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.”

Based on the quote, can you imagine? A fish asked to climb a tree! Or maybe an elephant asked to climb a tree against a monkey! Imagining these animals having to do something they were clearly not built for, is ineffective and not a fair matrix to assess the animals’ ability. But if we all agree that the fish shouldn’t be judged by its ability to climb a tree in the first place, then is assessing our students who have different abilities, with the same assessment, relevant?

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

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

Understanding that each person has different capabilities and learning capacities, the question then becomes - what is a more effective approach when assessing our students to 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 but simply identifying continuously what is best for them in achieving their own needs and goals when learning? One of the approaches to this is using holistic assessments, which has been 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. 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 desire to learn, track and make sense of their personal growth, discover their best potential and 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 and depends 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 engage with 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 their facilitators and teach students to have a more hands-on experience which builds their confidence to create 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 using various ways such as feedback forms or discussion among group members. The objective of this is to give students a better understanding of what is expected and 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 to improve themselves as well.

Image taken from Unsplash

Also, understanding that students have different starting points helps us 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 which halts our students from properly learning and gaining the experiences they need in their formative years, we need to relook at how we should be measuring our students in different capacities to not only support their growth but to also provide them a more meaningful learning journey.

Explore the possibilities at Leaps: Episode 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 at Leaps: Episode R - Reach For Perfection, happening on 9 October 2021.

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Leaps of Knowledge: The HEART Series