(1) everyone is taken to be smart and capable of learning;
(2) everyone is seen to be motivated by unique and often different things;
(3) individual variation is accepted as normal, not as a disorder;
(4) discovering each person’s individual story is the starting point for designing
meaningful and relevant instruction. (L. Miller, 1993, p. 75)
For now I’d like to address just the first principle: “everyone is taken to be smart and capable of learning.” This principle has important implications for how we think about learning success and failure. First, if we recognize that ALL the children we work with are “smart” – and there is plenty of evidence that all children are very smart indeed – then we will be suspicious of evidence to the contrary. When a child seems unable to make sense of what she’s read, instead of asking “what’s wrong with her?” we might ask, “what’s going on here?” What conditions made it possible for her to conclude that meaning was not at the core of the reading process? What conditions were in place to create this struggling reader and how do we change them?
Put differently, what conditions are necessary to enable this student to be “smart?” There is a substantial body of literature indicating that the conditions of learning are often very different for successful learners and students who fail in school. Successful learners are much more likely, for example, to engage in meaningful curricular opportunities than less successful learners. Some would argue that struggling readers, for example, need to focus on isolated – and less meaningful – skill instruction before they’re ready to engage with meaningful texts. I would argue that engaging in meaningful reading is one of the conditions that makes good readers “smart.” The same conditions are necessary to make struggling readers smart. In other words, when students struggle in school we need to examine the curriculum and how we interact with students and not just assume that school struggles indicate that something is wrong with students.
Miller, L. (1993). What we call smart: A new narrative for intelligence and learning. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group.