Some educators cling to the old belief that there is a single, general factor of intelligence represented by a global IQ score – or even a reading age; while others refine this to a notion of a hierarchy of abilities with general abilities at the top and successively narrower levels of ability below.

Conventionally intelligence has been defined in such a way as to exclude and limit. The conviction that intelligence is fixed, something immutable which is rationed out before birth, has resulted in some teachers accepting, sometimes predicting, low achievement. Teaching an externally devised curriculum is the focus. All learners experience the same curriculum with those just not well enough equipped falling by the wayside.

If, however, we act as if all children are born with a great capacity to learn, but that their opportunities for learning may be more or less restricted, we can ensure that the learning environment will be challenging, but supportive, so that transformation may take place. When learning becomes the focus, individuals’ needs determine content and methodology.

Education is not incidental to what children will be, but essential to determining what they become. The teacher is the mediator who systematically shapes children’s learning.

It is necessary to include a far wider and more universal set of competencies than we have ordinarily considered .. An intelligence is the ability to solve problems or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings. (Gardner 1993)mind

Even the most disadvantaged child can learn to internalise new knowledge, synthesise it and make it her own, as long as the learning is undertaken in a social environment which provides cognitive challenges which are difficult enough to sustain interest but solvable with a measure of support from a more expert learner. Teaching is only effective when it awakens and rouses to life those functions which are in a stage of maturing; which lie in the zone of proximal development. (Vygotsky) Social interaction is a stimulus to thinking and a process that sculpts the form and content of thought itself. What a child can do in co-operation today, he will do alone tomorrow.

Teaching children to attribute failure to not yet highly developed strategies or lack of personal effort instead of innate aptitude leads to improved motivation and persistence in the face of setbacks. The powerful part that expectation and self belief plays in successful learning is more important than any cognitive advantage. Gladwell’s new book summarises Einstein’s statement that genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Well, we knew that anyway.

Czikszentmihalyi (1990) has studied the conditions which result in what he termed a state of flow across many activities and in many cultures. Flow results in deep and significant learning. He echoes Vygotsky in concluding that this state is achieved in conditions when the challenge is slightly greater than the skill require to achieve it. Clear goals, immediate feedback and a lack of fear of failure are the 3 other conditions that are necessary for ‘flow’ to occur. Individuals who keep doing creative work are those who succeed in internalising the field’s criteria of judgement to the extent that they can give feedback to themselves without having to wait for experts. If this is so, then it is not teachers who are the ultimate arbiters of standards but students themselves 

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