New Kinds of Smart

Smart, clever, brainy; intelligence is described in many ways, each with subtly different meanings for different people. In ‘New Kinds of Smart‘ Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton seek to unpick what the different facets of intelligence might be, what the evidence is for each is, and how those working in schools can use these findings to better understand and develop the learners they work with.

Seeking to balance learning theory, both establish and emerging research, and specific advice for classroom practice, the authors split intelligence into 8 facets:

Intelligence is composite
Intelligence is expandable
Intelligence is practical
Intelligence is intuitive
Intelligence is distributed
Intelligence is social
Intelligence is strategic
Intelligence is ethical

Each chapter begins by exploring existing preconceptions, before defining the aspect of intelligence under review. Definitions are closely linked to research, and often challenging in the links they draw between common misconceptions of the nature of intelligence and the emerging evidence. Despite the solid theoretical basis, comparisons to practice in schools are regularly drawn and the accessible written style keeps the book engaging and through provoking.

As each facet of intelligence unfolds, deeper research is explored, before the chapter moves back to specific, practical examples of schools and institutions supporting the development of the area in question. The chapters then end with a challenge, with provocations and questions for teachers to encourage them to consider how they might be developing this area of intelligence in their work already, and how they might do so in more sustained and effective ways.

The premise of some chapters, ‘Intelligence is expandable’ for example, will have many teachers nodding their heads in agreement as it is set out and bolstered by the research evidence such as the work of Carol Dweck on ‘growth mindsets’. However, the examples drawn will present many with challenges, as the authors uncover thorny issues such as the fact that we may believe intelligence to be expandable, yet much of the language and structure we use in schools around ability actually undermines this view.

This is where the authors get the balance just right, the facts such as ‘expandable’, ‘composite’ and ‘social’ which are familiar are still thought provoking, and pave the way for some of the more unfamiliar arguments such as intelligence being ‘intuitive’ and ‘ethical’. The balance is also struck well between research and ideas and challenge for practice. The literature cited around intelligence being ‘social’ is well worn, most will be familiar with Vygotsky and scaffolding, but readers are challenged with examples of actual practice which reveals that often schools do not make the most of these well accepted concepts.

New Kinds of Smart‘ is a book I think all teachers should read. It presents a rounded model which is complete and thorough, yet leaves enough questions and spaces for readers to build their own understandings based on their experience. Where it covers old ground it is questioning and challenging enough to provoke new thinking, where it discusses more innovative ideas it is robust and well supported. The links drawn between research and practice are strong, and an excellent balance is struck between provoking thoughts and encouraging specific action. Claxton and Lucas present an argument which will encourage teachers to change their thinking, make small practical changes, but cause big shifts in the learning of those they work with.

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