Friday, February 8, 2013

"Making Children Smarter" - what does that really mean?

A post by (the consistently wonderful) Daniel Willingham called "How to Make a Young Child Smarter" got me thinking about this popular combination of developmental and intelligence theory.

In his post, Dr. Willingham summarizes findings from a paper by Protzko, Aronson, and Blair (2013). Willingham talks about highlights of the paper, including findings about the benefits of some ingredients in infant formula, interactive reading with adults, and preschool. Interesting findings that could be used in class discussions about intelligence development.

But these findings make me wonder about what we might mean by "smarter": Protzko, Aronson, and Blair use IQ tests to operationalize intelligence, but we're hearing more an more convincing (to me) evidence that whatever IQ measures might not be incredibly important in how we might all define "school success."

Some of the other dimensions of this issue:

  •  Carol Dweck's incredible book, Mindset, offers a convincing argument that abilities are NOT fixed at birth (or any other time), and changing the ways we think about ability might be one of the most important changes we can make to increase success. 
  • Paul Tough's amazing book, How Children Succeed, builds on and expands Dweck's idea to include what he calls "character" and "grit" - which combine elements of resilience  emotional intelligence, and deferred gratification. He offers convincing evidence that these elements and childhood stress should be the focus of interventions, not "making kids smarter." 
  • Our textbooks usually include Multiple Intelligence theories (like Gardner or Sternberg) and these theories have profound implications. Can/should we even talk about "smarter" if we believe that intelligence isn't one "thing" as measured by IQ tests? 
The fact that the question "how do we make kids smarter" keeps getting asked reveals something about our "default" ways of thinking about intelligence. In our classes, maybe we can help our students think about intelligence in more complex ways so that we can actually make some progress beyond singular, simplistic mindsets about what it means to be "smart." 

picture credit:

posted by Rob McEntarffer

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