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Who is a normal or average student?

– By Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor – No two people are alike – not even identical twins.  Each human being is unique and different, in one way or another, from every other human being. So then, if we are each different, our schools today should be set up to cater to the wide differences in students within each classroom.

Why, though, do most teachers try to educate (“bring out the best in”) each young person by expecting and demanding that all students, regardless of differences, sit still, be quiet, and mostly “listen” in their classrooms?

Classrooms today continue to be mostly teacher-directed learning environments that really are not matched to our young people’s widely different and varied backgrounds. In each classroom, throughout all of Belize, regardless of level (primary, secondary, or tertiary), you will find Creole, Garifuna, Mestizo, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Hispanic students, and many others of different ethnic backgrounds. How, then, do we “bring out the best” in each young person despite the cultural and social differences among all students?   

In addition to physical, ethnic, or cultural differences, it’s also an established scientific fact that humans learn via multiple types of intelligence.  Different educators give them different labels, but basically they include:

*verbal/linguistic – language and writing skills
*logical/mathematical – strong skills for problem solving
*spatial/picture – visual and assembly talent
*nature/natural – sensitive to the environment (plants, animals, habitat)
*body/physical – good body coordination (sports)
*musical – sensitive to tones and rhythm, instrumental sounds
*people/interpersonal – works well with others
*self/intrapersonal – having deep internal self knowledge/reflection

Teachers at primary and secondary levels should encourage each student to use all his/her different types and levels of intelligence. But, we try to educate our young people mostly by concentrating only on their verbal/linguistic intelligence in the classroom. Because students are so different, we should try to embrace all levels of their strengths and weaknesses in each varying level of intelligence, not just verbal.

That’s never an easy job for any teacher! Students are already so very different from each other physically and culturally, plus each one also has varying degrees of different types of intelligence, and varying degrees of strengths and weaknesses in each area of intelligence. Who then, among all these different students, is the ‘average’ student? Is it the one who can best demonstrate his/her verbal/linguistic skills? But what about the student who has very weak verbal/linguistic skills, but is excellent at body/physical (sports) and perhaps spatial/picture skills? Sadly, today (and in the past) we measure students’ skills in the classroom, mostly by how they perform in written tests.  

To educate (bring out the best in each) young people should we educators not also measure and enhance their other levels of strengths and skills? That’s also what makes each of us so different – our varying levels of strengths and weaknesses in each area of intelligence. Thus, if a student is very weak in one area, that should not automatically place him/her in the “below average” group.  In classrooms today, however, we tend to stereotype students who are weak in verbal/linguistic skills. How then, though can we incorporate all of a student’s other levels of skills and intelligence?

It is never easy to have to work with teens who are in that awkward transition period between childhood and adulthood. Although their behavior is often marked by silliness and immaturity, they really want to be treated as adults. They also want acknowledgement for their many ‘other’ areas of strengths – not verbal/linguistic. By giving students these acknowledgements regularly we make them feel even more connected to each other, and more comfortable coming to school.  More importantly, by not constantly stressing their weakness in any one area, i.e. verbal/linguistic, we help them to feel less frustrated. That is also why we should avoid using terms like “learning disabled”. Rather, we should use a more “whole-systems” approach to help students overcome the hurdles of their weaknesses in the classroom.

I welcome comments and ideas that can help encourage our young students to better connect to a sense of purpose, enjoy learning, and succeed in school!

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