From the Principal’s Desk – 25 May 2017

What I Believe to be True – Part III.

There are many beliefs that we hold true. We really believe them to be true. In the last of my writings on this thinking, I want to share an aspect of the research ideas that speak about human intelligences because I believe that assessment in education is the one area that lacks insight and the ability to truly identify and declare a child’s individual and multiple intelligences.

Howard Gardner, the father in this field of research identified nine different types of intelligence:
Naturalistic intelligence also described in child-speak as ‘Nature Smart’,
Musical intelligence, (Music Smart)
Logical-Mathematical intelligence (Number Smart)
Existential intelligence (Thinking Smart)
Interpersonal intelligence (People Smart)
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (Body-Sports Smart)
Linguistic (Word Smart)
Intra-personal intelligence (Self Smart)
Spatial intelligence (Picture Smart).
We are all intelligent in different ways, sometimes dominant in one form and most often, more than one of these intelligences.

I believe that children deserve to be in education systems that allow them to explore and use their intelligences to show their knowledge, skills and understandings in many ways. I do not believe in education systems that rely on narrow forms of assessment that measure one or two types of intelligence. This approach skews the accuracy and limits the authenticity of assessment when we view students as unique and individual.

I believe that all intelligences should be valued in the same way. Society relies heavily on all of them, not just a select few. In an age that requires high levels of thinking, communication and collaboration, the teaching world should respond accordingly and design curriculums that rely on a blend of research in the areas of child development, what the world needs from the new generation in this century in the elements of knowledge, skills and deep understandings as a basis for design and implementation. This is necessary for our children to gain from school what is needed to function effectively on a global stage.

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to spend time with the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) officer who visited our school to ensure that our examinations are being conducted according to policy and the prescribed procedures. We started discussing the importance of addressing education that relies on rote learning (memorising of knowledge) and how we can plan, strategise and conduct assessments that ensure teachers and students move away from this low-level approach to teaching and learning.

CIE and the International Baccalaureate Organisation, both top international curriculums, lead international education in this regard. The CIE curriculums are designed to create classroom environments that allow for students to acquire knowledge and develop higher masterly levels in skills but the assessments require them to apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information, statistics, diagrams, models, a variety of media and visual materials and use the knowledge and skills they have to do this accurately and with confidence. This is a significant step away from education of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Unfortunately for many 21st C children, the rigid and mindless memorisation and regurgitation of facts remains a reality and the primary focus of their education. The problem with this method of knowledge acquisition is that ironically, once the assessments are completed, a level of skill remains but the knowledge is quickly lost. Because memorising knowledge is not that same as manipulating, connecting, applying and using knowledge in significant ways, there is very little reason for us to retain it. Knowledge without specific use, context or application in our lives is worthless and students quickly discard it and move on to the next set of knowledge. Memorisation of knowledge also means that we can train ourselves to remember facts for short periods of time and not have any understanding of the information. We may know the nursery rhyme, ‘Little Miss Muffet, sat on her tuffet …’ but have no understanding of what a ‘tuffet’ is!

So, with this in mind, I believe that CIE offers our students an authentic opportunity to harness and apply the different intelligences in creative and interesting ways and that the opportunities for all students to engage in this curriculum with connection and purpose make it one of the most dynamic and relevant curriculums in the world today. I believe this to be true.

I leave you with one of my favourite poems about an old man, a now famous poet who at school, was considered a dunce – an unworthy, stupid and inattentive student that spoke in a droning tone of voice, who wishes he could tell his teachers of his real-life success and whose deepest desire is that his wonderful books can be handed out as prizes at his old school. The impact of this poem lies in the sadness and longing of the poet’s words – in this old man, there is still a boy crying out that his teachers recognise his worth, his talent and acknowledge him as worthy. His lack of achievement – his poor percentage marks – would have then, and continue to, define him in many ways. He relives his failure every day. When I read this poem for the first time almost thirty years ago and as a young teacher (master), I was arrested and moved to tears by the lines:

“My masters wrote me down a fool,
And yet – I’m sorry they are dead.
I’d like to go to them and say:
“Yours is indeed a tricky trade.
My honoured classmates, where are they?
Yet I, the dunce, brave books have made.”

Ours is, beyond any shadow of doubt, ‘a tricky trade’. Great results at school provide no assurance of success, both academically at a tertiary level or in the work place. I am aware of so many children who were written off by education systems, who endured the cane and words of teachers that told them they were not good enough, that they would not amount to much or achieve in life and then, witnessed how successful they have become as time has passed. Where would an educator’s main justification damaging statements like this come from? The main reason would most likely have been poor results in the formal test or exam, assessing narrowly for memorised facts and in many cases completely ignoring interpretation, lateral creative approaches, critical insight, the ability to solve problems in multiple ways or exploring exciting methods of communicating learning so that an audience has no choice but to sit up and listen. You would have been declared clever or not, based on nothing more than a mark ranging from 0-100. We surely have to recognise that people are far more complex, interesting and remarkable that a percentage number. Appreciating students as individuals, acknowledging that we all have different intelligences and approaching assessments in modern innovative education that allow students to show their learning in many different ways matters; it matters very much indeed!

The Dunce
At school I never gained a prize,
Proving myself the model ass;
Yet how I watched with wistful eyes,
And cheered my mates who topped the class.
No envy in my heart I found,
Yet no one was worthier to own
Those precious books in leather bound,
Than I, a dreamer and a drone.
No prize at school I ever gained
(Shirking my studies, I suppose):
Yes, I remember being caned
For lack of love of Latin prose.
For algebra I won no praise,
In grammar, I was far from bright:
Yet, oh, how Poetry would raise
In me a rapture of delight!
I never gained a prize at school;
The dullard’s cap adorned my head;
My masters wrote me down a fool,
And yet – I’m sorry they are dead.
I’d like to go to them and say:
“Yours is indeed a tricky trade.
My honoured classmates, where are they?
Yet I, the dunce, brave books have made.”
Oh, I am old and worn and grey,
And maybe have not long to live;
Yet ’tis my hope at some Prize Day
At my old school the Head will give
A book or two of mine to crown
Some pupil’s well-deserved success –
Proving a scapegrace and a clown
May win at last to worthiness
Robert William Service

dunce – a child who was considered the most stupid in a class
drone – to make a low humming sound
scapegrace – idle mischievous

Yours in education
Garth Kitching
Head of School