Why do children vary in terms of their success? In order to first answer this question, we first must look at what it means to be successful within the realms of education. How can we define success? The oxford dictionary defines success as: ‘The accomplishment of an aim or purpose’. The curriculum of excellence in Scotland (CfE) defines a ‘successful learner’ as someone who has an autonomous orientation to world and who is committed to self-improvement and responds well to a changing environment. However, in the context of education and what is to be a ‘successful learner’ different discourses regarding education have amalgamated to create the term which now encompasses several disparate strands of meaning. To summarise this point Reeves, et al (2014) states: “there is no clear endpoint embedded in the characteristics for being a successful learner. And that “in terms of knowledge and understanding, being ‘successful’ consists in the acquisition and maintenance of certain dispositions and competences and their associated procedural tools’.
Defining success is as subjective as it is problematic in terms of how different agencies define it. For example from the perspective of a school; the school as an educational establishment will define success in terms of grading and more specifically GCSEs (students that got more than 5 A-C grades* including Maths and English) in relation to other educational establishments locally and across the country. These results form the basis of school league tables which are reviewed by governing bodies the media and perspective students and their guardians. However as of 2016, the introduction of the progress 8 and attainment which was defined as a ‘Secondary Accountability measure’ has caused the shift in the focus of solely penultimate exam results to the measure of the progress children make between the end of primary school and the end of secondary school. The idea behind the introduction of progress 8 was to provide a measurement that includes how pupils across all abilities had progressed. It intends to measure each students' progress across 8 subjects from the ages of 11 to 16. There are 8 sections of subjects that qualify for performance scores. The first five sections are the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) subjects: English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language. This ‘Value Added’ measure attempts to ‘level the playing field’ when making performance comparisons by controlling for non‐school influences. However the scheme has been heavily criticised for producing bias results. Attempting to eliminate all biases caused by non‐school factors makes high demands on the available data (Goldstein, 1997; Coe & Fitz‐Gibbon, 1998; Gorard, 2010). It has also been criticised for overgeneralising ability in terms of using data of how students performed in Science, English and Maths (the only subjects externally examined at primary school and applying this to the other subjects (Evans, 2008). In addition to this Schools in disadvantaged areas are unlikely to fair well; in their report on the new Progress 8 measure, Burgess and Thomson (2013) demonstrate that, due to the elimination of contextual factors, schools performing poorly at Progress 8 are likely to serve localities with high rates of poverty.
In this essay I intend to explore intelligence as a limiting factor to success. In order to add depth to my findings in existing research I will use a case study. The case study which I have selected is that of a 11 year old male Student (Student A) at a North East ‘requires improvement’ Comprehensive Secondary School whom I taught in my preliminary placement of my PGCE. The case has prompted my interest because this was a student in a Year 7 class of mixed ability, Student A would attend classes, behave relatively well but did often lack focus when presented with more challenging ideas and when asked to do individual work could often be found procrastinating by focusing their attention on their surroundings or other pupils, and ultimately did not seem to ‘progress’ in the same way that other students in the class would. He found written examination difficult and often gave the incorrect answers to verbal questioning. When learning about the subject Waves in Physics Student A would not be able to recall information from the previous lesson and often had to rely on my assistance, other class members or the text book to assist with questioning. Whereas a large percentage of the class picked up the concepts quickly and were able to apply their knowledge. Student A was able to recall facts from short term memory but not able to retain and apply much of the lesson content. I wanted to investigate the factors which may have had an effect in this through the lens of intelligence.
I found student A to be heavily self-critical and would often make statements such as ‘it’s just how I am’, ‘I can’t change’ despite myself and other teaching staff trying to shift his thinking more to a growth and development mindset. It became obvious Student A was performing “Self-worth protection” which is the display of self‐handicapping behaviours implemented by certain students in assessment situations which predict failure as an attempt to limit damage to self‐esteem (Covington, 2005). The withdrawal of effort momentarily preserve self-esteem bus is not conducive to performing well in academic context (Thomson, 2006). Student A very much adopted the ‘don’t try don’t fail approach’ in regard to his demonstration of knowledge so it was difficult to deduce what had actually been taken in by Student A via assessment. Student A would view assessment as a threat to self-esteem; he would often just grin and answer ‘I don’t know’ when initially questioned in class. Upon coming to this realisation and reading into self-worth protection theory I then took it upon myself to adopt the use of effective praise which can be defined as informative and not indicative of future performance, (The Elementary School Journal, vol. 85, issue 1, 2005) which is said to assist with limiting the committing prevailing file self-worth protection in the classroom. I also found ways in which to alternate assessment into a less traditional and perhaps obvious and format and minimise any feelings of uncertainty around situations of assessment. I did find Student A to react extremely well to informational praise and this helped to combat self-deprecating mechanisms. From this it could be deduced that student’s progress may have been influenced by self-preservation under withdrawal of effort in addition to intelligence.
Which may have played an important role in student A’s progress is that these assessments were completed in a transitional time for Student A. The transition from Primary school to Secondary school can be an unsettling time for many students in which they don’t always perform optimally Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education 3 – 14 Project (Evangelou et al., 2008) found that students at this time often fear change, new places, new people, having no friends; having several teachers instead of one teacher; experience of bullying and feeling lost. Which has been found to cause a dip in progress in Year 7 (Galton et al, 1999). However, these findings were drawn from a small sample size of 550 pupils drawn from a much wider sample of 1190 children who made a transition from primary to secondary school from 6 local authorities at the end of the 2005-06 academic year. A much larger sample size would need to be taken over a large area in order to improve the reliability of these findings.
Much like the definition of success there is no universally accepted definition of intelligence. It has been stated that: ‘With a history as long as psychology itself, intelligence is the most studied and likely the best understood construct in psychology, albeit still with many “unknowns.”’ Gottfredson, et al (2009). Put quite simply: ‘Intelligence Is What the Intelligence Test Measures’ Van der Maas (2014).
“Intelligence” as a solid exemplification of an individuals’ “ability to know” is clearly a concept that encompasses a lot of different capacities. In colloquial terms we have divisions such as “book smarts” opposing “street smarts.” As one researcher writes: “Intelligence is a word so vague that it essentially captures all the phenomena that psychology concerns itself with” Danzinger, (1997).
Psychologists and Educationalist have long been concerned with the measuring of intelligence. The changing conception of intelligence from 1890 to date is traced. It is important to measure in intelligence in order to firstly, give a picture of potential. As an educator it is extremely important to know what a student is capable of and what each student should be achieving against how they are preforming. Intelligence can also be used to make a selection – this could be on an educational level in order to divide students into sets, so they are able to be taught in a way that is pitched at their ability. When progressing in education it is important when higher educational establishments such as colleges and universities to gage whether potential students will be able to complete the course. In a vocational context prospective employer can he helped by gaining an insight into applicants’ intelligence in order to gain and understanding of whether they would be able to keep up with the cognitive aspect of the job role. As discussed in detail further in the essay, knowing an individual’s intelligence can also help to identify strengths and weaknesses, it may become apparent that individuals perform better in certain areas.
Charles Spearman first coined the concept of general intelligence in 1904. General intelligence, also known as g factor, refers to the ‘existence of a broad mental capacity that influences performance on cognitive ability measures’ (Spearman, 1904, p 258). Spearman was interested in finding out: ‘why is it that human abilities are positively correlated, that is why is there a general tendency for those who are good at one thing to be good at others?’. He had noticed a trend in school data in which students that performed well in certain subjects tended to perform well in others, he found a distinct correlation in how children were performing across the board. Using his statistical method of factor analysis, he concluded that there is a substantial quantity of common variance across all of the examination answers, with some variance specific to each test. (Pfeiffer, 2008). This is what Spearman defined as the g factor. He later proposed that the general factor was a result of “mental energy” (Spearman, 1927).
‘g’ has been described as ‘Psychometrics' most enduring and controversial construct’ (Buckhalt, 2002). The ‘g factor’ caused much controversy within psychology and education. Perhaps the most perhaps the most notable criticism was that of L. L. Thurstone who argued that the lack of independence amongst the individual tests of ability in Spearmans examinations meant it was not possible to produce "factorially pure" outcomes on the students intelligence. Thurstone produce the model of ‘primary mental abilities’ which was an attempt to factor in the more ‘accurate’ testing of the following abilities: comprehension, reasoning, perpetual speed, numerical ability, verbal fluency, memory and spatial visualisation (Thurstone, 1938).
Around the same time Spearman discovered the g factor (1904) , Psychologist Alfred Binet was appointed by the French Government to identify students who needed additional educational assistance; this was when the first intelligent quotient (IQ) test was created. The French government sought out Binet due to the problems resulting from influx of children into Parisian schools in 1900s, it became important for the schools to be able to differentiate children based upon their intelligence. With fellow Psychologist Theodore Simon, they coined the Binet-Simon Scale, children were placed on the scale from their ability to answer certain questions and perform certain tasks. Questions where designed to test five factors of cognition which included reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing and working memory (Binet and Simon, 1915). The tests themselves were based on object identification, sentence completion, providing the definitions of words and tasks such as ‘giving change’ from a certain amount of money. Scholastic measures proved more predictive in how children would perform in other questions than physical-sensory testing. From the results of these tests a ‘mental age’ was allocated. An average score from each age group was taken. Certain children were able to answer questions deemed to be more advanced than others of the same age, and so, based on these observations, the concept of mental age was born. From a child’s mental age and actual age Binet and Simon were able to differentiate the children in terms of their intelligence, and award them an IQ.