Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's the Point of Being "Smarter" Than a 5th Grader?

I used to play the game, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?", on my Iphone. But than I realized that I really didn't have enough hours in the day, and quickly gave it up.

However, I do know how it works. And if you provide me with any device that can grant me access to the Internet, than I can defiantly state that, "Yes, I am smarter than a 5th grader!"

And therein lies my point.  If to be smarter means that I have the ability to regurgitate information that a 5th grader is supposed to know, then that doesn't make me smart. If the premise is that a 5th grader is smarter than me, because he or she can upchuck information at any given moment, than it's a ridiculous premise! 

What is smart? Who decides who is "smart", and who isn't? 

Every Tuesday, I drive across the street to the daycare , and read to 4 and 5 year olds. I had a new student the other day. Before she could sit down, she began to inform me about how smart she was. She knew everything.(Her words, not mine)

 I don't blame her for this perception of herself.   I am sure there are a number of people in her life who tell her this. What makes her smart? Judging from our conversation as we read the book, I am sure this little girl has been exposed to more experiences than most of her peers. Does that make them dumb?

I always tell my students that none of them is smarter than the other. I tell them that none of them are dumb, slow, or stupid. Those words are thrown around so carelessly. I tell my students, "You have to put the work in."

I reiterate this concept repeatedly to all my students, and it has amazing results. I let them know that some things come easy to some, and to others it doesn't. But, if it doesn't, than you have to work at reaching your goal, whether it's solving a multi step problem, answering questions on a comprehension test, or writing legibly. And just because it takes you longer, it doesn't make you dumb.

I have a student who struggles with math. I know she thinks of herself as dumb when it comes to math. It does not come easy to her. I told her that she had to put the work in. And she did. She takes notes, she watches videos, and her mom helps at home. Her mom and I have both noticed how her level of confidence has risen, which has allowed her to shed the "I am dumb in math" image of herself.

During parent-teacher conferences, I was showing a parent her child's grades. A slip of my hand, allowed a parent to catch a glimpse of another child's grades. She asked me why her son didn't have grades like that. I explained to her that we couldn't compare her child to another child, (politely of course), and that the only person I wanted to focus on was her child. Unfortunately, she  felt that her child wasn't smart, because he didn't have the same grades as the other student. What an unfair misconception!

When we classify our students as smart we tend to give them access to many more opportunities than we do our "not smart" kids. I wonder why that new Chinese immersion program for kindergartners was not offered to our school? I wonder if our school was not considered because our "population" doesn't come to mind as being "smart" enough. How many times have I, and I'm sure you've heard it too, teachers decide beforehand, what their students can or can not do, because they feel their kids are not "smart" enough.

If you place those children who are not considered smart in challenging situations, you would be surprised at how well they excel. Maybe they aren't the top reader in the class, maybe they struggle to solve math problems that others can do in less than a minute, does this make them dumb? Do they always have to be unsuccessful?

We need to give our students a chance to feel successful. Let's get away from handing out worksheets. Move away from multiple choice, and the filling in of bubbles. Create opportunities for our students to learn, not regurgitate information that could easily be accessed on Google or Bing.

My job is not to make my students smarter than a 5th grader. My job is to teach my students that, if they put the work in,  they can be successful as well, even if it does take a little longer.

photo credit: TZA via photopin cc


  1. I love your quote, "You have to put the work in." Can I steal it and put it in big letters across my classroom????? LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!

  2. Please do! LOL I really say it every single day!

  3. Part of our education is rightly aimed at helping people manage themselves in society; to fit in; to survive. (basics like reading, writing, math). The rest of education needs to be directed at developing the greatness - the uniqueness - of the individual.

    When we use labels, whether those labels are 'smart' or 'dumb', NONE of us will manage, fit or survive EVERYWHERE. There will always be someplace where we are 'either/ or'. When we finally recognize our own unique greatness and that EVERY PART COMPLETES THE WHOLE, that's when education is on the right track.

    Thanks Lisa. You're one of the growing number of teachers who 'get it'. I love your work. Thanks for sharing.

    All the best from Toronto,

  4. Sorry to be the wet blanket. I like that you believe in what you are doing. But tell me how I put student's who aren't considered as smart in a challenging situation if they are already "under water." Terms like "smart" and "dumb" may not be accurate or professional but you can't be responsible for their self-esteem. We have an educational system that is a travesty, in part, because the fabric of our culture has been ripping and tearing for some time. We create the illusion of learning in many classrooms with bells and whistles disguising low expectations. Student throws ball up and teacher runs under with basket....swish...applause. Happy students, happy parents, happy administrators, happy teacher...and then they graduate with their high self esteem and an 8th grade vocabulary.

  5. I am in love with this post. I love the description of 5th Grader, and how no, it doesn't equal smart to be able to regurgitate information. I, too, am working to fight against being either smart or dumb. I've been reading a lot on Mindset lately, which this speaks to directly. I hate that so often, though, I feel like I do all sorts of things to convince my students that they can do anything, but then I feel like as soon as they leave my classroom they get other messages from everywhere else. Thanks for sharing, and if it's ok, I'll probably link or repost this on my own blog!