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.
Th enext article exploring If you can’t reach them you can’t teach them is:
It is fair to say not all learners thrive in the educational environment that we call “school”. Some of the students who pass through school without achieving much do much better once they leave. Have you ever thought about why this happens?
Do we instead of investigating and remedying this situation allow ourselves to believe that there is nothing we can do about it? We may believe that more than enough reform, inspection and restructuring has taken place and that we are helpless in creating the change needed. We may wonder what a single teacher could do that politician, think-tanks, and significant financial leverage cannot. Here is what I believe we can do to help every learner thrive in our schools.
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 I have listed below, it does not change the fact that some students don’t do well in the school environment.
Here are some of the reasons given by teachers for students not doing well at school that I have come across:-
- they were lazy at school, did not make an effort
- they mixed with the ‘wrong crowd’
- they were too easily distracted by what was going on around them
- had too much absence or were always late
Having thought about these and other reasons I have begun to see them as ‘behaviours’ that are symptoms of a problem rather than the cause of one. For example, we are know to be able to make an effort when we can access something that interests us and that we can sustain focus for extended periods of time when doing so. Sir Ken Robinson talks of being in your ‘element’ but I believe it is more than that, at least initially.
Sometimes a change of school brings a change in the learner, they begin to engage and often their learning improves. Given that this happens 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 under the same influences and controls. There are more than likely many reasons why students suddenly start doing well after a period of languishing in the bottom so to trying to find a single one is questionable and, in most cases, I would agree – except! There is something that in my own experience explains most, if not all of the ‘turnarounds’ and that is 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 a 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 learning 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 learning 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.
As teachers, we know about the needs of the student and we work hard at building relationships. This is true except in teaching it can be difficult not to focus on just delivering the curriculum and assessing progress and this can overshadow meeting learner’s needs. Is this the real reason some students do not do well in the school environment I wonder? If we have changed school targets, structures, organisation, management, examinations and testing and yet still do not meet the needs of some students then you have to ask yourself the question – “Do any of these things actually matter that much, will they lead to the changes we want to see in terms of student achievement?”
I have researched and written at length about each of the four learning needs so for this article I will not go depth. Luckily it is a simple matter to remember these four needs and to include them in our interaction with others and in our teaching, 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 the four needs, 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, it is a comprehensive guide to all the factors associated with developing PBCF in teaching.
As teachers we break a subject down into components or elements of knowledge and understanding, into learning steps if you like. We then find the “best” way to deliver these steps in a way learners will, with a measured degree of effort, assimilate. This process is influenced by our knowledge and understanding of pedagogy and our relationship with the learners. In short we “scaffold” learning. Fairly straightforward but have you thought about it from a learner’s perspective? No? – Well read on!
Using what we know to learn what we don’t know
I have come to believe that we learn by building on what we know. This to me is a sort of mental map of my knowledge and understanding, knowing and learning (yes there is a difference, see this article: http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba). The bigger and more detailed the map the more confident we are and easier we find learning something new. For example it has been shown that speaking more than one language helps in learning a new language. I have a way of visualising this process of building on what I already know and call it “anchoring”. I look to make sense of what it is I am trying to learn or understand by referencing it with what I already know or understand what I have already learnt. I make links between what I already know and what I need to learn.
Anchoring essentially involves problem solving, an important aspect of Learning Intelligence, LQ (download a leaflet here: about-lq-with-lq-graphic). This is how this approach works and how a teacher can use it effectively in their lessons.
From the learner’s perspective
1) As the topic or subject is introduced we have to look and listen for words or phrases we already recognise.
2) We cannot assume they mean the same thing in this scenario as they do in others so we need to seek clarification and check meaning and relevance.
3) We take enough time to reflect on how what we know fits in with what we are learning. This also involves asking questions to check the links are valid.
4) Next is a sort of consolidation phase, where we explore a little further trying to see where what we know already and what we are trying to learn may take us.
5) This leads to as a sort of prediction phase where the links are established and we are ready to embark on a new learning journey. We can make educated guesses or predictions if given certain pieces of information.
So learning starts by seeing learning as a problem to solve and a period of analysis and reflection.
From the teacher’s perspective
1) Ask yourself what students need to know or understand in order to make a start on this topic and prepare questions you can ask to check before starting the topic.
2) Don’t assume understanding. Often the same words or phrases can be learnt without understanding. Build in a check and reflection phase during the topic introduction. Acknowledge and praise where students show understanding or can make links with relevant knowledge.
3) Create an opportunity for students to identify what they already know and how it can be useful in the learning process.
4) Introduce risk taking in the learning process. Encourage students to make assumptions or predictions about the new topic. Here are some questions that can be used to initiate this process. “Knowing what we know already what might happen if…?” “How do you think this might link to…?” You are actually leading up to “Let’s find out”
5) Don’t underestimate how much effort this takes on the part of the learner. Allow for structured mental breaks and reflection periods. Build in activities that create opportunity for pair or small group work and class feedback sessions.
The proof is in the pudding
I have tried this out on myself in learning about path-finding algorithms used in game programming and after 50 minutes I was in need of a mental break despite being very interested. I went through all the steps I suggest a student goes through here. During the process I was not passive, there is no good sitting there and hoping you are on the same page as the teacher. Learning intelligence, LQ, is about managing your learning environment and that means interacting with it.
There are two other observations to make about this approach. Firstly I was able to contribute much sooner than if I had just listened. I was in an active learner state earlier. This is important if we as learners are going to maximise opportunities for learning. For teachers it means a greater rate of progress.
Secondly I have a deeper understanding of the topic in a much shorter period of time and anchors that can be used to recall the learning links later. These anchors can be thought of the start of trail of “bread crumbs” marking our thought and learning associations. In case of reviewing or revisiting what we have learnt, and possibly forgotten, we can pick up the trail again starting from an established anchor point. By following the same trail we reach the same understanding but importantly we can do this independently using our internal prompts. A simplified example is knowing that 12 x 12 is 144 so when asked what 24 x 12 is we can start at 12 x 12 and quickly recognise we are talking about twice as much.
I would be interested if you scaffold your teaching or learning in this way too.
How we see ourselves as a learner has a significant impact on the “what” and the “how” when we are in a learning mode. But how accurate are our self-perceptions when it comes to learning and how do we build them?
In part one I will suggest that our self-perceptions as a learner are formed as a result of the idea that there is one way we all learn. In further parts I will describe the impact of this notion on learners as well s explore the impact on the learning environment as we try to find the one way to teach and to learn.
Unfortunately as we experience school we are not encouraged to develop our view of ourselves as learners. We are given labels and expected to live up or down to them. This all stems from one false “truth”. Let’s explore this “truth”.
Education theory has a demon it cannot shake off and the outcome of this is that we are constantly being directed towards a “better way”. We seek to find a better way to learn, a better way to teach and a better structure on which to base our education system. This emphasis on the “better way” suggests there is one, and only one, way. This is why we see theories come into fashion and then go out again only to be re-discovered when the latest one has failed to “do it for everyone”. Those with influence on policy and practice also carry with them their favourite which they are reluctant to accept may not suit everyone. In the UK we have seen, and continue to see, education formed in the image of some individual or persuasive group who believe their way is the right way.
The real truth is that there is no one way. No one way at any moment in the challenge of learning. No one way to teach. No one design on which to build an education system that will meet the needs of everyone. This is hard to accept. Even harder to consider when you want to standardise things. Impossible if you want to monitor or predict outcomes.
The sad thing is that so long as we look for one way to learn, to teach and structure education we fail to see the benefits of those ways that work for some of us, some of the time. It’s like holding a bunch of keys and trying them, one at a time, in a lock that does not have a single key to open it. We pick up a key, try it and then throw it to the floor and try another. When we run out of keys we pick them up off the floor and continue to try them one at a time again. When you have more than one person jostling to try their key in the lock then we see the real dangers of this approach. Power and influence are brought to bear to get to the front. Any other key holder is attacked in order to diminish their chance of trying their key in the lock. They would be just getting in the way anyway and delaying us opening the door to the “better way” wouldn’t they!
See this site for a list of learning theories. Then ask yourself how many are still “popular”, how many have been “attacked” and why some still have supporters despite being attacked. http://www.learning-theories.com/
There are no one set of circumstances, no single way to teach, no one system of education that will produce a “better way”. The way that counts is the way that works for you.
To discover what works best for you requires you to be allowed to explore learning and evaluate the “how” for yourself. You need to be exposed to different learning strategies and shown that what we see or regard as “ability” may be influenced by more than one thing. We need to avoid labels.
Warning – this may produce “challenging behaviours” in a system that believes in and promotes “one way”.
What I am proposing is not revolutionary in terms of new theories but it is in terms of approaches to learning. Well it appears to be to me and I have been in the education profession for nearly four decades! The fact that we have not yet changed our approach to education that we persist along the “one way” path suggests one of two things. Firstly there is a vested interest in this process that it serves some purpose we have yet to discover. Secondly our egos are bigger than our view of education. If there is a third reason then please let me know.
What I am proposing is based on the idea that there is no “one way”, no “best way” to learn, that the lock on the door of learning needs multiple keys to open it. It may even be that the lock changes from time to time too making it necessary to look for a different combination of keys. This is the concept that sits behind my idea of “Learning Intelligence”, or “LQ” for short.
More about LQ in part two.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?”
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
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 email@example.com
The original post below was written
THREE FOUR years ago now. Has anything changed?
It’s not exactly easy re-reading an article you wrote some time ago and finding that it’s still so relevant to education in the UK. Hope appears to takes a bit of a bashing when this is the case. So here is my hope once again and what I see as the responsibility of school leadership to make it happen.
The leadership mantra
“If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own.
If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.”
The original article, see how many things have changed since 2014
“All Change – or is it?”
Here in the UK a new term is about to begin and we have new direction from Ofsted in the form of revised guidance and a new Secretary of State for Education. Some teachers will be joining new schools and many will be facing the challenges of getting to know and teach new classes. Some teachers may even be taking on new challenges in the way of responsibilities or even the subjects and syllabi they will be teaching. The school may be facing new challenges or targets and there may even be new leadership intent on bringing about improvements. A new timetable always brings with it a certain level of stress too as teachers and students try to remember where they should be and when and with what. A timetable can have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning and when the “tail wags the dog” instead of enabling as the timetable can sometimes do many pay the price during the year. You would be forgiven for being overwhelmed even before you sit and listen to the Head setting out the challenges and goals for the year ahead.
The principles on which teaching is based
Luckily there are the routines and traditions that can form the refuge for the bewildered and confused and these can be found in the classrooms, corridors, and playgrounds of the many schools facing the new term. There will be a desk and seat, a teacher, a focal point, a register to call, rules to follow, expectations and things to learn. These are the everyday realities of teaching and even with interactive whiteboards, improved planning rubrics, simpler assessment systems, computers and tablets, 3-D spaces and the odd new pencil case, little if anything really changes when it comes to the actual job of teaching.
It’s not all about resources
I have seen some of the best teaching with the most basic of resources and simplest of systems and some of the poorest teaching with the most sophisticated of resources and most intricate of systems. I have also seen some of the best teaching with the least motivated of learners and some of the poorest teaching with those learners so eager to conform and please.
If you are now expecting me to call for a back to basics approach or to ignore change because we have all seen it before and no doubt it will come around again then I must disappoint you.
Neither am I advocating that you jump in with both feet and take on board whatever change you face with as much enthusiasm you can muster. What I am reminding you of is the importance of building the firm foundations that will allow you to teach and then I am asking you to consider everything else in light of this one responsibility and this is it:
If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own.
If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.
In my view it is the role of the leadership team to ensure that the learning environment and the relationships between teacher and learner are protected at all times and from all directions.
Leadership responsibilities and change, reform and new ideas
Below is a diagrammatic representation of what I see as the principle role of leadership in this respect. There is a lot to take in in one go but focus on the learning responsibility ratio (the rectangle shaded blue at the bottom) which, if protected, should naturally over time move from an emphasis on the teacher to prepare, plan, motivate, engage and encourage to the learner taking more responsibility for managing the learning environment to meet their own needs. This transition has a great deal to do with “Learning Intelligence” and “Learning Needs”* (not learning styles). Although I have not shown what happens when the leadership fails to protect this relationship in effect the responsibility reverts to the teacher and we end up with a “saw tooth” rather than a straight line transfer. In extreme cases the learner may abdicate all responsibility for learning since any immediate consequences fall on the teacher and not the student.
If you would like to explore the Teacher Learner Relationship then please see this article.
If we accept that it is the teacher’s responsibility to manage the learning environment then here are my four foundation stones for teaching.
There are “Learning Needs” and we all have them. When planning lessons make sure you include these four headings. The 4 learning needs are based on 35 years of teaching experience but the headings come from William Glasser [i] Its an easy set to remember – just Please Be Child Friendly in your approach and planning!
1) Power – how will I give my students a voice and show them that I am listening to their concerns and needs?
2) Belonging – what can I do to build a sense of belonging as I develop my relationships with my students in a way that builds trust and loyalty?
3) Choice – what choices will I allow and how will I link these to consequences? How can I show them that they can have some control over their learning environment and that in doing so they can make learning easier?
4) Fun – how will I build the link between fun and achievement and how will I ensure we celebrate success to make learning fun?
* Want to know how you can develop this model in your organisation or find out more about how LQ can improve the performance of your students?
* For more on the school learning environment see an earlier article “The First LQ Topic Review – LQ and the School Environment”
I can be contacted by phone at 01604 891229 or 07519743941
By e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Through Skype: ace-d.co.uk
* For an alternative way to explore planning through what I call “Learning Intelligence” then see the article “Learning Intelligence (LQ) and Lesson Planning” at: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6
For an introduction to Learning Intelligence then see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p and a graphic covering the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours at: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence
For a detailed exploration of learning needs I have published an e-book “Understanding Learning Needs” available for download at: http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html Priced at £4.95. This book has been recognised by experienced professionals as an excellent reminder of the important things in teaching and learning and by those mentoring and guiding new teachers as sound advice and guidance for a successful career.
[i] William Glasser (2001) Choice Theory in the Classroom, Harper
As teachers we know that our classes can fall into three groups, this is especially evident at reporting time.
There are those that do well, are active participants in the learning, question and who are confident. You know these well and find it easy to say something about their progress, attitudes, and behaviours. “Well done. Keep it up” There are those who have presented challenges, often of a behavioural or engagement in nature. Once again you know these well and you do not struggle to offer advice on how to do better next year. “Learn to focus and avoid distractions” The last group are not so well known to you. They are often quiet, do as they are told and take up little of your time. In short they are compliant and when it comes to writing reports often provide the biggest challenge.
The size of each group may vary but I would bet they still exist in many classes.
The first group
We could argue that the first group find the learning environment to their liking and are comfortable within it. They are comfortable with the approach, resources, pace, language and tasks. This group are often the “volunteer” group and will take part in extracurricular activities or be members of out of class groups. As a result of their learning needs being met they do well and make progress.
The second group
The second group do not find the learning environment to their liking, something is missing, and they are not comfortable but do not have the language or skills to express what is wrong in an appropriate and helpful manner. Although they seek to express their needs they do not fully understand what it is that is missing or what to do about it. The result is a series of challenges as they seek attention to help them resolve the issues they have with their learning environment. This group will often take up a greater percentage of resources than their numbers suggest both in terms of the teacher and support provision. This support may not produce as much impact as wished too because it often does not address the issue of the learning environment and the missing needs. A little like giving glasses of water to somebody when they ask for water when actually what they need is the fire brigade to put out a blaze.
The third group
The third group, the compliant learners, don’t make a fuss even if the learning environment is not meeting their learning needs. They may “self-label” as not very bright and have reduced expectations of themselves as they reflect the expectations placed upon them. When we rely on past performance as a predictor of potential or future performance this group often go unchallenged since they achieve within the expected or predicted range even if this is way below their true and as yet untapped potential. When there is a threshold associated with targets and grades this group will often be seen as the “borderline” students, those who with more help could achieve a little more. What we give them though is more of the same and yet we are still not meeting their learning needs although some will do better because of the greater expectation we have of them.
Do you disagree with me?
If you disagree with me then for you these groups don’t exist, you have never experienced them, and report writing for you is a case of limiting what you have to say rather than trying to find things to say about some of your students. You do not see compliance as a learning disability?
If you agree with me and these groups do exist what can we do about them?
Firstly we know there are students who do well in everything they do at school. We may see or recognise these as “more able” or “gifted or talented” students. Perhaps we should also see them as students who have the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours to manage their learning environments to meet their learning needs in whatever learning environment they find themselves. They know that whatever they face in terms of learning challenges there are ways around the obstacles and they can do something about it, a form of “acceptance compliance.”
Next we have the anomaly of a student who does well in one subject and not in another. Rather than exploring the differences in the learning environment we rather comfortably explain this by saying they have a natural ability in a subject or perhaps it is because they get along with the teacher of that subject. For whatever reason we accept their lack of performance or achievements in other subjects as a result of this “reasoning.” The students go along with this and see themselves as being better in some subjects than others, another form of “acceptance compliance.” We do not question their ability to manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs nor do we seek to develop their skills or challenge their attitudes and behaviours. It is uncommon to find those students who do not do well
It is uncommon to find those students who do not do well in any subject at school being offered a “different” or “alternative” curriculum. This has the radical effect of changing the learning environment in a number of ways. Something they are likely to go along with for their present experience is nothing more than uncomfortable, to say the least. There are many cases where students unexpectedly excel in this different environment and this is often put down to the lack of academic demands or the student being more interested and therefore more motivated to learn. Once again what is not explored is the learning environment and the match to the learning skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours of the learner that may bring about this change. Further, we do not take this success and use it to demonstrate that where the learner has succeeded in a learning environment that suits their needs that with the appropriate support they may be able to learn to manage other learning environments too and therefore extend their achievements.
The case for Learning Intelligence or LQ
LQ is the ability to manage your learning environment to meet your learning needs. In the examples I have given above I would argue that we tend to ignore the learning environment and our ability as learners to manage it. We find ways of explaining achievement in some areas and not others and ultimately may reject some learners. We accept compliance and make no link between the level of success of a learner and their ability to manage the learning environment to meet their needs. I argue that it is at least worth exploring LQ as a factor in learning and that working to develop the skills, attitudes, attributes, and behaviours of learners will ultimately be a better approach for all learners than compliance, more of the same, support or an alternative curriculum.
Link to Learning Intelligence graphic:
I would argue that in any new learning situation that the starting point for learning is different for each of us and that adopting a common approach is limiting. Do we ignore this when we operate education systems and if so what are the implications?
Sometimes to see the foolishness of an action or decision we need to look at it from a different perspective. Let’s explore the idea of a common starting point and activities, a one size fits all approach, in a different context and see if it makes sense.
In exploring our education systems I would need an example where a group of people are brought together in a controlled form for a common purpose but possibly with different needs and expectations.
Imagine 520 tourists getting off an A380 arriving in, say Singapore, for the very first time. No one has been here before; they are all new to this island country in Southeast Asia. This gives us the cohort, different needs and expectations but a common starting point.
It is highly unlikely they will want to travel as a group whilst in Singapore but that is not possible where we have controlled or timetabled activities. In normal circumstances they would not have the same intentions or interests, visit the same places at the same time, meet the same people, and have the same interactive experience with the country.
If we made them get off the plane as a group and manage them as a group (one size fits all) as we do in schools then this way of doing things would probably be unfulfilling for many of the tourists. Why? Well as they are organised and taken off to experience something they have no control over what happens. They may be made to see something they are not interested in at all and possibly miss out on something they were fascinated by and looking forward to doing or seeing, there would be disappointment and disengagement. Some would want more time in one area over another and possibly get frustrated by this. Some may want to explore on their own and others happy to be directed or guided here and there and some may be happy to dip in and out again depending on what was on offer and their interests.
Now image those 520 tourists getting on the same plane at the end of their “group” visit and the feedback they may present to the tour operator having this “one size fits all” type of holiday. Imagine many are unhappy and vow never to travel with the same operator again.
In an effort to make the next trip more successful the tour operator decides it is a case of needing to promote the idea of travelling in this way and not the idea itself that is in need of change. An obvious solution is to use the normally wasted flight time to prepare the passengers for their visit. He is sure that if the passengers understood why he did it the way he did that they would be more agreeable. He sets about having history and geography as well as language “classes” on the flight out with the expectation they will get more out of their visit and be more agreeable. There is a lot to cover and so a timetable is devised with short breaks in order to get it all in and flight attendants deliver the programme.
It still does not go as he had hoped and the feedback is not as good as he would like. He sees the need to find ways to further improve the service.
As the passengers fly back he decides to quiz them to see if they have taken it all in and to see where improvements can be made. Papers are issued and questions asked and short essays written about what they have seen and experienced. Flight attendants issue the papers, mark, and return them to the passengers having entered the data into a database for review later. Small rewards are given to those who have done well in an effort to encourage them to use the same tour operator next time. It is hoped that when others see the rewards they will try harder next time.
He finds some have had a great time and will fly with him again, others speak of being bored having no interest in the things they have been made to see. Others complain about the lack of personal choice or freedom to explore on their own. Many say they feel the service is too impersonal and they do not like being treated as if they were just a number. The “quizzes” did not go down too well with some either. Flight attendants complain about the additional workload and de-motivated passengers.
A review of the data suggests 55% of people had what could be referred to as a “good time.” 10% had a “great time” and 5% a “fantastic time.” They decide that the aim for next year will be at least 60% of passengers will have had a good time and the flight attendants have been instructed to achieve this target. A series of inspections are planned to check that the on-board classes are delivered according to set guidelines and that they are good or better.
I hope you can see where I am going with this analogy. I have not even started talking about the cabin crew (SLT), passengers in first or business class (G&T), or economy (At risk) or longer flight times, selection processes or “free airlines” run by chains of tour operators who promise better satisfaction rates . At some point what was thought of as a good idea just becomes absurd. What follows is also absurd as we find ways of justifying what we are doing, often in the face of common sense. Here is an example taken from the Sabre Tooth Curriculum [i]
“Don’t be foolish,” said the wise old men, smiling most kindly smiles.
“We don’t teach fish‐rabbing to grab fish; we teach it to develop a generalized agility which can never be developed by mere training.
What also results is that people start to take sides. Those that support what we have and those that propose something different. For example Sir Ken Robinson [ii] is seen as a speaker of truth by some and a misguided snake oil salesman by others. Here is a quote from Pragmatic Education blog “Sir Ken’s ideas are incredibly seductive, but they are wrong, spectacularly and gloriously wrong.”[iii]
My point is that what starts off as a good idea can quickly get into trouble if we do not step back now and then and see where we are going in trying to improve what we are doing. It is easy to get drawn into the “make it better” or “try harder” rather than “change it” syndrome. We certainly need to stop treating all learners as the same because of their age and we need to stop doing all things for learners all of the time, and we need to stop expecting them all to reach the same stage at the same time too. In fact there is a lot we should stop doing in order to just improve our education systems. We need to think outside of the box and this is where I am with my concept of Learning Intelligence.
Other posts on this theme:
The Need for Learning Intelligence as a Concept (http://wp.me/p2LphS-gY)
Knowing and Learning – What is the Difference (http://wp.me/p2LphS-ba)
There are difficulties and disagreements in not only deciding what an education should consist of but also how people should be taught and how we should assess the learning that takes place.
These are three fundamental questions on which it is difficult to find any agreement. Do we follow the ideas of “experts,” politicians, teachers or learners and who do we choose and how do we choose them? Is there one right approach and solution to the education equation and can we afford the answer?
There is no doubt that collectively we are trying to find a way forward in education and that many individuals and groups have their ideas as how best to proceed. There is no one way, no one right way for everyone yet we still seek this “golden token” that will unite us all. It was the dream of Victorian engineering that everything could be broken down, improved, mass produced and re assembled to make a better product all of which behave in exactly the same way. In terms of education this idea has proven to be a false compass and we are, dare I say it, lost!
Finding your way
If we become lost in any landscape running around in circles is not the way forward or the intelligent thing to do. The clever thing to do is to look for indicators for the “best” direction to go in and plan how to get there. Again we face the dilemma of choice. Assuming we are not alone and not the sole decision maker I am sure there would be a host of “best” directions to go in and each person would have their view and ideas. Some may form into groups in order to strengthen their argument and secure the direction based on what they thought best. Whatever direction people set off in there would be a constant challenge and pressure to go another way when things looked hopeless. I would argue it is this lack of consensus that seriously affects education in the same way as it affects people who are lost and cannot agree which way to go.
If you are alone and lost then you only have yourself to argue with! You are responsible for surviving or not. Having the right skills, attitude, and attributes and making decisions based on objective reasoning may greatly enhance your chance of survival.
Whilst there is something to be said about being part of a group, “There is safety in numbers” but there are also compromises to make. Where these compromises impact on your chance of survival then you have to make arrangements not to be “caught out” by them. For example if your calculations, based on what you know about your needs, suggest that you will require 20 litres of water but the group consensus is 15 litres do you “follow the herd” or do you carry the extra you know you need?
You can be part of a group but you can also take responsibility for your own survival and make your own arrangements. The caveat is if you do things in the “right” way of course and this needs certain skills, attributes and attitudes too, often referred to as “diplomacy “and “Emotional Intelligence (EQ)”. Get it wrong and you will most definitely be on your own. You can contribute to a group, change groups, form your own groups and seek to influence groups according to what you need. Throughout your chosen involvement with others though you need to understand and recognise your own needs. You need to know which of your needs you can do without, need most, can modify and how to satisfy or manage your needs in whatever situation you find yourself.
Are we lost in the educational landscape?
If we think of our education as part of our learning landscape then we can see how we could do with our own compass instead of relying on somebody else’s. A learning compass that will help us navigate the environment in which we find ourselves in order to meet our learning needs. Being equipped with our own compass we will not need to rely on others for direction although we may ask for assistance. We will have to understand our own needs though if we are going to try to navigate the learning landscape and use our learning compass effectively. We will have to recognise when our learning needs are being met and when they are not as well as having strategies we can deploy to manage whatever learning situation we are in. We will need to understand the effect of the learning environment has upon us as individuals, how we are motivated or hindered in our learning, how we find energy or become bored, what makes us confident, and what undermines us. In short we will have to develop our Learning Intelligence.
For more on LQ please look back over the 20 articles on this blog covering many of the skills, attitudes and aptitudes involved in LQ.
The link to the original article is here : LINK TO LQ
Comments always welcome.
Can we face up to and meet the challenge that LQ lays down when so many education systems are under pressure to perform and achieve results?
In the article “The LQ Rich Environment” (http://wp.me/p2LphS-3u) I said the following:
“My belief is also that if you make the learner aware of the challenges presented by their learning environment and help them develop the tools and skills to manage it in a way that meets their learning needs they will develop strengths or abilities in many more areas. The challenge to the teacher then is not to teach in a manner that seeks to meet significant strengths or preferences that have been developed (thereby further promoting them) but to provide the conditions whereby the learner is guided and given permission to go exploring their learning needs and how to meet them.”
In most education systems, especially those that are target/grade focused, this is a significant challenge. I believe we are beginning to see creative ways this can be accomplished. The ‘flipped lesson’ is one example of where the teacher is creating an opportunity for the learner to explore the learning in a way that meets their own needs. Where in the past we may have used the term ‘differentiation’ and gone about trying to achieve this by attempting to meet everyone’s learning needs in the space of a single lesson, technology is now allowing us to have a lesson of almost infinite length. More than this though it allows for ‘anytime anywhere learning’, a concept which is very much in line with LQ since it is the simplest definition of the term Learning Intelligence we can have. Being able to learn when it suits us best is when there is a need established. This ‘need’ can happen at any time and can be part of the strategy of the teaching and learning or naturally occurring through the learner’s curiosity being piqued.
Although the strength and power of the LQ concept relies on a personal responsibility to manage the learning environment yourself we cannot ignore the teacher’s role in developing the confidence in the learner to explore and begin to understand LQ. The term that has been used to describe this role for the teacher is “The guide at your side” and the flipped lesson embodies this approach. The challenge is providing the resources necessary to support the teaching in such a way. It will be interesting to see how these resources develop. One concern I have is the lack of ‘personalisation’ that may occur as this approach moves out of the hands of the individual teacher and into the commercial industry that supports education. My example would be the use of interactive whiteboards in classrooms. Early adopters of this technology developed their own resources to support their lessons, their teaching styles, and the needs of the learners they were teaching. Early adopters are normally characterised by their enthusiasm and energy for new developments and will put in the time required to explore and learn what can be done. Others who follow are not as adept at the technology and want something ‘off the shelf’. In my experience this does not always work out well for the teacher, they have not fully embraced or understood the needs of the new approach and it falls flat. The approach is derided and a return to the old ways is ‘proven’ to be the best way in their eyes. We have to ask where this will leave the learner. A teacher who sees requests, questions, and enquiries about how they are being taught from learners as a personal challenge will do nothing to develop LQ in their students. Unless we develop in learners an understanding of LQ I believe they will be confused, a confusion that could bring about more harm than good.
I therefore argue that we cannot successfully change the learning environment and therefore learning without equipping the learner at the same time with an understanding of LQ. LQ will help them make sense of new learning opportunities both through managed lessons and those made available through technology (anytime anywhere learning) in a way that helps them re draw their learning map (what they believe they can and cannot learn).
Developing LQ in learners can range from little more than a discussion about how they feel when learning something and bringing out into the open the anxiety, stress, lack of confidence and impact on self-esteem that forms part of the emotional landscape at this time. It needs to include a discussion and exploration of learning needs and understanding of how these come. Developing LQ can go as far as the learner preparing their own learning resource both for themselves and, if we extend this process, for others who share the same learning needs.
What developing LQ in learners means for the teacher is having the confidence to first research and explore for themselves their own LQ and relate it to how they learn and manage their learning environment. It is worth exploring a learning styles analysis along with a teaching styles analysis. Both are available on line from a number of sources. The one I use is available from Creative Learning.
The next step is to find creative ways of starting a discussion about learning needs and the emotions involved in learning. Few teachers actually explore this as part of the teaching and learning which strikes me as odd. We take our time to teach so many aspects and provide encouraging comments as we do so each time failure is encountered in everyday life yet when it comes to teaching we appear to forget to teach about learning and instead focus on subject matter.
Moving on from this point will involve changes in the approach to teaching and learning and this may face challenges from within an organisation and even from those learners who have not understood the advantages and application of LQ to their learning. It may be seen as a waste of time or being off task but actually it is neither. I think of it as putting in place base camps as if I were climbing a mountain such as Everest. Each camp is strategically placed and resourced in order to support a successful attempt on the mountain in the most efficient and safe way possible. Time taken to establish these base camps is far from wasted and ultimately secures the success looked for.
The next LQ review and what to look forward to
I have published an article each week since the beginning of August and there are now 20 of them to discover. I am now focusing on putting together the LQ guide and will spend the next 4 months organising my thoughts and researching. This means I will have to suspend the weekly article for now. This is not to say there will be nothing new posted on my blog, it is hard to ignore and not make comment on some of the things happening in the world of education. I will be able to answer any comments or questions about LQ so if you have them e-mail me or leave a comment on the blog and I will answer them.
Please also remember if you would like to provide a workshop or organise a talk about LQ then your organisation can contact me by e-mail to make the necessary arrangements.
We instinctively know that tour learning environment is important to us because we try to create that which is comfortable and avoid that which is uncomfortable. This leads us to a question about our learning environment, just what is it? Take a moment to answer the following question.
What makes up or is part of your learning environment?
a) The “landscape” (buildings, rooms, outdoor spaces, light, sound, temperature, furniture)
b) The people (teachers, parents, other learners)
c) Your learning map (what you believe you can and cannot learn)
d) Your emotions (those we recognise as influencing our learning. For example feeling confident.)
e) Other (please let me know if you believe there is another element to our learning environment)
What decision did you reach? My belief is that it is a) through to d) but I am not ruling out anything else that comes along. For example the presence of technology, now such a large part of our lives, has made a significant impact on our learning environment. We can have “anytime, anywhere learning” through appropriate use of technology.
In this review of LQ I want to look at a slightly different aspect of the learning environment, one where people are the focus. People can cause a number of issues in the learning equation in the same way as our physical environment can. For example a chair may be uncomfortable and cause us to fidget or lose concentration in the same way as the actions or behaviours of others can achieve the same effect. People can make us feel insecure or embarrassed one the one hand and on the other confident and brave.
In the possible answers to the question of “What makes up or is part of your learning environment?” only one element is the physical aspects of the environment. In the remaining three options two are accounted for by your interaction with people. It is safe then to consider the need to have some understanding of people and specifically your emotions when interacting with people when seeking to manage your learning environment.
The concept of emotional intelligence as defined by Daniel Goleman [i] is now recognised as a key aspect of understanding a child’s success in the classroom. When we are stressed, placing our emotional centres in turmoil, we do not learn easily or well. Here is a question and answer from the website www.danielgoleman.info/ [ii]
“Q: Is EI (emotional Intelligence) also crucial to a student’s success in the classroom? And if so, why?
A: EI is crucial for all life success, including for students in the classroom, because of the basic design of the brain. Our emotions evolved as a tool for survival, and today emotions have a privileged position in the brain. When we are upset the emotional centers can hijack the thinking centers, rendering us unable to think clearly, focus on the task at hand, perceive in an undistorted manner, and even make it harder to remember what’s relevant to what we’re doing (instead we remember easily anything about what’s upsetting us). So whether in the workplace or the classroom, managing our emotions is the prerequisite to learning and focus.”
EQ or “EI” is well documented and to ignore its impact on learning and the learning environment would be to ignore a key element in managing the learning environment and in understanding LQ. Being aware of your own emotions is only part of the LQ equation; you need to be aware of the emotions of others too. In short you need to be able to “read” other people, to recognise the behaviours and signals that give away how they are feeling and perhaps why they are behaving as they are. When we get this wrong our world can turn upside down in an instant. Further it can have long lasting effects on how we interact with our learning environment, sometimes making us withdraw altogether. Have you ever mis-read the signals from a parent, teacher or boss and “gone too far” before you realised it?
Earlier I wrote about how the learner needs to find ways of approaching the teacher that can help them acquire the support they need and avoid possible conflict. Some approaches made by inexperienced learners can be interpreted as a challenge. I also reminded teachers to be ready to listen and not to judge or jump to conclusions. Both are important aspects of the learning environment and both underline how important emotions are in that landscape.
I also mentioned how subtle the clues in individuals can be, especially at the early stages of display. For example we are all well aware of body language and can recognise displays of anger, fear, surprise, or love. What if these displays, however subtle, leave a “fingerprint“? What if there are clues we all carry which indicate traits we are prone to demonstrate? Being able to recognise the subtle markers of likely behaviours can help us navigate around those that have a negative impact on our learning and head for those that support us.
I have also commented on how we use our senses and how we interpret and diagnose by using them. In an earlier LQ article I also made the point that “Being aware of those around us, their behaviours, and emotions is part of our general survival toolkit. Not recognising when those around us sense danger could result in us being left behind so we are wired to respond in some way to others around us.”
A discussion with Alan Stevens [iii] who is described as a “face reader” and a recognised authority in his field came about as I was preparing this review of LQ learning environment article. His work is inspiring, especially for those who are working closely and collaboratively with people. As we talked a number of questions came to mind about things such as:
- nature and nurture influences
- when and if we get “hard wired” in our emotional responses
- is the face the window to the soul, do those facial muscles we use most often become more highly developed and change our appearance as a body builder attempts to do with their body
- what do you do when you recognise something in someone when they do not recognise it in themselves
- what about the issues surrounding prediction by reading somebody?
You can see my talk with Alan got my grey cells working. I would say I was using my LQ to explore a new learning landscape that was opening up to me. I am now faced with questions about such things as “micro expressions” and their impact in the learning environment (both for the learner and the teacher).
A key area for me to explore in relation to LQ is what happens if the teacher is not expressing or displaying the micro expressions expected by the learner and as a result sets up an emotional imbalance in the learner. Can this inhibit learning? We know anything that negatively impacts our emotions inhibits learning so the answer would be yes, but what to do about it. What can the learner do and what can the teacher do to address this imbalance and stabilise the learning environment? The first step must be to explore and understand these expressions and which ones match which situations. We know teaching is an art involving acting and acting involves duplicating emotions and expressions at will to suit a character or role. The better we are at acting the more believable our character is. The next question is what the teacher can do with the “intelligence” or information they receive as a result of accurately reading people. It would in effect cut the “getting to know you time” at the start of a course or term by many weeks and help establish working learning partnerships much earlier. Exciting times and I would recommend you check out Alan’s work.
A word about the courses and presentations I have developed around the LQ concept.
Having recently used the principles of LQ in coaching learners in literacy and numeracy I know LQ “works” and it brings about improvements in learning. Two presentations which can be part of a morning course if required are available. One is aimed at teachers and will develop the insight and tools necessary to promote LQ in learners and the second focuses on developing an understanding of LQ and the implications for learning in pupils/students (this can be customised for learners from the age of 9 up to adults). If you are interested in finding out more about the LQ presentations or courses then please contact me at ace-d. My e-mail is: email@example.com
Link to the original LQ article
[i] Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman Random House Publishing Group, 2012
The “nurture and nature” debate is a long running one and one I want to only briefly explore in this article which brings together the “attributes and attitudes” discussion and the impact on learning and therefore LQ.
This is the second LQ topic review post. Here is the link to the original introductory article on LQ in case you missed it: http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p
Earlier articles have looked at the attributes, attitudes and behaviours linked to LQ and how, by adopting an LQ approach, the learner can better manage their learning environment to meet their learning needs.
In many articles I have concluded by saying what a particular aspect of LQ means for the teacher and for the learner. So far I have not specifically mentioned the parent, and although I recognise the significant role they play in educating their children. Parents are in many ways “teachers” and so the comments about teachers are relevant to them. Parents do, however, not only play a part in providing a nurturing environment they provide the biological elements that make up the child, they provide the DNA from which the child is formed. At birth we are often quick to see physical traits and attribute these to either the mothers or fathers family. As the child grows behaviour traits may be attributed in the same way, “You are just like your father/mother”
The extent to which behaviours are learnt or to which they are genetically “pre-programmed”, like the colour of our eyes, is difficult to determine. The fact that some behaviours can be changed and “un learnt,” even though we may be disposed towards them, suggests there is something we can do about them. A simple case which may demonstrate this is hand preference, that of being left or right handed. We know that although we can show a preference for which hand we use and that the early preference can be either allowed to become a dominant characteristic or it can be over ridden. In some cases making ‘naturally’ left handed people develop “right handedness”. Exploring how the brain accommodates these changes and adapts may shed some light on how we can adapt to our learning environment and the process by which we can promote some aspects of learning and subdue others in order to become effective learners within the environment.
Such a discussion may undermine the nature aspect of our capacity to learn, but only if we see this ability as fixed at birth and not, as the example of handedness would suggest, that the brain is plastic and can be ‘re programmed‘.
In exploring this concept of the “plastic brain” we move into the realms of neuroscience. This is an area which is often defined as “Understanding the mental processes involved in learning.” [i] In the summary of the publication Brain Waves Module 2 (2011) the Royal Society both offers optimism and caution for neuroscience.
- The brain changes constantly as a result of learning, and remains ‘plastic’ throughout life. Neuroscience has shown that learning a skill changes the brain and that these changes revert when practice of the skill ceases. Hence ‘use it or lose it’ is an important principle for lifelong learning.
- Both acquisition of knowledge and mastery of self-control benefit future learning. Thus, neuroscience has a key role in investigating means of boosting brain power.
- There is great public interest in neuroscience; yet accessible high quality information is scarce. We urge caution in the rush to apply so-called brain-based methods, many of which do not yet have a sound basis in science. There are inspiring developments in basic science although practical applications are still some way off.
- The emerging field of educational neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education. It provides means to develop a common language and bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists.
My particular cautionary note about neuroscience and learning is that whilst we seek to find out why some learners find learning a challenge, and can exhibit behaviours that suggest they cannot learn, we are determining this view from within the educational environment we have created.
The “one size fits all” approach that many education systems are built upon results in individual learners being made to learn the same things in the same way. In other words because the learner does not fit the model of education we have determined then there must be a way of changing the learner to fit the model. Whilst you may say this is what LQ is doing the difference is that the learner is determining these changes for themselves. Using the right/left hand analogy, they are choosing to use their right or left hand according to which best suits them at the time and not being permanently made to write with one hand because that is the standard way of doing things. I know of a PE teacher who can bat equally well left or right handed. This gives him a significant advantage when faced with a right or left hand bowler, one he often uses to his to benefit.
The optimism behind LQ and supported by neuroscience is that we can learn to adapt to our learning environment in a way that makes it possible to overcome barriers to learning, “it is necessary to identify the specific barriers to learning for that person, and find alternative ways.”[ii] LQ is part of the response to understanding our learning environment and then to learn how best we can manage that environment to meet our needs, to find alternative ways. For example if all the scissors are for right handed people and we are left handed we have a choice:
a) learn to use right handed scissors in our left hand
b) learn to use our right hand to operate the scissors or
c) develop or use another way of cutting, possibly with a knife which is neither right or left handed.
I have omitted getting somebody else to use the scissors and cut whatever it is for us but although that is a valid option it is delegation and incapacitates the individual if no one else is around. A longer term solution may be to develop left handed scissors thus demonstrating the link between LQ and problem solving as a way of managing the learning environment.
Being aware to LQ and practicing using it to manage our learning environment to best meet our learning needs means we develop that ability and keep it. We become better learners as a result.
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:
- Word processors will help with spelling and presentation but there is no need to use every font in the world.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you do not want to leave a comment on the blog.
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?
Sometimes in science a case is made for something to exist as a result of its effect rather than at the time being able to see it or measure it directly. My example would be the tale of Sir Isaac Newton being hit on the head by an apple leading to the discovery of gravity. This post asks the question “Is there a similar set of circumstances with Learning Intelligence?” Let’s look for the apple to start with, work out which tree it fell from, and then try to see if the concept of LQ describes what is happening.
There are a number of stages in formal education that mark a significant change in the learning environment so let’s start there.
A great deal of learning starts within the home environment, both for the parent and the newly born. The parent has to assume the role of teacher and may have family or friend role models or even recall something of their own upbringing or experiences on which to base their role. Whatever role they take and however they define it will determine the learning environment they create and therefore the experiences of the learner.
The next significant change is when the young child experiences a different environment and not that created by the parent, this may be at a nursery or preschool. Here there may be more than one adult in the role of teacher and there is likely to be a change in the curriculum on offer. The learner is likely to be less passive and may be required to interact with others adopting a social aspect to their learning. This is often seen as an introduction to or preparation for the start of the formal education system of schooling.
Starting school is a significant change to the learning environment and the curriculum being offered. Where things may have been more casual in nature there is now structure, assessment, competition and a central adult, formally trained as a teacher, directing it all. Things have moved on considerably for the learner as far as the learning environment is concerned.
Once “in the system” the learner faces a number of key environmental changes some of which are predictable and some happen by chance. Known or predicted environmental changes happen at the end of each school year with a change of teacher. These are fairly low on the scale of change as the school they attend may be the same one. When it comes to changes school or phases the change is more dramatic for the learner. They not only face a change of teacher but also routines, social groupings and friendships, buildings and even timings but also curriculum and teaching methods.
After the formal compulsory education there are the optional changes associated with further or higher education. Here again the learning environment changes, there may be less directed and more self-managed learning. There may be a move away from family and friends and unfamiliar landscapes or even languages.
At what age these major changes take place has been the subject of debate and different models exist. The age at which school starts varies around the world as does the number of phases and at what age the various transitions takes place. The background to the decision as to when to move from one environment to the other has to do with a notion of when the child is “ready” both emotionally and intellectually. Given the wide age range that occurs in any year group (up to nearly 12 months) and the corresponding development (especially in the early years) it is difficult to see how it can be effective to orchestrate this process along age related lines. This is another story though and may have more to do with organisational reasons than readiness for learning!
I have started by describing the tree. What about the apple? Well the apple is the changing environment, it is something we can see, describe and identify. We know the apple exists and certainly feel its effect when we experience a change, whatever, and whenever that may be. I wonder though how many people before Newton stopped to think about why the apple fall to earth. I would bet that many people just saw the apple on the ground and thought “free food” and little more! They just got on with whatever they were doing, grateful for the additional nourishment. Perhaps they noticed at certain times of the year there were no apples around and at others they were plentiful. Another educational metaphor may be; the apple that gets left on the ground will begin to rot!
Why all this talk of apples? Well I am trying to suggest that as many took apples for granted, especially how or why they fell to the ground, we take the impact of the learning environment for granted too. We recognise it but we don’t make the link between it and the learner being able to manage it in the same way as before Newton nobody made the link with falling apples and gravity.
If we reflect on changes to the learning environment we begin to recognise key features within the learning and the impact on the learner. There may be emotional trauma as the young learner attends school for the first time. A teacher may be substituted part of the way through the year and the rate of progress or the like for school may change. Performance demonstrated at one stage or schooling phase may not be in evidence immediately after the change and may take months to reappear. A love for a subject may change to indifference from one year to the next.
There are numerous examples of how the learning environment impacts learning but what is the key factor sitting behind it all? My argument is that it is the match between the needs of the learner and the environment in which they find themselves. There is a connection here with the earlier comment about when to change schooling phases and maturity. Age and the level of maturity though do not always relate to the learner having the ability to adapt to different learning environments or conditions. My argument would be that those children who manage the various changes without demonstrating a significant fall back or interruption to their learning have a higher LQ than those who do not and that LQ is the missed concept in education, it is the reason the apple falls to the ground. Mastering the learning environment and managing it in a way that meats your own learning needs is a major step in becoming a lifelong learner , no matter what environment you find yourself in you are able to manage it and meet your learning needs. The key point I wish to make is that you can develop your LQ, all you have to do to start with is understand the link with the different aspects of learning.
Each of the previous articles has tried to make the link between LQ and the different aspects of being a successful learner. I hope that this article has made you think about LQ as the unseen force that makes sense of what you experience and see around you when you are learning. Perhaps next time you struggle to learn something or pick something up easily and feel comfortable in your learning environment you may just think about why apples fall to the ground and reflect on your LQ.
1) The Sir Isaac Newton image provided by:
What does an assessment mean to you?
b) A time of dread
c) A signpost and recognition of achievements
d) A mark or grade and little more
e) A way of helping you to choose where to focus future efforts
f) A way of setting future targets or goals
Before suggesting or considering an answer we need to reflect on John Hattie’s table of effect sizes which claims to answer the question “what has the greatest influence on student learning?”[i] Here are the top 11. An effect size of 0.5 is the equivalent to a one grade increase at GCSE.
|Influence||Effect Size||Source of Influence|
|Student’s prior cognitive ability||1.04||Student|
|Student’s disposition to learn||.61||Student|
|Challenge of Goals||.52||Teacher|
The term feedback is a broad one and includes providing commentary on what they (the learner) have done well and where they need to improve. Importantly, and this is where the link to LQ comes in, Hattie believes students can receive feedback on the process or strategy they have used to complete the task and regulate (the LQ term for which is manage) their own learning.
With this in mind what did you suggest an assessment meant to you? You will recognise, no doubt, the elements of an assessment which are of greatest value link directly to Hattie’s effect table and especially that of the top effect “Feedback”. You will also note that the source of influence for feedback is associated with the teacher. So how do you as a teacher give feedback and how do you get learners to see the importance of the different elements?
Hands up if, when you give back the marked test papers, your students do the following:
1) Look at the overall mark or grade first followed by a question about what is acceptable/a pass/a fail etc.
2) Check your arithmetic in the hope of challenging you on the total or grade given.
3) Check with their friends to see you have given the same mark for a similar answer, just in case they can score a few more points.
4) Check to see what others got to establish either ranking or comfort themselves.
You would be no different to many other teachers if this is how your class of learners respond. How many of these fall into Hattie’s description of feedback? None perhaps! If you are a learner then once again you are probably no different to many other learners who respond in an identical way when they get their papers back.
The challenge is to change the way we respond to assessments, especially the rich source of feedback that is so often overlooked or missed. This is even more of a concern when you think it could make the difference of two grades at GCSE. We are failing to make the most of a valuable resource but why? In part it has something to do with targets and the focus on achieving them. If we know we should get a “B” for example, and we score a B then we are reluctant to dig any deeper. If we get an A then we rejoice and investigate no further. If we get a C or less perhaps we lick our wounds and look to what or who we can blame for the failure. This last course of action is where the most damage is done and a worthy read is Dweck’s work on “attribution theory.” A learner may attribute their success or lack of it on external factors such as luck or decide it was an exceptionally hard test. This type of response does not help in future growth or learning as it suggests the outcome had nothing to do with their efforts.
LQ is a valuable asset in managing the process of feedback for both teachers and learners but both must work co-operatively to achieve the greatest benefit. The simplest and most effective strategy for the teacher is to mark and comment on an assessment but not total the overall score or give a grade. Try it and see where you get for you have just prevented the most common reactions detailed above. So how will the learner respond, well much depends on how much work you have done regarding LQ and in discussing managing the learning environment. If you have done little or nothing then uproar and rebellion may result. There may be a demand to give them the standard results they expected, a grade, or total score, but you must resist. Instead you can now get them to focus on what they did well in, what they need to improve and set their own personal targets for future learning. This is a relatively easy task but requires some preparation and a little bit of colouring in! Here is how you do it.
Decide for each question or assessment task what, in terms of response or score, defines the following:
a) a sound answer demonstrating a good grasp of what is required. The sort of response that suggests mastery or understanding and an ability to apply what has been learnt in an unfamiliar situation. You would consider it unnecessary for the student to spend more time on this topic or material.
b) an answer which shows a developing understanding of what is required. Typically the key concepts or ideas are applied but there may be mistakes or errors that indicate a degree of uncertainty and a need for further practice or revision.
c) An answer which shows a lack of understanding of what is required. This may be characterised by large unanswered sections, the wrong facts or approach used. This would indicate a need for more than just revision but instead re visiting the topic and building understanding from a known point.
In essence this is all you and the student should be interested in. Your next task is to decide what these answers look like in terms of marks or grades if that is how they would normally be marked. For example, out of 10 each category may look like this:
a) 8+ marks,
b) between 5 and 7 marks and
c) anything less than 5 marks.
To help visualise what this means in terms of LQ and quality feedback we can colour code each category of answer or provide smiley faces to ring or delete at the front of the assessment is an ideal way to do this.
If as a teacher we consider the class response in terms of outcomes to the assessment and, if this represents multiple questions, we get a clear direction of where we need to focus and, when considering LQ, how we need to help learners meet the challenges of the learning environment. For example if in the above example of a final assessment all students received a red category (the lowest) in Q6 but the rest were orange and green then we would know we need to address a specific topic or area. It may not be the topic that limited the learning but the resources, teaching style or learning environment in which it is taught. Thinking about these areas will help the teacher provide quality feedback and help in deciding if it would be appropriate to approach a class or a topic in a different way.
What this means for the Teacher
A key principle is when designing assessments is to start with the understanding, knowledge, or skill you wish to assess and work backwards to the method, question or strategy you will use to allow the student to demonstrate what they have learnt and for you to gain your assessment of them.
When administrating assessments take time to explain the purpose is to establish what has been learnt and not to gain a particular mark or grade.
What this means for the learner
If you are presented with a traditional assessment mark or grade try to unpick from your answers what you are a) competent in, b) need to revise and c) need to revisit to gain a better understanding.
Think about your preparation and look for alternative approaches to those things you need to revise or revisit. This is LQ in action, learning to manage your learning environment to meet your needs.
[i] Professor John Hattie’s Table of Effect Sizes can be found at: http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_effect_sizes.html
A natural way to learn
There can be a conflict between the idea of learning as part of a team and providing individual performance assessment, but other than that, learning teams are one of the most natural ways to learn. The strange thing is that without an individual assessment focus schools are nothing more than a large learning team, so long as that is, all the members are involved in actually learning and not just instructing or managing.
Why is it then that the idea of team learning is rarely used to its full advantage and how does a learning team link up with LQ?
The advantages of Learning Teams
Being part of a group involved in doing anything requires co-operation, communication, roles and responsibilities and of course the focus or task. For individuals in a learning team, and I keep making that distinction, there is a host of opportunities to learn if they are recognised and recorded. LQ is about managing your learning environment to meet your individual learning needs. Being part of a learning team can mean apprenticing yourself to others in order to access knowledge or skills in a practical way as well as share those that you possess. This makes the maths of a team interesting. For example take two people learning independently but each one recognising that to maximise their learning they should join forces, work co-operatively as a learning team. The maths now goes like this. One and one make eleven! The team is more than the sum of its parts because there is a form of reaction associated with people working together. Does this mean that if three people come together then the sum is one hundred and eleven? Perhaps there is a limit.
The other advantage of a learning team is that the membership can change and this can change the dynamic of the team. Perhaps using LQ you could identify exactly what that change needs to be in order to maximise the learning.
An aspect of teams is that they offer security and safety for their members. This is particularly important of you consider how challenging and sometimes frightening learning can be. Teams offer through different communication channels an opportunity to test ideas and to check understanding without risk and in doing so can build confidence and develop a wider range of learning strategies.
In a learning team the teacher also has the opportunity to become a learning member and in doing so they can model the behaviours and attitudes that are a desirable aspect of LQ. They can show the advantages of not knowing and of failing in a way that helps young learners recognise these as part of the learning process.
The learning team is nothing more than another environment and set of resources that can be effectively managed through the application of LQ to meet your learning needs. Or is it? Something happens to people when you put them into a team. The learning team can be a way of unlocking strengths and talents that would of otherwise not surfaced. Those familiar with Belbin[i] will acknowledge that people can play a range of different roles within a team but are those roles fixed and can a learner actually learn to play different roles according to their learning need? With LQ I suggest you can. It is about taking a decision to learn from and within the team and its members rather than just focusing on completing a task.
Creating Learning teams
Putting people together and giving them a task is not the way to create a learning team. Putting learners together and setting a team targets and putting somebody at the head to make sure they meet them is not creating a learning team. A worthy read on the subject of learning teams is William Glasser[ii]. Glasser would call this arrangement “Boss –Management” [iii]and it could be a description of how some see the role of the teacher or indeed how education should be organised. In such learning environments LQ can be a way of turning things to the learner’s advantage. It such models it is difficult to build a relationship with the boss and other learning relationships need to be forged. The alternative, Glasser suggests, is “Lead-Management” where persuasion and problem solving are central to the relationship. Such a manager has more of a chance to be part of the learning team rather than just the one driving it. They have the opportunity to model the behaviors and attitudes they wish to foster in the learner and LQ can play a more integrated part making the most of this type of environment. You can see how this would change the role of the teacher and therefore the learning environments of schools if it were adopted. Targets and standards would become signposts rather than destinations in their own right. The teacher would move from being the sage, the boss to the guide and member of the learning team. It is perhaps this target driven focus that prevents schools using learning teams to their full advantage. The dilemma has always been how to identify individual performance or achievement when they are learning as part of a team. This ignores the fact that team members can help in this process if asked. The account of who did what and how well they played will differ greatly from a fan on the touchline to those that played in the team. I suggest that teachers who are not part of the learning team will find it harder to recognise the achievements of individuals than those who are part of it. Perhaps the final limiting factor in adopting learning teams is the concept of accountability. The prevailing question is who will be at fault if the learners do not meet their targets. Such environments, those that focus on accountability, are defined by the level of fear they generate. This is not something which makes learning easy, engaging, or fun.
It is important however to recognise that to engage people an experience needs to be authentic, recall some of the less engaging attractions or events you have visited. It is the same with learning there needs to be an authentic learning experience and creating an environment which omits this does little to engage learners. In such circumstances the learner themselves must look with the authentic aspects of what is being taught, they need to find relevance in order to be engaged in the learning process. LQ can help learners recognise this and look for relevance. I would argue that teachers who create authentic learning experiences, those that explain or provide the relevance of the learning, tend to be those who get the greatest enjoyment from their teaching.
What this means for the Teacher
- Consider switching from “Boss-Manager” to “Lead-Manager” if you find yourself in the former position.
- Look to creating learning teams in order to identify hidden talents or to give them an opportunity to develop within individuals.
- Recognise that putting people together to work on something is not creating a learning team.
- Create an authentic learning experience or environment when you can.
- Explain the relevance of what is being taught as well as the delivering the learning.
What this means for the Learner
- Use teams to your advantage and be ready to learn from others. This may involve observing others or apprenticing yourself to somebody.
- Look for the relevance in what you learn and raise such questions with your teacher. If they are unable to provide answers look elsewhere. Finding relevance in what you learn will help you engage in the learning.
- If you come across the “Boss-Manager” recognise them for what they are and try to build learning relationships with others. Recognise also that although they may be target driven managers that targets are important. Try to see targets more as signposts in your learning rather than just something to achieve in their own right. I liken this to a train or car journey where you take note of the scenery and views from the window rather than just looking for the signposts along the way.
- If you come across the “Lead-Manager” be prepared to be involved in the learning. Recognise that this will involve risk taking but that this is just part of the learning process as is failing at times.
- Explore your role within a team and try to vary what part you play.
[i] Belbin, web reference: http://www.belbin.com/rte.asp?id=8
[ii] William Glasser 2001 Choice Theory in the Classroom, Harper (See the chapter on The Learning Team Model)
[iii] William Glasser 1990 The Quality School, Harper and Row