Monday, October 24, 2005

Transforming schools

Who hasn't heard of Howard Gardner? Posted by Picasa

If the ideas of Howard Gardner were ever to be taken seriously by schools they would have to change dramatically.

It is only by such a transformation that the many students who currently fail now would gain their rightful success. Currenty too many students leave secondary education for little to show for their time but a bad attitude towards learning. Today, in our New Zealand papers, it is reported that our ‘achievement tail’ is 20% of all students.

We all ought to be ashamed.We now know enough that no student need fail if we were to change our collective minds about education!

Schools, as currently structured, were never designed to cater for the full range of students that are now forced to stay until they are sixteen. For the so called ‘achievement tail’ these years of time serving are wasted years of compulsory miss-education.

Everyone knows that school suits those who come from homes that match the school's expectations. Students with this, so called ‘social capital’, do well and some even enjoy the experience. But even for the so called successful students schools could be so much more.

This is where Howard Gardner comes in. His research has uncovered a range of competencies that few school currently recognize or, if they do, do not value them as important as they do traditional academic subjects.

Gardner has recognized eight separate human capacities. If schools gave up their industrial role of producing students who have consumed (or achieved) the narrow standards set, and gave up seemingly accepting 20% of the students as ‘failed products’, things would change. As it is secondary schools have changed little in a 100 years built as they are on an industrial factory model that even the business world has given up on. They still pass students along an assembly line of disconnected subjects, ruled by the bell and timetable, with teachers overly concerned with control and measurement.

And this at a time, when in all areas of life, customization and personalization is the order of the day. School would be OK if it were 1965!

A school dedicated to uncovering and extending the talents of every student would require a new conception of education. The multiple intelligences’ of Gardner provide such a conception. His ideas would move us away from the old concept of a fixed IQ (based on literacy and numeracy) and suggest that we all have a personal mix of talents that make us special. Some of us are ‘all rounders’ while others perform at the extreme limits of any intelligence. And, unlike the ‘old’ IQ, all these talents can be developed with opportunity and experience.

Briefly, the ‘multiple intelligences’ are: (1) Inter-personal relationships (2) Intrapersonal caring and empathy attributes (3) Mathematical and logical (4) Linguistic (5) Kinesthetic – or physical abilities (from dance to sports) (6) Musical (7) Natural history (8) Spatial artistic.

Traditionally schools focus on 3 and 4 but if we were serious about developing the talents of all our students we need to value them all equally and, in turn, personalize teaching and learning. Maybe many of our students, currently in the ‘achievement tail’, would find the recognition they deserve if we valued talent education and personalized learning?

As for assessment this can be ‘measured’ by what each student can do, perform, or demonstrate, to whatever varying degree of skill and creativity.

To achieve this we need to stop blaming students for their shortcomings and start to take a close look at our schools. It is not low achieving students that are the problem it is more low achieving schools.


Anonymous said...

Secondary schools don't seem to have heard of Gardner!

Anonymous said...

Yes, right on track!

There seems to have been a long standing obsession for so called 'hard data' even if what is measured in this way is not worth knowing, as long as it is 'standardized' and lends itself to some sort of ranking to show that one person is 'better' than another. The logic being, flawed as it is, that if you 'pass' or 'excel' in an exam you have done well and are more likely to be 'successful' in some general way.

What needs to be looked at is not so simple and as you say involves ensuring the possibilty of more personalised learning directions and more opportunites for students to discover and develop their own particular interests and abilities.
This is more important than providing opportunities for a minority to 'excel' in their exam or other forms of assessments.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Couldn't agree more. Soft data is actually 'harder' and more relevent than so called 'hard data'

Anonymous said...

The first country to transform their education systen to focus on talent development will be the winner - long way to go in New Zealand!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Does seem obvious to me!