Standards Opinion

Nurture Each Child’s ‘Smart’

By Starr Sackstein — January 16, 2018 3 min read
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Eccentric was a nice way of calling a person weird when I was growing up. It was a word that I identified with early on since I knew I was different.

Although eccentric was a badge of honor I displayed proudly, it wasn’t always easy to be so blatantly different than my classmates.

However, fitting in with them was the lesser of two choices and my teachers seemed to know it.

School was a refuge for me and by the time I got to high school, I had made peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to fit in, in the traditional sense at least.

With the help of some special people in my schooling who took a particular interest in me and my writing, I was able to march to my own beat and be okay doing it.

As educators, we need to be on the lookout for all kinds of “smart” around us. Unfortunately, school systems label kids all kinds of things, often removing the very talents that make them truly gifted in their own right.

This weekend, #ecet2’s topic was about what it means to be smart, guest moderated by LaVonna Roth, and how to ensure that all students get their moment to shine.

As I read the tweets and participated with the questions, I both empathized and wondered what schools could be doing better to stop labeling students and start creating inclusive environments that nurture more than one type of “smart”.

The truth is that most systems value “smart” as defined as a student who gets good grades, participates in school activities of many different kinds and complies with the rules. These children are not always the most inspired, but they seem to be the most successful in the way of what we value.

Fortunately, the world has changed a lot since I was a high school student. Unfortunately, however, schools haven’t changed that much. So many students get lost in the shuffle because we have such a narrow scope of how we see them. It’s time for us to shed light on all students, so they can each see what truly unique gifts they have.

As we push into this generation of learning, it is imperative for schools to start adjusting pedagogy, assessment, and structure to work with more students and provide optimal opportunities for student success.

First, we must look at our pedagogical practices and how different teaching methods impact different kinds of learners. What are we doing to ensure that all students are truly internalizing and synthesizing the new skills and content we are teaching them? How are we planning learning experiences that engage them in a way that works for each of them on a personal level? Where are we presenting them with opportunities to collaborate to expand their perspectives by working with their peers? How are we incorporating student voice and choice into how and what students learn?

Then we must look at the way we are assessing their learning. Are our expectations and objectives clear before we start? How do we communicate these expectations and goals? What role do students play in setting them and then later assessing them and resetting new ones? Are we including student voice in our understanding of what students know and can do? Is there flexibility built in for pacing and different learning speeds? How often do we revisit and assess student learning? Who do we share that information with?

Lastly, we need to evaluate whether the structure of our day is working for the students and the teachers. Do we have the ability to adjust how many classes in one day, one month, one semester and/or one year that a student has to take? How long are those periods? What kinds of choices do students have in which classes they elect to take? Do they have a say in terms of the difficulty? Are we fostering a love of learning by giving students enough freedom in what their days look like? As a school district and systems are we updating policies regularly that suit the students we are working with in terms of homework, grading, amounts of play etc?

As we continue to keep ALL of our kids in mind, it is essential for us to provide continuous opportunities for students to see themselves as smart by their own definitions, not just in the traditional sense. No child should leave a day of school feeling stupid.

In what ways can we make sure all students feel “smart” in our schools? Please share.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.