The dangers of IQ tests

Testing a child’s IQ can pin on a permanent label that denies future learning opportunities, writes Jessica Lahey in an Atlantic review of Scott Barry Kaufman’s Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness.

As a failing elementary student, Kaufman was tested by a psychologist, who decided he had a low IQ and was “seriously learning disabled.” His parents gave up their plan to send him to an elite private school and instead sent him to a school for children with learning disabilities. “My fate was sealed by a single test,” writes Kaufman.

(Not really. He earned a doctorate at Yale and became a cognitive psychologist. But it wasn’t easy.)

Intelligence changes depending on environment, Lahey writes.

. . . people who believe intelligence is fluid, and can be increased through hard work, are much more likely to put in that hard work and show that intelligence is fluid. Unfortunately, children who believe their intelligence is fixed are far more likely to avoid challenges and simply allow the label to speak for itself. Put simply, children who believe they can become smarter, become smarter through effort and persistence.

Labeling all kids as “gifted” doesn’t work, however. Students who think their intelligence is fixed, whether they think it’s high or low, don’t work as hard as kids with a “growth mindset,” according to Stanford’s Carol Dweck.

For “gifted” kids, that can mean that they are so worried about marring the shiny veneer of that label that they never risk failure, and for the “seriously learning disabled” kids, the grungy tattiness of their label can lead to apathy and hopelessness.

Analyzing learning disabilities can identify what sort of help different children need, Lahey concedes. “I have even recommended intelligence testing for students who, despite their persistence, diligence and effort, are not succeeding in school.”  However, all too often, “a label signals a death knell for future effort, learning, and academic achievement.”

 What if we praised our students’ efforts to learn and grow and improve rather than praised them for showing up at school or on the soccer field, label affixed and prominently displayed? What if we watched those kids carefully, and taught them that they are not the measure of their IQ, but of their efforts to do their very best with what they have?

Yes, but some kids have more than others to work with. Kaufman wasn’t just a slow kid who worked hard.

Kaufman found a book on intelligence in the library and looked up the IQ he’d been assigned at the age of 11. The chart said: “Lucky to graduate high school.” He didn’t believe it, even though his teachers did. Finally, a learning resource teacher said she’d noticed he was bored. ”You don’t seem to belong in this classroom,” she said. “Why are you here?”

He left the learning resource room with “his growth mindset and his well-honed skills of grit, diligence, and persistence,” Lahey writes. Now an adjunct psychology professor at NYU, he writes the Beautiful Minds blog on Scientific American. Here’s Kaufman asking Is Your Child Ungifted?

Britain looks East for better schools

Longer school days and shorter holidays would help British students catch up with  Asian students, Education Secretary Michael Gove said at an education conference in London.

“If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday, and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere, then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

Gove should “know how boring and soul-sapping rote-learning can be,” responds Clarissa Tam, a graduate of Singapore schools.

Does he know how the emphasis on science, maths and IT can turn students into little robots, affecting particularly those of a more creative bent?

. . . The intense pressure to excel means students often study not for the joy of succeeding, but from the fear of failing. In Singapore they have a term for it — kiasu, which means ‘scared to lose’.

And yet, the drive for excellence can be empowering, Tam writes. When she faces challenges, she recalls that “my parents, my teachers, even my schoolmates have always expected more of me than I have of myself.”

I have even, somewhat to my own disgust, come to appreciate the emphasis on the rigour of science and maths, and even on the importance of rote-learning and putting certain things to memory. At the risk of sounding like a headmistress — discipline and structure must be inculcated, whereas creativity is often innate or inborn. Here’s the thing: once you have the structure, you can pile all the artistic sensitivity you like on top, free as you please. But without any proper foundation, all creativity is for naught.

Gove’s “Look East” policy comes at a time when many Asian countries are looking West in search of “inventiveness, originality and lateral thinking,” she writes. Singapore has created arts and drama schools and is “introducing more project- and team-based work as well as teaching formats such as show-and-tell.”

Sylvia Todd, super-awesome maker

The maker of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Mini-Maker Show is an 11-year-old girl, reports the New York Times.

Sylvia Todd’s desk is not tidy. It’s cluttered with small robots (including a solar-powered grasshopper), motors, wires, resistors, a soldering iron and an array of other gadgets and tools.

More than 1.5 million YouTube views have watched episodes of “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Mini-Maker Show.” She is sought after for speaking engagements, visits maker fairs and even addresses TEDx conferences. At the White House Science Fair, President Obama tested her latest project, a robot that paints.

“Ever since I was really young I liked destroying stuff,” Sylvia said. “I’ve always been interested in making and doing things hands-on.”

She went to her first maker fair at the age of 5 with her father, a Web developer who never finished high school. (Sylvia is 11. Her father is 29. “Do the math,” he says.) Two summers ago, James Todd began videotaping Sylvia’s demonstrations, as a summer project. Her mother got the idea for a YouTube show. So far, Sylvia has aired 19 episodes on making your own crazy putty (extended polymer chains), squishy circuit boards, electricity-conducting dough and more.

Technology for learners thrives out of school, writes Anya Kamenetz in Hechinger’s Digital blog.

From boredom to creativity

A little boredom is good for children, Dr. Teresa Belton told the BBC. Children who are kept active and stimulated every minute don’t have a chance to develop their imaginations, argued Belton, senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning.

Interviewing writers, artists and other creative people, Belton heard many stories of boring childhoods. Writer Meera Syal grew up in a small mining village with few distractions.

“Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons.

“But importantly boredom made her write. She kept a diary from a young age, filling it with observations, short stories, poems, and diatribe. And she attributes these early beginnings to becoming a writer late in life.”

Society sees boredom as uncomfortable and uncreative, Belton said. But creativity “involves being able to develop internal stimulus.”

“When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

“But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”

Reminds me on Diana Senechal’s book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.

Board wants to own work by teachers, students

If a high school student writes an app for a class assignment or a teacher develops great lesson plans, who owns the copyright?  In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the school board proposes claiming ownership of all work created for school use by students or teachers — even if it’s done on their own time with their own resources.

There’s a growing online market for teacher lesson plans, Kevin Welner,  director of the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center, told the Washington Post.  “I think it’s just the district saying, ‘If there is some brilliant idea that one of our teachers comes up with, we want be in on that. Not only be in on that, but to have it all,’ ” he said.

Claiming the right to students’ work is unlikely to hold up in court.

For Adrienne Paul and her sister, Abigail Schiavello, who wrote a 28-page book more than a decade ago in elementary school for a project that landed them a national television interview with Rosie O’Donnell and a $10,000 check from the American Cancer Society, the policy — had it been in effect — would have meant they would not have been able to sell the rights to Our Mom Has Cancer.

Board Chair Verjeana M. Jacobs said it was not the board’s “intention to declare ownership” of students’ work, just to “get the recognition.” The language should be changed before final approval, she said.

If a teacher develops lessons, software, apps or anything else on her own time, why should the rights belong to the school district?

There can be big money in educational apps. An independent developer made $700,000 in two years from an app aimed at homeschoolers.

 

What do parents want? It depends

Parenting styles vary by education and social class, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Does it matter? Mathews has been reading Michael Petrilli’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma, which cites the research.

A middle-class, college-educated parent of any ethnicity is likely to be like me: Overscheduling children’s free time but preferring innovative instruction and informal discipline at school.

. . . working-class and poor parents of any race are more likely to let their children amuse themselves as they see fit once their homework is done but tend to prefer schools with traditional teaching styles and strong discipline.

University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau found “the center of life in middle-class families was the calendar” listing “scheduled, paid, and organized activities for children.”

But despite the forced march to improvement that characterized their children’s free time, those parents tolerated a lot of back-talk and often negotiated with children about what they wanted to do. They preferred teachers who did not give orders but encouraged creativity..

Working-class and poor parents, researchers found, left their children on their own on weekends and summer days but were more likely to set strict behavior rules. Those parents tended to like teachers who were tough and structured.

Middle-class parents think parenting is very important: It’s their job to cultivate their children’s “talents, opinions and skills,” Lareau writes. She contrasts “concerted cultivation” with “natural growth” parenting. Low-income and working-class parents think children develop naturally, if parents provide “comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

Diverse schools face a challenge: If middle class and low-income parents have different expectations, what should principals and teachers do?

How self-expression hurt my students

Liberating students to discover the power of their voice? Sharing personal narratives? Every child an “author” writing for an audience? “Like so many of our earnest and most deeply humane ideas about educating children in general, and poor, urban children in particular, this impulse toward authenticity is profoundly idealistic, seductive, and wrong,” writes Robert Pondiscio in The Atlantic.

As a fifth-grade teacher at a South Bronx school, “I used to damage children for a living with that idealism,” he writes.

P.S. 277 didn’t teach its low-income students to use correct grammar and sentence structure, or to correct their mistakes.  That sort of literacy instruction rediscovered by New Dorp High School in Peg Tyre’s The Writing Revolution, was considered stifling.

Every day, for two hours a day, I led my young students through Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. I was trained not to address my kids as “students” or “class” but as “authors” and “readers.” We gathered “seed ideas” in our Writer’s Notebooks. We crafted “small moment” stories, personal narratives, and memoirs. We peer edited. We “shared out.” Gathered with them on the rug, I explained to my 10-year-olds that “good writers find ideas from things that happened in their lives.” That stories have “big ideas.” That good writers “add detail,” “stretch their words,” and “spell the best they can.”

Teach grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics? I barely even taught. I “modeled” the habits of good readers and “coached” my students. What I called “teaching,” my staff developer from Teacher’s College dismissed as merely “giving directions.” My job was to demonstrate what good readers and writers do and encourage my students to imitate and adopt those behaviors.

Reading and writing instruction had become a  Cargo Cult, Pondiscio writes. Go through the motions of being a writer to be a writer.

But good writers use their knowledge of the world, their big vocabularies and their command of language conventions to write vividly and persuasively, he points out.  Children growing up in language-rich families may pick up these things by osmosis; everyone else needs to be taught in school.

“When our students resist writing, it is usually because writing has been treated as little more than a place to expose all they do not know about spelling, penmanship and grammar,” observes Lucy Calkins, probably the workshop model’s premier guru. She is almost certainly correct.

This leaves exactly two options: The first is to de-emphasize spelling and grammar. The other is to teach spelling and grammar. But at too many schools, it’s more important for a child to unburden her 10-year-old soul writing personal essays about the day she went to the hospital, dropped an ice cream cone on a sidewalk, or shopped for new sneakers. It’s more important to write a “personal response” to literature than engage with the content.

“The unlived life is not worth examining,” Pondiscio writes.  Furthermore, ”teaching disadvantaged children the mechanics of writing, and emphasizing evidence over anecdote, is liberating not constraining.”

Young people who’ve mastered grammar are more likely to become writers capable of self-expression, he argues.

Also: Great writing comes out of great ideas.

 

Writing revolution: Back to the past

A Staten Island high school with mostly poor and working-class students, New Dorp High was tired of failure. After trying various reforms, such as small learning communities, Principal Deirdre DeAngelis and her faculty set a goal:  Teach students to write clearly.

When students learned to write — in history and science, as well as English — they learned to read, argue and analyze, writes Peg Tyre in The Atlantic. Test scores rose significantly and the graduation rate soared.

Nell Scharff, a lecturer at Baruch College, worked with teachers to figure out why New Dorp students couldn’t write. The poor writers had basic reading skills, but didn’t use “coordinating conjunctions to link and expand on simple ideas—words like forandnorbutoryet, and so.”

Teacher Fran Simmons asked her freshman English students to read Of Mice and Men and answer a prompt in a single sentence:

“Although George …”

. . . More than a few wrote the following: “Although George and Lenny were friends.”

Twenty-five years ago, schools of education began teaching new teachers that writing should be “caught, not taught,” says Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State.

Roughly, it was supposed to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. . . . Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression.

. . . For most of the 1990s, elementary- and middle-­school children kept journals in which they wrote personal narratives, poetry, and memoirs and engaged in “peer editing,” without much attention to formal composition. Middle- and high-school teachers were supposed to provide the expository- and persuasive-writing instruction.

Many kids didn’t “catch” writing, writes Dorp.  Pressured to raise reading scores, secondary school teachers neglected writing instruction.

The principal sent New Dorp teachers for training at Windward, a private school for children with language-related learning disabilities.

Children . . .  are explicitly taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts—butbecause, and so. They are instructed on how to use appositive clauses to vary the way their sentences begin. Later on, they are taught how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own.

In every class but math, New Dorp students wrote.  In chemistry class, Monica DiBella had to describe the elements with subordinating clauses.

Although … “hydrogen is explosive and oxygen supports combustion,” Monica wrote, “a compound of them puts out fires.”

Unless … “hydrogen and oxygen form a compound, they are explosive and dangerous.”

Learning parts of speech improved Monica’s reading comprehension. Before, I could read, sure. But it was like a sea of words,” she says. “The more writing instruction I got, the more I understood which words were important.”

In class discussions, students were required to use certain phrases, such as: “I agree/disagree with ___ because …”

In Monica’s fifth-period-English discussion of the opening scene of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, teacher Angelo Caterina asks why Willie Loman is so tired.

“Willie Loman seems tired because he is getting old,” ventured a curly-haired girl who usually sat in the front. “Can you explain your answer?,” Monica called out. The curly-haired girl bit her lip while her eyes searched the book in front of her. “The stage direction says he’s 63. That’s old!”

. . .  “I agree that his age is listed in the stage direction,” said John Feliciano. “But I disagree with your conclusion. I think he is tired because his job is very hard and he has to travel a lot.”

Robert Fawcett, a loose-limbed boy in a white T-shirt, got his turn. Robert had been making money working alongside the school’s janitors. “I disagree with those conclusions,” he said, glancing at the prompts. “The way Willie Loman describes his job suggests that the kind of work he does is making him tired. It is repetitive. It can feel pointless. It can make you feel exhausted.”

New Dorp is now considered a model school, writes Tyre.

Common Core Standards stress expository and analytic writing over personal narratives, she notes. But many writing experts think students will be bored by lessons in grammar, sentence structure and argument. Creative writing will motivate students, they believe.

Meanwhile, Monica DiBella is applying to college. Her Regents scores predict she’s ready.  “I always wanted to go to college, but I never had the confidence that I could say and write the things I know.” She smiles and sweeps the bangs from her eyes. “Then someone showed me how.”

Tiger Moms vs. Koala Dads in the suburbs

School choice isn’t just an escape hatch for urban kids assigned to low-performing schools,  argues Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in The case for public-school choice in the suburbs. Even in upper-middle-class communities with high-scoring schools, parents want different programs for their children. He sees three groups:

Tiger Moms (and Dads) . . . want gifted-and-talented programs in elementary school, lots of “honors” and Advanced Placement options in secondary school, and high-octane enrichment activities like orchestra, debate club, and chess teams. . . .

Koala Dads (and Moms), who want school to be a joyful experience for their kids, big and little. They want lots of time for creativity, personal expression, social-emotional development, and relationship-building. . . .

The Cosmopolitans, who want their children prepared to compete in a multicultural, multilingual world. They want a language immersion program for their tots (ideally Mandarin, though they’ll settle for Spanish); International Baccalaureate (IB) starting in middle school at the latest; and at least one, if not several, overseas experiences in high school.

What’s a good school for some students will be too pressured or too hang loose or vanilla for others, at least as their parents define their needs. Let new charters spring up to serve unmet needs, Petrilli writes. “If one-size-fits-all doesn’t work in the city, why does it work in the suburbs?”

School districts can’t meet every need and desire at the same school, but they can offer choices.

My daughter went to Palo Alto schools, which had plenty of Tigers, Koalas and Cosmos. The district’s choice program includes a “structured” school, which is wildly popular with some parents, and a “progressive” school, even more popular with others. It created a dual immersion Spanish school and, since my time, has added a Mandarin immersion program.  In middle school, parents can choose direct instruction or an interdisciplinary approach in which “a ‘village’ of teachers, students, and parents within the larger school community focuses on interactive, project-based, experiential learning through hands-on experiences and field trips.”

Affluent parents won’t lead the charge for suburban charter schools, predicts Ed Sector’s Kris Amundson. “For them, choice is already a reality.”

Godin: Schools steal dreams, teach compliance

Seth Godin’s manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?), argues that schools are designed to keep kids out of the labor force and train them to be “compliant and productive workers.”

Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence–it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

. . . As we get ready for the ninety-third year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push, or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable, and mediocre factory workers?

The economy has changed dramatically, Godin writes. Teaching compliance is counterproductive now.

Justin Baeder takes on Godin’s thesis here and here on Ed Week‘s On Performance blog.

. . . certainly, the public school curriculum has not kept up with the times to the extent needed to effectively prepare students to compete in the economy.

But were schools ever explicitly designed to create compliant workers? Godin goes so far as to draw a sharp dichotomy between teaching a rich set of skills and teaching obedience. Is it really impossible to teach obedience and creativity at the same time?

I’ve heard the schools-as-factories argument before and found it unpersuasive. The average American never has been a factory worker — and few factory workers needed much education until recently. Furthermore, if we’re educating for compliance, we’re doing a lousy job of it.

That said, it’s worth discussing Godin’s ideas on educating leaders.