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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Layers of Learning: Understanding the Complexity of Student Talent and Academic Success

From Edudemic.com

By Joseph Baker
July 27, 2012

The true diversity of intelligence has yet to be uncovered in modern education systems because so few institutions are willing to lend credibility to those skills that lie outside the narrow scope of mathematics and literature.

As author and speaker Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in a recent TED talk, schools all across the world operate on a hierarchy where mathematics and languages dominate, followed by humanities and finally the arts at the very bottom. Even within the arts, music and visual art are often assigned greater value than drama and dance.

Although a revolution within the education system is certainly warranted, one of the first steps that can be taken toward this ultimate goal is recognizing the unique talents and intelligences that may go unnoticed in a traditional classroom setting.

Discovering Hidden Talents in Young Students

Fortunately, our talents and interests very often overlap one another, which makes it easier for adults to identify hidden talents and skills in children by studying their interests.

For example, young students with an affinity for reading may have a talent for literature and the written word, while a student who enjoys problem solving and discovering how things work may be more talented in the realm of mathematics and engineering.

Children will likely gravitate toward these interests on their own, but it’s also important for parents and educators to introduce students to the wide-ranging possibilities that lie before them. With the growth of modern technological tools such as computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices, learning opportunities are always within reach.

Although interests may help parents and educators determine a broad idea of where a child fits academically, identifying a viable career path for the student may require a bit more extensive observation of how the student learns.

For example, does the student show a particular interest in the monetary aspect of mathematics? Then he or she may one day be a perfect candidate for a master’s degree in finance. Or say the student constantly experiments with building blocks and draws pictures of structures. He or she would be a great fit for an architect career path. Some students may have very obvious cases like the examples listed, while others may be a bit more enigmatic.

Being Mindful of Less Obvious Talents

It may be much easier to identify talents easily nurtured in the classroom, such as those in the fields of science and mathematics. But what about subjects that receive little attention in modern academic settings?

The arts, as mentioned previously, very seldom get the consideration they deserve in educational institutions today. As a result, many artistically gifted students are unable to develop their talents because their environments push them toward more “practical” educational pursuits.

In some instances, students with artistic talent are even diagnosed with learning disabilities or disorders because their passions so differ from students who may be better suited for more socially acceptable career paths.

This was precisely the case with the famous choreographer Gillian Lynne, whose gift for dance was almost mistakenly identified by an educator as a learning disability. Today, Lynne has supplied the choreography for world-famous Broadway performances and has enjoyed multi-million dollar success throughout her career.

The Layers of Learning

It’s true that there are many flaws within the U.S. education system today, but perhaps the most detrimental misconception is that learning can only be achieved through one angle and one general experience.

In reality, learning is a gradual process that takes place through multiple “layered” experiences, rather than just one identifiable event. A small revolution is taking place throughout the education system today that is debunking the theory that students each have their own learning style—be it visual, auditory, verbal or otherwise.

With new studies emerging in opposition to this theory and with many experts speaking out against its reliability, more and more institutions are accepting the idea of learning from all angles.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham claims there’s no data to support the fact that kids all learn in fundamentally different ways. This is not to say that all children should be taught in the same way, but that the source of different learning styles has more to do with talents and interests than the development of certain parts of the brain.

Evidence actually supports information to the contrary, which states that students learn best from lessons that employ all verbal, visual, auditory and kinesthetic explanations of the material. In other words, it’s the layered experiences that really allow educational ideas to stick with students, rather than just a single method.

Talent as the Driving Force for Educational Success

School systems are quickly catching on to the idea that most important factor to focus on when fostering academic success is talent. With the broadening scope of acceptable talents and skills, more and more students are beginning to discover their potential in areas beyond just science, mathematics and languages.

By focusing on these talents in particular, educational institutions can also better prepare students for a career path in which they are more likely to find success.

Creative skills in particular need to become more widely recognized as valuable in an academic setting because they are in fact considered valuable in the professional world.

Just like in the case of the aforementioned Ms. Lynne, an undiscovered artistic talent can mean a loss of worldwide influence and tremendous financial success if it were merely dismissed as a learning disability or failure to perform well in more traditional academic pursuits.

Recognizing the existence of talent in all students will help educators discover those hidden gifts that may not immediately manifest themselves in a classroom setting.

In addition to recognizing the complexity of student talent, it’s equally crucial to recognize the complexity of student learning by approaching the teaching process from several angles, including auditory, kinesthetic, verbal and visual.

By eliminating the confines of modern education, we may even discover valuable talents that can help solve some of the biggest problems facing our society today.

About Joseph Baker

Joseph Baker holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management. His business experience in management and technology spans 15 years. As a leader of development and management teams, he implemented budget reductions professionally. Baker has led strategic planning and implementation systems for nine organizations, public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses. An advocate for educational reform, he is a proponent of social media integration.

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