, the one that says “Go away, I am not interested, even if you spontaneously combusted on the spot I would continue to stare into space.” You have to be careful though because of the “pseudo-boredom” look too, the one that is peer group generated because it is not something the group is interested in and therefore neither am I, it is not “cool”.  This is different altogether and more interest may be taken than you realise.

One of our natural needs is to be involved in something, to have fun, and if it is not being met in what is happening then other distractions are looked for. Teachers will be well aware of this when they think of disruptive students in their lessons. The boredom may come about because they may have experienced the same thing before, perhaps many times, so there is nothing new in it for them and no challenge. They may have tried to understand whatever it is, failed, and therefore decided it is not for them and no longer try to engage, too big a challenge.

Although not an in-depth answer I hope I have given you something to think about in terms of what boredom is and why it occurs.

Let us have a look at the next question “Can boredom be a good thing?”

Yes if you recognise it as a symptom of not being able to engage in whatever is going on in your environment and do something about.

No if you do nothing about trying to find a way to engage and ignore possible learning opportunities that surround you. I find there is always something to learn no matter where I am and what I am doing (ever wondered why “people watching” is so fascinating and popular?). Being disengaged means to drift and to miss opportunities.

Just asking yourself the question “Why do I feel this way?” when you are bored is a good start, you are beginning to re-engage with your environment. Just be aware that finding the answer is always the difficult part. Here are some possible questions that will help you find the answers to why you may experience boredom.

1)      Do I understand what is going on? This may involve understanding any prior learning that is required. Not understanding may indicate revision or re visiting the topic in a different way.

2)      Am I interested in what is going on? You may be absolutely familiar with the topic or activity and it may hold no new challenge for you. Should you be here and are you ready to move onto something new? If you are ready to move on why haven’t you?

3)      Am I distracted by something else? It is quite possible your mind is elsewhere, some other event has got you thinking and you are unable to follow what is going on around you. You may “tune out” and miss aspects which ultimately leads to you being excluded from what is going on around you and you lose interest.

4)      Are any or all of my needs being met?[ii] The four key ones are; a) Engagement or fun, b) Choice or freedom, c) Being heard or power and d) Being recognised for who you are, belonging.

5)      Are any or all of my learning needs being met? This is the heart of LQ, being able to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. A review of earlier posts will help you understand this aspect in relation to being engaged and limit boredom.

What this means for the Teacher

1)      See an exhibition of boredom as a symptom and not behaviour to be challenged. Some learners, including those recognised as gifted or talented, may have already understood have prior learning and need to move on and be challenged. Have you pitched the lesson at the correct level or are your resources able to provide challenge to the entire class?

2)      Resist requiring a public demonstration of understanding from those who appear bored. This does little to build or maintain relationships with the learners and can only serve to alienate you, as they will no longer be willing to trust you.

3)      Ask probing questions or those that require synthesis of the material to those that appear bored in order to show even though they may understand what is happening now there is more to the topic should they challenge themselves.

4)      Help learners to recognise that boredom is a signal to do something about their learning environment, about applying their LQ.

What this means for the Learner

1)      Learn to recognise boredom as a feeling that you should do something about and not an indication that you cannot learn or that you do not have to make an effort to learn. Both beliefs are limiting your potential in the topic. With the right approach (LQ) and effort you have a better chance of learning or gaining a deeper understanding of the topic.

2)      If you are experiencing boredom then find an opportunity to explain your feelings to your teacher. They may well have noticed your behaviour and a conversation can reassure both of you that you still want to learn and provide a possible pathway and maybe a new challenge or new approach.

What is next weeks topic?

The link between Learning Intelligence (LQ) and Self.
 Who we think we are and how we got that way has a major impact on our learning map (what we believe we can and cannot learn).  So what is the self and where does it come from?


[i] Sir Ken Robinson 2009 The Element How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,  Penguin – YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TAqSBMZDY8

[ii] Kevin Hewitson 2012 Understanding Learning Needs, Advocating Creativity Ltd

http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html

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