Tag Archive | teaching strategies

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

It is fair to say not all learners thrive in the educational environment of the school.

Do we though, instead of investigating and remedying this situation, allow ourselves to believe another cause for this shortcoming?

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

Some of the reasons given by teachers for students not doing well at school include:-

  • they were lazy at school
  • they mixed with the wrong crowd
  • too easily distracted
  • had too much time off

Sometimes a change of school brings a change in the learner so we could ask is it really the school environment since all we have done is swap one for the other, it is still a school environment.  There are more than likely many reasons why students suddenly start doing well after a period of languishing in the bottom percentages so to try to find a single one is questionable.  I would agree unless that is you believe in the effect of the teacher-learner relationship.

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

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

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

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

In teaching, it can be difficult not to focus on delivering the curriculum and assessing progress but this can overshadow meeting learner’s needs.  Is this the real reason some students dot do well in the school environment I wonder. Luckily it is a simple matter to remember these needs and to include them in our interaction with others.  I have developed a mnemonic to do just that and even the acronym that represents them is easy to remember too.

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

Here is a quick overview of PBCF and a useful graphic

Power – having a voice, being acknowledged

Belonging – being recognised and remembered

Choice – offered choice and understanding the resulting consequences

Fun – enjoying what you do and celebrating success

Using PBCF in your own work.

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

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Scaffolding learning – a different perspective?

scaffolding2

As teachers we break a subject down into components or elements of knowledge and understanding, into learning steps if you like. We then find the “best” way to deliver these steps in a way learners will, with a measured degree of effort, assimilate.  This process is influenced by our knowledge and understanding of pedagogy and our relationship with the learners. In short we “scaffold” learning.  Fairly straightforward but have you thought about it from a learner’s perspective?  No? – Well read on!

Using what we know to learn what we don’t know

I have come to believe that we learn by building on what we know. This to me is a sort of mental map of my knowledge and understanding, knowing and learning (yes there is a difference, see this article: http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba). The bigger and more detailed the map the more confident we are and easier we find learning something new. For example it has been shown that speaking more than one language helps in learning a new language. I have a way of visualising this process of building on what I already know and call it “anchoring”. I look to make sense of what it is I am trying to learn or understand by referencing it with what I already know or understand what I have already learnt. I make links between what I already know and what I need to learn.

brain-map-transmitters1

Anchoring essentially involves problem solving, an important aspect of Learning Intelligence, LQ (download a leaflet here: about-lq-with-lq-graphic). This is how this approach works and how a teacher can use it effectively in their lessons.

From the learner’s perspective

1) As the topic or subject is introduced we have to look and listen for words or phrases we already recognise.

2) We cannot assume they mean the same thing in this scenario as they do in others so we need to seek clarification and check meaning and relevance.

3) We take enough time to reflect on how what we know fits in with what we are learning. This also involves asking questions to check the links are valid.

4) Next is a sort of consolidation phase, where we explore a little further trying to see where what we know already and what we are trying to learn may take us.

5) This leads to as a sort of prediction phase where the links are established and we are ready to embark on a new learning journey.  We can make educated guesses or predictions if given certain pieces of information.

So learning starts by seeing learning as a problem to solve and a period of analysis and reflection.

From the teacher’s perspective

1) Ask yourself what students need to know or understand in order to make a start on this topic and prepare questions you can ask to check before starting the topic.

2) Don’t assume understanding. Often the same words or phrases can be learnt without understanding. Build in a check and reflection phase during the topic introduction.  Acknowledge and praise where students show understanding or can make links with relevant knowledge.

3) Create an opportunity for students to identify what they already know and how it can be useful in the learning process.

4) Introduce risk taking in the learning process. Encourage students to make assumptions or predictions about the new topic. Here are some questions that can be used to initiate this process. “Knowing what we know already what might happen if…?” “How do you think this might link to…?” You are actually leading up to “Let’s find out”

5) Don’t underestimate how much effort this takes on the part of the learner.  Allow for structured mental breaks and reflection periods. Build in activities that create opportunity for pair or small group work and class feedback sessions.

The proof is in the pudding

I have tried this out on myself in learning about path-finding algorithms used in game programming and after 50 minutes I was in need of a mental break despite being very interested.  I went through all the steps I suggest a student goes through here. During the process I was not passive, there is no good sitting there and hoping you are on the same page as the teacher. Learning intelligence, LQ, is about managing your learning environment and that means interacting with it.

There are two other observations to make about this approach. Firstly I was able to contribute much sooner than if I had just listened. I was in an active learner state earlier. This is important if we as learners are going to maximise opportunities for learning. For teachers it means a greater rate of progress.

Secondly I have a deeper understanding of the topic in a much shorter period of time and anchors that can be used to recall the learning links later. These anchors can be thought of the start of trail of “bread crumbs” marking our thought and learning associations. In case of reviewing or revisiting what we have learnt, and possibly forgotten, we can pick up the trail again starting from an established anchor point.  By following the same trail we reach the same understanding but importantly we can do this independently using our internal prompts. A simplified example is knowing that 12 x 12 is 144 so when asked what 24 x 12 is we can start at  12 x 12 and quickly recognise we are talking about twice as much.

I would be interested if you  scaffold your teaching or learning in this way too.

 

 

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

yours

How we see ourselves as a learner has a significant impact on the “what” and the “how” when we are in a learning mode. But how accurate are our self-perceptions when it comes to learning and how do we build them?

In part one I will suggest that our self-perceptions as a learner are formed as a result of the idea that there is one way we all learn.  In further parts  I will describe the impact of this notion on learners as well s explore the impact on the learning environment as we try to find the one way to teach and to learn.

Unfortunately as we experience school we are not encouraged to develop our view of ourselves as learners. We are given labels and expected to live up or down to them. This all stems from one false “truth”. Let’s explore this “truth”.

Education theory has a demon it cannot shake off and the outcome of this is that we are constantly being directed towards a “better way”.  We seek to find a better way to learn, a better way to teach and a better structure on which to base our education system. This emphasis on the “better way” suggests there is one, and only one, way. This is why we see theories come into fashion and then go out again only to be re-discovered when the latest one has failed to “do it for everyone”. Those with influence on policy and practice also carry with them their favourite which they are reluctant to accept may not suit everyone.  In the UK we have seen, and continue to see, education formed in the image of some individual or persuasive group who believe their way is the right way.

The real truth is that there is no one way. No one way at any moment in the challenge of learning. No one way to teach. No one design on which to build an education system that will meet the needs of everyone. This is hard to accept. Even harder to consider when you want to standardise things. Impossible if you want to monitor or predict outcomes.

The sad thing is that so long as we look for one way to learn, to teach and structure education we fail to see the benefits of those ways that work for some of us, some of the time. It’s like holding a bunch of keys and trying them, one at a time, in a lock that does not have a single key to open it. We pick up a key, try it and then throw it to the floor and try another. When we run out of keys we pick them up off the floor and continue to try them one at a time again.  When you have more than one person jostling to try their key in the lock then we see the real dangers of this approach. Power and influence are brought to bear to get to the front. Any other key holder is attacked in order to diminish their chance of trying their key in the lock. They would be just getting in the way anyway and delaying us opening the door to the “better way” wouldn’t they!

See this site for a list of learning theories. Then ask yourself how many are still “popular”, how many have been “attacked” and why some still have supporters despite being attacked. http://www.learning-theories.com/

There are no one set of circumstances, no single way to teach, no one system of education that will produce a “better way”.  The way that counts is the way that works for you.

To discover what works best for you requires you to be allowed to explore learning and evaluate the “how” for yourself.  You need to be exposed to different learning strategies and shown that what we see or regard as “ability” may be influenced by more than one thing.  We need to avoid labels.

Warning – this may produce “challenging behaviours” in a system that believes in and promotes “one way”.

What I am proposing is not revolutionary in terms of new theories but it is in terms of approaches to learning. Well it appears to be to me and I have been in the education profession for nearly four decades! The fact that we have not yet changed our approach to education that we persist along the “one way” path suggests one of two things.  Firstly there is a vested interest in this process that it serves some purpose we have yet to discover. Secondly our egos are bigger than our view of education.  If there is a third reason then please let me know.

multiple padlocked-gate

What I am proposing is based on the idea that there is no “one way”, no “best way” to learn, that the lock on the door of learning needs multiple keys to open it. It may even be that the lock changes from time to time too making it necessary to look for a different combination of keys. This is the concept that sits behind my idea of “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short.

More about LQ in part two.

Part 2

LQ and PBCF

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

foundations

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

clean-slate-board

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

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

teacher and class

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

pbcf4

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

Teaching and Learning Responibility diag v2

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

hero's journey adapted for learning

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

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

Education learning foundation

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

Want to see any of the first 4 posts?

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

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

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

How far back can we go with teaching and learning?

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

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

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

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

An introduction to Mindful Teaching

think before you ask

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.

[i] http://www.ellenlanger.com/books/2/the-power-of-mindful-learning

Part 2: What if everything we thought we knew about learning was wrong?

In the last part of this article I argued for the need to re-examine the foundations of teaching and learning and to establish if the foundations of what we do and why we do it are still part of today’s educations systems. In short are they relevant? In this, the second part, I ask the question “How far back can we go with teaching and learning?”

campfire homo erectus

Well I would argue that there must have been a time when somebody knew something somebody else did not. Something they discovered for themselves, something that gave them an evolutionary advantage  and perhaps wanted to share with those they lived with.  The making of fire may just have been that one thing or that a stone can act as a club. Although it is rather romantic to imagine such a scenario it does conjure up the first possible teaching and learning scenario.  It does also point to a few possible long lost principles of education too. That:

  • learning through need is a great motivational aspect of learning
  • we learn better when we co-operate with each other,
  • sharing ideas develops new ideas and improves existing ones,
  • failing is just part of the learning journey and should not define who we are (try, try and try again) and
  • trust is a significant aspect of the learning relationship

Long before teaching was a recognised profession and education was a nation’s currency in world rankings there was a time when people learnt things from one another or by reflecting on experiences. Since this simple model we have sought to turn learning into a science and in doing so brought the principles, practices, evaluative and proof tools of science to bear on the process.  I believe some aspects of the art of learning have been sacrificed as we have moved away from the simple model of teaching and learning and adopted a more scientific approach of theories and testing.

As the sciences have  evolved we have attempted to build models of learning that influence how we teach. These models go on to set or influence education policy and practices. Some of these models have been discredited and some build up a strong following as they appear to provide insights into how we can teach better and improve the process of learning.  Whatever appears to work in any part of the educational landscape is explored in order to find elements we can transplant and improve the health of our own education systems.  The idea of science making the process of learning clear continues.  We have seen the rise of neuroscience as we look for ways in which people learn and have employed MRI scanning to map the brain functions.

But what would we do if we had only the simple model of learning and everything else that we believe in how we learn was wrong?  So what if there is:

  • no right brain/left brain functions,
  • no learning styles,
  • no benefit to rote learning or
  • no set of basics or subjects on which we build further learning,
  • no best time of the day to learn

or any of the other ideas or theories we have about how we learn best.

What would we do? What policies and practices would we adopt if there was only the simplest of learning models?

In the next part of this article I will propose the principles and practices of a simple learning model.

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

Graphic from: http://socialesiesae.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/prehistory.html

Five Steps in Developing Learning Intelligence (LQ)


diagram of LQ and SAAB

For over a year now I have been publishing articles that describe the concept I call Learning Intelligence or “LQ” for short. You can see a list of the articles here: About LQ and articles

My “elevator” speech is that “LQ is the ability of the learner to manage their learning environment to  meet their learning needs.”  This is proving to be a simple yet powerful approach to teaching and learning.

As you can see from the graphic above LQ consists of a set of Skills, Attitudes, Attributes and Behaviors but how do you go about developing your LQ?

Here are five steps you could try.

1) Understand the impact of your learning environment on your learning and develop a feeling of being “safe” through taking responsibility for your own learning.

2) Determine the best learning strategy in any learning situation, this may involve delaying in depth learning so be patient.

3) Manage those around you or those directing your learning in a way that supports your learning and builds relationships

4) Be confident and willing to collaborate and to share what you have learnt or finding difficult to learn in order to seek support or guidance.

5) Be willing to change what you believe you can and cannot learn.

For more about how LQ can help you as a parent, teacher or as a learner then you can contact me at kevin@ace-d.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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