Moving Beyond Labels

Every student – every student – is a weak student. Even those students who navigate the worlds of writing, math and standardized testing in a seemingly effortless manner have weaknesses in areas of intelligence beyond those identified in the narrow view of conventional education. And, of course, the inverse is true. Every student – every student – is a strong student.

Dr. Robert Sternberg, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, notes that the way we measure intelligence (IQ tests, the whole gamut of standardized) has remained virtually unchanged for over 100 years.

Contemporary researchers like Sternberg, Howard Gardner and Mel Levine continue to swim up stream (SAT’s and high stakes testing are not going away soon) as they look at intelligence in a more sophisticated, nuanced way. True, they disagree with each other. Sternberg has developed the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. He argues that intelligence is composed of three parts: componential/analytical, experiential/creative, and practical/contextual. The most successful among us take advantage of our strengths in these areas and develop strategies to compensate for our weaknesses. Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences – kinesthetic, interpersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, spatial and musical – and challenges schools to design curriculum which addresses and values more than simply linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. Levine’s posits that there are eight neurodevelopmental constructs – attention, temporal and sequential ordering, memory, language, neuromotor functions, social cognition and higher order cognition – and challenges schools in much the same way Gardner does.

The point is that it is useless to look at students as strong, weak, diligent or lazy. Those are superficial labels – even value judgments – that do nothing to describe and analyze true strengths and weaknesses. The world of education needs to get beyond tradition and politics and listen to people like Sternberg, Gardner and Levine if it is serious about improving student performance and achievement.

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