Intelligence and Learning



A common view is no doubt that your being a successful learner depends on how intelligent you are; hence the need to assess intelligence. I do agree with dr. Gordon Stobart that it is in fact impossible to measure intelligence because it is impossible to set clear boundaries. As he mentions, several types of “intelligence” have been identified, each stressing a particular aspect of how our brain works, but success in learning depends on many other factors such as the environment, the family where you are born, your experiences and your motivation. A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine. Both her children are dyslexic. She was telling me how difficult it was to make her children accepted and fairly assessed by teachers in school, particularly as they are growing older and are now in high school and university. She was pointing out how the IQ of both of them was quite high, but when they were confronted with routine tasks such as repeating history lessons, writing essays, taking notes in class, they struggle. But what is worse, teachers regard them as slow learners and making no great progress in learning because they use mind maps and calculators, which they consider to be supports to learning inadequate for a high school students, let alone for a college one. They are very lucky because the family supports them a lot and encourages them constantly, so they have been able to follow their course of study regularly without interruptions and with good results. What made the difference was the way they were encouraged to practice and to find a way to bypass their problem.

The background is very important. This year in one of my classes I had a student whose results were not at the top and teachers considered him as a poor learner, lazy in doing his homework and passive in class. I teach English as a foreign language and he was one of the students who knew the largest number of words in English and could translate practically any text easily thanks to this large vocabulary. However, he could not speak or write well in English. This was because he was never given enough opportunities for writing or speaking the language, instead he was a keen reader of science sites and journals in English. Science was his highest interest. With my science colleague we included him in an exchange project with another class where he had to use English to discuss climate related issues. He thus started practicing also writing for a real communication purpose and he was not passive or lazy. He was practicing steadily and improved a lot so much so that his score at the exam was close to 100%. This proves how you can improve in anything if you are practising constantly, but in order to do it you need to be motivated and often the motivation comes from the esteem of your teachers or tutors who keep showing you your progress and encourage on continuing in your effort.

In my previous post I mentioned video games. As I was listening to dr. Stobart talk I could not stop thinking about them. When asked about what teachers could do to help their students be better learners he mentioned feedback and being aware of a learning path. I’ve been experimenting with gamification in my classes, whereby I try to set up a game like situation with missions and rewards. The first thing I did was to build a map of the missions my students had to accomplish in order to pass the level, and the school year. This was a way of giving them a goal and provide feedback accordingly. Each block in the map included various missions which were sort of “open questions”, that is a way to have my students apply the language grammar and functions to the game situations I built for them. This allowed me to assess not simply their knowledge of the grammar rules, but their actual understanding and mastery as they had to use them together with vocabulary and functions in complex situations such as reporting as many as they could on a girl by reading a fake Facebook page, listening to fake telephone conversations, etc. Furthermore, it was also easier to provide feedback as they received points only when their performance was complete. If it was not they were given suggestions on how to improve it. I believe that this strategy could be a very effective way to apply the idea of apprenticeship put forward by dr. Stobart. Indeed, based on the amount of experience points you have you can be ranked as a novice, apprentice, expert and master based not on ability, but on performance. This is has also the advantage of not keeping a student stuck in a “category”, but show how he or she is doing compared to others and that he or she can progress.