Monday, April 22, 2013

How are you smart?

As a classroom teacher I have asked my students many times to explain their thinking. But what I was really asking them to do was write about their thinking. That is hard to do, especially when you're 10.
"Just put your thoughts into words", encouraging teachers say. Nothing. Blank page.
I have learned a few things since my early days of teaching when writing across the curriculum was in style. Some kids have a very hard time explaining their thinking, especially in writing. I know. I have one of those at home.
Now I'm hearing that with the "new" standards in education, Common Core, we are shifting back to writing in every subject. Good grief. Haven't we learned that this kills school for the boys! Have we forgotten about all the brain research and multiple intelligence theory about the way people learn.
In my recent stint in the classroom I spent a lot of time helping kids know how they are smart. One boy had a hard time with academics but he sure could dance. I kept telling him how "body smart" he is. He would grin every time. Or what about the kid who could draw amazing things that others could only imagine? He struggled in math, but you should see his artwork! He's what I call "picture smart". Now the official term for body smart is bodily kinesthetic, and picture smart is visual-spatial. I taught those words as well, but young kids need terms that they understand more easily. These terms come from Harvard's Howard Gardner and the research he has conducted.
Looking at people through the lens of multiple intelligences opens up your eyes. Schools tend to cater to only two of the intelligences; logical-mathematical and linguistic. That's where the three R's come from (reading, writing and arithmetic). Many kids are strong in these areas, but many are not. When our schools tend to focus on a couple of the smarts many don't feel smart at all. Now, I know I'm generalizing and that there are many schools and teachers who strive to make school a place where all feel successful, there are still way too many that do not.
Here's a quick list of the "smarts":

  • Musical - music smart
  • Visual-spatial - picture smart
  • Logical-mathematical- number smart
  • Linguistic- word smart
  • Intrapersonal - people smart
  • Interpersonal- self smart
  • Bodily-kinesthetic - body smart
  • Natural - nature smart
My sizzler is highly picture smart. He thinks in pictures. I think in words. Sometimes we clash because we think differently. When he needs to express his thinking he has to do it with pictures. It's what comes naturally to him.
The other day when our ES was here checking in on us and what we're learning, the sizzler was trying to explain a scientific concept he learned in his zoology lessons. As he's talking to her he stops midstream and runs to get paper and pencil. "Here, let me show you" he says to her and begins to draw. This is what he drew:

You probably have no idea what this is so let me explain. This is his illustration of a shark's ampullae of Lorenzini and how it works. Huh? Sharks have a really cool feature that helps them detect their prey. The ampullae of Lorenzini are small holes on their snout with which they sense electrical signals from other animals. They can detect slight moves or even heartbeats from miles away. So now look at the sizzler's picture. Can you see the shark? Notice the electrical waves that the prey animal is "sending" to the shark? And what does the shark do? He attacks!
Allowing a child to express his thinking this way honors him and how he is smart. If my son was asked to write out this scientific concept he wouldn't, because he couldn't. He's not strong enough in his linguistic skills to do that, yet. In order to feel smart he must work in areas where he is strong. He needs to convey his thinking with his pictures. It's how he thinks and I think its pretty wonderful!
How are you smart?

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