“Can All children learn at high levels?” I believe they can.  But I know lots of people don’t believe it. I can tell they don’t believe it when they make an argument for vouchers or charters saying, “At least we’ll help some children.”

I believe in the effort paradigm of learning; they believe in the ability paradigm.  What’s the difference?

The Ability Paradigm

•Achievement is determined by innate ability; either you are born smart or you aren’t.

•Achievement is general and unchanging.

•Cognitive skills are acquired and used in a linear and hierarchical fashion.

•Learning is characterized by transmission and practice; someone “teaches” and you “learn.”

The Effort Paradigm

•Achievement is determined by innate, social and cultural factors; you can get “smarter.”

•Intelligence is content specific; you can be good at one thing and not good at another.

•Learning and performance are characterized by interdependent use of cognitive and metacognitive processes, basic and sophisticated skills and knowledge.

•Intelligence is characterized by practice and problem solving.

If you believe in the Ability Paradigm, you believe that children can be sorted and tracked. You then believe that it is alright, however regrettable, that some children receive more and better services. After all, if we don’t have enough for everyone to get high quality services, then we should reserve services for the most gifted. [Especially if that includes our children.]

The Ability Paradigm has been dominate in Western culture for a long time and is especially damaging when linked to race and ethnicity. Most of us were brought up to believe the Ability Paradigm, even if we are unaware of it as a conscious teaching.

It has taken me a long time to understand how to undo that learning.

I have learned to look for the gifts of others, especially the overlooked and undeveloped ones. I have learned to help others learn to identify their gifts and talents and work to grow them.  What is a good example? When I taught theater to a diverse group of young people, I helped them see that every one had a part in the success of the show.  It wasn’t just the stars of the show, it was also the kids holding the palm fronds. We all had to work together to make a success.

A classroom organized by a teacher who believes in the Effort Paradigm looks different. Children are doing projects and working in teams. They are sharing what they learn with one another.  In today’s education jargon, the teacher “differentiates” teaching and learning so that everyone participates.

We need more of these clasrooms. Because ALL children can learn at high levels when we believe and provide for them.