Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Re-defining Student Potential

At BrainSMART and the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention, Marcus Conyers and I support schools and communities to eliminate the gap between mission statements celebrating the potential of all students to succeed and the deeply held expectations that contradict those sentiments.

Deeply held assumptions and expectations that some students don’t have the potential to do school well are, in fact, pervasive in our society. For example, these assumptions arise in the practice of providing instruction on thinking strategies and higher order literacy only for students identified as gifted, while focusing on basic skills training for many others.

Further, when children begin school without the reading readiness skills that their peers possess, those assumptions may lead schools away from a focus on the concentrated instruction and exposure to reading all children need to succeed and toward an often-unspoken belief that they lack the cognitive potential to read on grade level with high comprehension.

In fact, researcher Richard Allington has found that while almost all students have the potential to read on grade level by the end of first grade, 30% do not learn to do so. Presenting an evidence-based case for the learning potential of all students can help reduce this destructive, downward spiral of low expectations for many of our nations’ children and youth.

With this foundation in place, perhaps then it will become commonplace to support all schools to provide learning experiences so virtually all students can succeed.

For more about establishing a scientific framework for schooling see Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education to Classroom Practice.

From reviewer J. Zehr: "My favorite quote from this book is found on page 53 and helps elucidate an often abused term in education, potential. Wilson and Conyers offer us a better path. "Rather, potential represents the power to improve one's skills and knowledge through hard work and persistence in environmental conditions that provide opportunities to do so." The "power to improve" offers hope and a not so subtle mandate for educators to become change agents. Thanks to the authors for standing on the shoulders of great pioneers in the theories of modifiable intelligence like Reuven Feuerstein and Robert Sternberg. Five Big Ideas is exactly that - VERY big ideas that we need to pay attention to like never before!"

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