It’s hard to believe we are in the final few months of the school year. After Easter vacation, our students have their eyes focused on the upcoming summer break, and a respite from structured learning. But it’s too early to take the foot off the gas – there is plenty of work to be done and much that can be accomplished in the eight weeks that remain.
Next week, our students will take their third and final STAR assessments in reading and math. These short tests give us a quick snapshot in time, not only of individual student performance, but also the school’s total program. In both the first and second round of testing (September and January respectively), SMS students scored higher than both the National and Diocesan averages for every grade. That certainly is a wonderful feat; however, test scores alone are not always indicative of achievement or potential.
If you were asked to give a description of someone who is “smart,” how would you respond? Many people who do very well academically are not always the most successful in the work force. Contrarily, some people who struggle in school are extremely effective in their careers. So, then, what makes someone “smart?” There is a long list of attributes that might qualify for this definition. People with high intelligence are often great at solving problems. They are adaptable, curious, and open-minded. They ask good questions, and they are good listeners. They also know what they don’t know and are eager and willing to learn it. Of course, a bit of common sense is always helpful as well.
For children, I think two of the best ways to build on intelligence is through vocabulary acquisition and background knowledge. These two building blocks will lead well into the other essential characteristics. Vocabulary acquisition begins at a very early age. Reading to babies and children EVERY DAY helps build vocabulary, which is a key element in opening the doors of learning. Children learn new words by hearing them over and over, and it gives them a broader range of word choices. Further, there are more words used in written language than in spoken language. But vocabulary without context is not enough, which is why background knowledge is so important. That means children need to be exposed to as many life experiences as possible so that when they come across a scene in a book, they can put meaning to the text. To that end, introduce them to EVERYTHING: sports, music, art, history, government, current events, politics, geography, economics, geology, geography – you name it! Help them to understand the world in which they live and to be curious about things they do not understand. Ask them questions and encourage them to ask questions. I’m sure you will agree that it is much more enjoyable going to a live concert when you know some of the songs the band is playing. The same holds true for learning. Imagine how much more confident your child will feel if they have already been given some prior knowledge about a topic before they come across it in a book or in the classroom.
While we can debate about Nature versus Nurture, I believe God has given each one of us the capacity for intelligence; we simply need to build on the gifts we have been given. So, in these last two months before we break for the summer, don’t focus too much on STAR test scores or grades. Rather, spend a bit of time each day concentrating on vocabulary and knowledge. You might even consider maintaining this practice all summer long.