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Thursday, April 27, 2017

How Are You Smart? What is Smart?

This post challenges our ideas about "smart," and this is a needed and worthwhile challenge as we think about teaching in ways that elevate all our students to good lives and the opportunity for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

What does "smart" look like in your family, classroom, neighborhood, and greater community? The post challenges us to think deeply about what smart is, and how that smart is demonstrated?

I want to think about this more, and look for a number of ways to think about "smart."

Example One: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may be the smartest child when it comes to survival--that child may know how to take care of himself/herself despite incredible challenges.

Example Two: A child who many not achieve well on a standardized test may be incredible when it comes to using his or her hands to build, sculpt, draw, or make.

Example Three: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may sing, dance, act, or speak with incredible strength, charisma, and impact.

Example Four: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may have the best idea and persevere with regard to that idea with such intensity that he or she may change the world.

Example Five: A child who may not achieve well on a standardized test may have incredible empathy and be able to love and care for others in ways that enrich entire families, neighborhoods, and communities.

So how do we help students to know and value where they are "smart" and let those students shine in their personal "smartness!"

How do we use standardized tests to perhaps acknowledge where we need to help students more with regard to obtaining skills, concepts, and knowledge that we believe are essential to the good life, but not use those tests to demean, label, dismiss, and discourage individuals and whole groups of students?

As I think of this, I recognize that I have lots to learn, but there are actions I can begin with right away.

First, discuss the tests in ways that are right such as "These assessments test specific skills that many feel are integral to your success. Some of you are strong with these skills already and others are still developing abilities in these areas. It is the job of your educators, parents and yourselves to find meaningful and successful ways to boost your skills in these areas. Less ability in these areas doesn't mean that you're not "smart," but instead demonstrates areas for potential growth."

Further, it's important to find ways to acknowledge, develop, and value the many "smarts" that are not tested, smarts in the areas of the arts, nature, building, social-emotional intelligence, problem solving, speaking, agriculture, and many more--areas of expertise that matter to individual lives and the lives of communities. We need to open up our programs so that we are giving students opportunities to show off their areas of strength. The more we can do this, the more we will elevate all of our students as well as develop students' respect, inspiration, and admiration of each other.

In the days to come, our school program provides lots of opportunity to do this. We have the play that will highlight many skills not included on standardized tests. We have a number of nature and STEAM explorations too where students will demonstrate multiple abilities not included on tests. Further we have the multi-dimensional biography project that allows students to study a person of interest with depth through reading, writing, research, video-watching, art, tech, costumes, and more. In a sense, after the tests, we are pulling away from the more traditional teaching that responds to test standards into the realm of multiple areas of "smart."

The question remains, how do we develop this throughout the year.

For starters, we'll build on the relationship/personal knowledge start-of-year events we've fostered in the past with a potential new focus on the "selfie" utilizing, in part, the art exhibit at Middlebury College and Dove Soap's Selfie project. I can imagine at the start of the year talking about the idea of "smart" with students as well as the idea of the "selfie," and then having students create artistic selfies that depict a portrait of themselves that they value surrounded by multiple visual and audio clues about how they are "smart" in their families, neighborhoods, and greater communities.

Then I will focus on looking for what Jo Boaler calls floor-to-ceiling explorations that are culturally proficient, matched to the standards, and meaningful so that the diversity of students I teach will have an opportunity to learn math and collaborate in ways that utilize and maximize their areas of "smart" as they learn the standards.

Further, working with a school team, I'll write a local grant to fund signage for our school that children can identify with and that includes messages related to social-emotional, growth mindset, and cultural proficiency. Messages that will lift and inspire students as they learn in our school and classrooms.

I'm sure I'll add more in the days ahead, but I wanted to write today so that I didn't lose track of the potential possible, potential inspired by the terrific post linked at the top of the page.