“When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.” Dalai Lama
About a year ago, I volunteered on a youth theatre project at the weekends. One morning, whilst waiting for the director to start the session, I listened in on a conversation between a group of 8 and 9 year olds. I assumed the children would be talking about their favourite pastimes, social media or be rehearsing their lines for the production. Instead, to my surprise, they were discussing their National Curriculum levels. Some of the kids were boasting about how well they were doing in school, some didn’t mind too much and others looked embarrassed to take part in the conversation. I said nothing, but just listened and observed.
As a teacher you’d think I would be proud that on a Saturday morning children were taking their education so seriously. Not at all. By taking part in this community project with kids from regular inner city state schools; I wanted to let go of learning targets, have fun away from the classroom and simply explore creativity. Perhaps informing young children their National Curriculum levels was their parents’ or teachers’ way of helping them reach their potential with their best interests at heart. After all, this can be a good motivator to get them to focus on succeeding academically and lessen the chances of the child being left behind. On the other hand, making children privy to their National Curriculum levels and pushing them, can infuse pressure to get ahead too soon; lower self-esteem when some children cannot meet the same expectations as their peers; and can have a negative influence on their psychological capacities.
Fortunately, the children I overheard were at a youth theatre, and were ready to embrace their creativity together with bags of enthusiasm, so it was not all about academics for them. However, their conversation got me thinking, because many children are given unrealistic goals to perform well in formal subjects at school.
Maths, reading and writing skills are very important, but do not define an individual’s intelligence. Realistically, some children may not do well academically. This is not because they can’t be bothered, are not trying hard enough or have unsupportive parents. It’s because not everyone has scholarly abilities or performs well in academia. However, everyone has the potential to find what they are good at, fine-tune these skills and pursue enriching routes to learning. This is something which needs to be taken on board by schools and parents.
“You can do anything you set your mind to.” Benjamin Franklin
Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at Harvard University, claimed that society does not focus on the unique traits or abilities of individuals to measure intelligence. Instead, Gardner believes each person has eight multiple intelligences which can be split into eight segments as shown in the diagram. This theory portrays intelligence from a broader perspective beyond formal learning results. Therefore, if a child is not achieving well in one area like maths, they may however, have exceptional musical and verbal-linguistic talents, which can be an indicator to use music and singing in maths lessons to help the child access their learning. Multi-sensory and inclusive teaching can bring formal subjects alive through creativity, positive engaging lessons and cross-curricular learning.
Whilst National Curriculum levels are important, so is experiencing the richness of school life. To encourage inclusive learning using Gardener’s multiple intelligence theory, I like the idea of more School Spirit. When students, teachers and parents share a positive attitude towards their school and learning, it helps everyone feel connected and part of one community. If done correctly, School Spirit tends to recognise every child as a unique learner with something special to offer the ethos of the school. School Spirit therefore focuses not only on academia, but proactively boosts morale with themed events, student councils, fundraising activities, assemblies and much more.
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” Mother Teresa
School Spirit can create enriching and fulfilling experiences for everyone. By appreciating every child as a unique learner with a multitude of traits, the school community can celebrate these differences.
Miss H ♥