Dr. Patricia Porter
When I was in college training to be a teacher we learned about the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) that was used to measure how bright a person was and, at that time, used to determine what kind of education they would get. For instance, for many years I taught in a school for children classified as having ‘moderate mental retardation’- what a horrid term! The students had all been assessed (I am not sure how, but probably by an educational psychologist) as having an IQ of between 65 and 80. The IQ of an average learner was assumed to be 100 so these students were performing at a level that was well below that of the average student. Children whose IQ was measured as being between 0 and 65 were considered and being ‘severely mentally retarded’ and were sent to ‘schools’ where the emphasis was on training rather than teaching.
I taught children who had been classified as ‘moderately mentally retarded’ for over ten years and I gradually became more and more confused by what IQ actually meant. Yes, the children I taught had learning difficulties of one kind or another, and yes, most of them were way behind their peers in things like reading and math. But many of my students were quite talented in other ways.
I remember John, who hardly spoke and found it very difficult to communicate. Sometimes I had to explain very simple things to him several times and in several different ways before he understood. But, he could draw really well, his drawings were fantastic. He could look at something and then draw it in the minutest detail. I still have his drawing of the classroom, complete with the exact number of pins in the boards on the walls.
Then there was Margaret. Margaret really struggled to learn to read and never seemed to remember anything I tried to teach her. She came from a big family and tended to be ignored by them. Margaret was one of the best needlewomen I have ever met. She could embroider and create fabric collages that were really beautiful.
Next there was Julie, how could I ever forget Julie? Her family was from Grenada and felt that having a child with learning problems was a source of shame. Julie had severe communication issues, she struggled to find the wards she needed to say something and, as a result, rarely spoke. She was a big girl, much bigger than any of the other children in the class, and when Sport’s Day came around it was obvious that she would win the running race. However, things did not work out that way. Half way across the grass course she stopped and waved the other kids on so that they could catch up with her! She did not want to win at the expense of the others.
I have many more stories about the wonderful children I have worked with but these three illustrate the point I want to make. These children had been assessed to find out how smart they were, what level of IQ they possessed. The assessment had probably looked at specific learning skills rather than the whole child. I doubt very much if any of the assessments had picked up on John’s ability to draw, Margaret’s ability to sew or Julie’s ability to relate to others. No wonder I was confused about what IQ actually measured when I could see wonderful skills in the children I taught.
Thank goodness that, as a result of research into how the brain works we now have a much better understanding of what intelligence actually is. The research points out that there is no one measure of a person’s intelligence and that people are intelligent in a variety of different ways. It is no longer good enough to know ‘how smart’ a child is before deciding on the type of education they will receive, now we need to know ‘how a child is smart’ so that we can use those learning strengths to provide them with the best ways to learn.
At last educators are beginning to understand that children have unique learning styles and learning strengths and to use them to help children reach their learning potential. You too need to know how your child is smart so that you can provide your child the learning opportunities he or she needs to succeed.