Learning

SMUS-Views-Bob

We are currently looking to hire someone for a new position at the school, Director of Learning. A brief description of the position can be found here.

Over 25 years ago, I was at a conference where Howard Gardner first revealed his work on Multiple Intelligences. Gardner’s research altered how we view intelligence, shedding the old scaly skin of a definition of intelligence that consisted of mathematical and verbal ability. Seven types of intelligence exist, said Gardner (now eight, and, he speculates, possibly a ninth). He was originally a neuropsychologist, and his original area of study was brain-damage. He discovered that neutralizing different parts of the brain voided different mental processes; further study extrapolated these different parts of the brain into various operations that constituted intelligence. So people are intelligent in more ways than used to be thought. It has changed our understanding of the way students learn, and therefore has changed the way we teach.

Multiple Intelligences is the tip of the iceberg, you could say. Learning styles, identification of learning differences, perceptual differences, all constitute additions to our knowledge about how students learn. Likewise various other bits of scientific research. Experts say we have learned more in the past 25 years about how the brain functions than was known in the previous history of humanity. They are also fond of saying that even so, this field of study is in its infancy.

At our school, and in others, all this activity has had consequences. Our school’s ethos has long had faith in providing a whole range of opportunities to tug from students the energetic or the reluctant flower of their talents. So this direction is less a new departure than it is simply an evolution of this confirmed strength of our school. It is also consistent with our belief that it is important always to provide the best possible learning experience. Medicine, business, science all make use of the best research and practices; so should teaching and learning. The teacher who stood at the front expected everyone in the class to learn according to the way he or she taught has been supplanted by the teacher who detects and responds to the differences among the learners in the room. We believe that all learners possess differences in how they learn; we believe that assessment practices should be a means to increase learning rather than simply to test it – or worse, catch out mistakes or pockets of ignorance. A classroom today only rarely – if ever – functions in tidy rows. The classroom today rarely – if ever – asks the entire class to recite the same set of phrases. The classroom today doesn’t hold up the best and the brightest as the model for everyone else to emulate; it asks each student to find the spark and the means to fulfill his or her promise.

In the version of the School’s Strategic Plan that we adopted in 2005, we identified a number of key priorities in our approach to learning: differentiated instruction, more sophisticated and constructive assessment and evaluation practices, and a focus on a collaborative learning environment. We believe that every student has – or could have – a learning profile that helps the student, the parent and the teacher understand strengths and weaknesses so that the process of learning becomes more effective, more satisfying and more fulfilling. We have discovered that some students who in the bad old days would have been labelled slow, or difficult, or inattentive, are in fact quite bright, needing simply different approaches, some techniques suited to their strengths, intelligence, or learning style. We have discovered, furthermore, as would be expected, that students who fare quite well in most circumstances also have learning differences which, if identified and addressed, lead to improved performance. And we have discovered that the students who formerly might have been considered the best and the brightest also have their learning differences, and just like every other learner benefit from the adaptations made possible by better understanding how their brains operate. Everyone wins.

We have focused on this work for the past five years through the expertise and knowledge of our own staff, by means of staff visits to institutes such as All Kinds of Minds, and through substantial visits from experts in the field. Our staff is now invited elsewhere to share the results of our experience. We have come to the point where the progress we have made has reached a watershed: to implement the benefits of the research and exemplary practices schoolwide, and to oversee this process in a more orderly way, we can’t do it part time, but should bring on board someone whose area of expertise is this expanding domain of research and practices. Our ambition is to meet the needs of all learners, to bring forth from our students the great potential that is theirs.

SHARE
Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here