How are we intelligent, and how is that determined?

September 10, 2021

How are we intelligent? Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds in the world once said,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is not smart.”

Can you imagine, a fish being asked to climb a tree! Or maybe an elephant being asked to climb a tree in competition with a monkey! Imagining these animals having to do something they were clearly not built for, is an ineffective and unfair matrix to assess their abilities. But if we all agree that the ability of a fish shouldn’t be judged by by measure of climbing a tree in the first place, then is assessing our students who have different abilities, with the same assessment, effective?

Image taken from Quora in reference to Howard Earl Gardner, "Frames of Mind. The theory of multiple intelligences

We all have abilities that differentiate us from one another. Some of these can be clearly seen, like a tall person being able to easily reach for objects on high shelves compared to someone shorter. But what about the abilities we cannot see with the naked eye? For example, the ability to think, speak, and view the world also differs from one person to another.

Understanding that each person has different abilities and learning capacities, the question then becomes - what is a more effective approach when assessing our students so we can support them in realising their potential and cultivating their strengths?

For educators, it is difficult to find the perfect assessment that could cater to EVERY student, but what if it’s not about catering to each of them? What if we could continuously identify what is best for them in achieving their own needs and goals when learning? One of the ways to do this is by holistic assessments, which was proposed by Teach for Malaysia in their article on the abolishment of UPSR (Primary School Achievement Test).

What are holistic assessments and how do they look?

According to the Commonwealth Education Hub, holistic assessment refers to the process of using multiple sources to continually gather information on a child’s development, to provide feedback to support and guide learning. In addition to this, holistic assessments empower students to be leaders of their own learning by allowing them to take ownership of their learning. Through holistic assessments, students build confidence and a desire to learn, track, make sense of their personal growth, discover their best potential, express their true ability; and develop knowledge, skills, and habits that will help them thrive in the real world.

Examples of holistic assessments are project-based assessment, portfolio assessment, peer assessment, group presentations, and self-reflective journals. Ultimately, the objective of holistic assessments is to encourage active participation from students, which goes hand-in-hand with the learning objectives. It is dependant on what suits students in the classroom. Let’s see how some of these examples of holistic assessments work:

1. Project-based assessments - When real world problems are discussed in the classroom.

In this type of assessment, students are allowed to engage in real-world issues through meaningful projects that are related to the curriculum. For instance, students are required to address local issues within their community and are allowed to use different mediums like creating interactive videos or hosting a forum. Teachers act as the facilitators and teach students to have a more hands-on experience which builds their confidence in creating a positive impact in society.

2. Peer assessment - Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Students are to provide constructive feedback for their peers in the classroom. This can be done in various ways such as feedback forms or in group discussions. The objective is to give students a better understanding of what is expected. Through this, they also learn how to give and receive constructive feedback from people around them.

3. Self-reflective journals - Reflect and give value to oneself

Journaling enables students to reflect and keep track of their learning progress by making sense of what has been taught to them. This method gives them the freedom to express themselves by writing, or it could even be a video of themselves talking about their learning journey. In the long run, students can better practice what they learn and have the capability to be more self-aware of their own learning which helps them know how to improve themselves as well.

Image taken from Unsplash

Understanding that students have different starting points helps us know how to give the support they need in nurturing their unique abilities.

When assessing students in a classroom, besides their capacity to understand and make sense of the world, we must also take into consideration their access to resources. The accessibility plays a role in how they perform in school and if they are not well-equipped, we should identify those who need the extra support and help them.

Most importantly, we must have a better understanding of who our students are and where their strengths lie in order to support them better, as students are different from one another. Using holistic assessments is effective in providing that flexibility for teachers to assess their students based on their individual performance and progress, avoiding a one-size-fits-all assessment that may not be fair nor affective given their unique circumstances.

With the pandemic interrupting our students from formal learning and gaining of experiences needed in their formative years, we need to relook at how we should be measuring our students in different capacities. Not only to support their growth but to also provide them a more meaningful learning journey.

Explore the possibilities in The HEART Course: Session R!

Pursuing perfection is less about achieving it, and more about having a spirit of excellence in all we do, to be the best version of ourselves as lifelong learners and inspire others to do the same. How do we help students strive for excellence in today’s world? Let’s explore this further together in The HEART Course: Session R - Reach For Perfection.

The HEART Course is a free online course which creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community.

In five sessions H-E-A-R and T, you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There also conversation prompts to help your group of educators DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom!

Get started with The HEART Course here.

Registration is ALWAYS open!

Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series