Category Archives: It's Good to Be Smart

Young Learners

I dreamed of influencing new generations of motivated learners when I wrote “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart.” At book signings as well as readings like those with my grandson’s preschool class, I realize that is beginning to happen. This little girl epitomizes what the book is about. She is joyous; she breathes enthusiasm for learning. When I first saw her, her eyes were sparkling with awe as she gazed at all the mechanical devices and aerial fantasies that decorate Ella’s Deli on East Washington Avenue in Madison. Her mother tells me she was excited to meet a real author AND to have me write her name and my name in her own book. This little girl, and my grandson and his friend as I read to them in Lafayette, Colorado two weeks ago, demonstrate the wonders of early learning. Their curiosity, motivation and  awe – for books, the outdoors, meeting people, and exploring the world – delight me.

Book review

“Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” was reviewed in the April issue of Dane County Lifestyles in the Mixed Media section by Gary Knowles. Thanks Gary.

Go to: http://www.issuu.com/ogarapublishing/docs/lifestyles_april10

Book signing on April 14

I’m excited to have the opportunity to read and sign my books at one of the most popular sites that grandparents visit with their young grandchildren in Madison – Ella’s Deli. Please bring your young children or grandchildren to visit with me and get their personalized copy of the book between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m on the 14th.

Go to the following links for more information:

Book Signing with Ellie Schatz – Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor
Ellie Schatz Book Signing – April 14. Join us on Wednesday, April 14 for a book signing event with children’s author Ellie Schatz
www.ellas-deli.com/ellieschatz.php

Different Kinds of Smart

Recently someone inquired as to whether there were really different kinds of smart. I think the problem is with semantics. We probably all intuitively feel there are different kinds of smart, yet we don’t necessarily align our definitions of talents or abilities with the idea of being intelligent.

In 1983, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner published a book entitled Frames of Mind[i] that opened a whole new way of looking at intelligence. It’s not, according to Gardner, a narrow ability to think that is measured by a paper-and-pencil test. Rather, it is a multiplicity of abilities, all of which can be assessed, and which –when developed – can lead to different forms of achievement as well as feelings of success and happiness.

In this book, Gardner delineated the following kinds of intelligence (or smart): linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and the personal. He went on to expand his theory to include eight intelligences, the personal intelligences defined as interpersonal and intrapersonal and with the addition of a naturalist intelligence.

Another researcher, Thomas Armstrong, changed the way teachers viewed intelligence in the classroom by writing books and articles that took Gardner’s idea from theory to practice. Armstrong also wrote a book entitled You’re Smarter Than You Think[ii] that translates the multiple intelligences theory into simplified language and explanations for kids. I am currently working on a book for still younger children that does the same thing. Armstrong explains 8 kinds of smart: Word Smart (Linguistic Intelligence), Music Smart (Musical Intelligence), Logic Smart (Logical-Mathematical Intelligence), Picture Smart (Spatial Intelligence), Body Smart (Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence), People Smart (Interpersonal Intelligence), Self Smart (Intrapersonal Intelligence), and Nature Smart (Naturalist Intelligence).


[i] Gardner, H. 1983. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basic Books, Inc. New York.

[ii] Armstrong, T. 2003. You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kid’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences. Free Spirit Publishing. Minneapolis, MN.

Second Printing: Grandmas and Little Kids Love This Book

Authoring a book about the importance of early childhood education has not only created many wonderful opportunities for me, it has given me a new career.  Copies of “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” are now available from the second printing. For those of you in the Madison area, watch for them in more and more boutiques and book stores. For those of you from further away, feel free to introduce me to individuals (grandparents, parents, early childhood education teachers, elementary school teachers, early childhood caregivers, or anyone interested in the education of young children) as well as public venues that you would suggest for distribution. Your continuing notes to me – like this one from a grandma of a one-year old – are heartwarming: “Your book is marvelous. (My son) was very touched to have a copy of your book for his Ellie.  You can be sure that I will read it to her often, as will her parents.”

A Conversation with Jim Zellmer

Authoring a book about the importance of early childhood education has created many wonderful opportunities for me. Copies of “Grandma Says it’s Good to Be Smart” are now in all of the Madison Public Libraries and are for sale at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Recently I was interviewed by Jim Zellmer (link to his zmetro.com blog), a leading education blogger (link to schoolinfosystem.com) whose School Info System reaches tens of thousands of educators, parents, activists and policy makers.

Our conversation about the current state of American education is available  via this 17MB mp3 audio file CTRL-Click to download or read the transcript. I enjoyed visiting with Jim and hope you will find the conversation  interesting. Here’s an excerpt:

Jim: What’s the best, most effective education model these days? Obviously, there are traditional schools. There are virtual schools. There are chartered schools. There are magnets. And then there’s the complete open-enrollment thing. Milwaukee has it, where the kids can go wherever they want, public or private, and the taxes follow.Ellie: [32:52] I think there’s no one best model from the standpoint of those models that you just named. [32:59] What is important within any one of those models is that a key player in making that education available to your child believes that no matter how good the curriculum, no matter how good the model, the children they are about to serve are different, that children are not alike.

[33:30] And that they will have to make differences in the curriculum and in the way the learning takes place for different children.

[33:45] And I have experienced that myself. I’ve served on the boards of several private schools here in the city, and I have given that message: “This may be an excellent curriculum, and I believe it’s an excellent curriculum. But that’s not enough.”

[34:05] You cannot just sit this curriculum down in front of every child in the classroom and say, “We’re going to turn the pages at the same time, and we’re going to write the answers in the same way.” It does not work that way. You must believe in individually paced education.

Thanks to Rick Kiley for arranging this conversation.

“Outliers” – My Response 2

Aside from his epilogue about his mother and grandmother, Gladwell ends his book with the story of Marita and this statement: “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success… with a society that provides opportunities for all… The world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for. Marita doesn’t need a higher IQ or a mind as quick as [Bill Gates]. All those things would be nice of course. But they miss the point. Marita just needed a chance.”

I agree wholeheartedly that Marita just needed a chance. I’ve spent many years encouraging students to participate in Talent Search, whereby they take out-of-level tests as a means of showing their need for an accelerated curriculum. All of the Talent Search-based programs – nationwide – give children the kind of chance Marita received at her special high school. Just as Kipp promises it will give kids stuck in poverty a chance to get out, WCATY promises the same. We call it cumulative advantage. Going to one program is an advantage that opens doors to another and then another, and so on. And students who have attended WCATY programs on full scholarship have written the exact same message as Gladwell’s in their letters to their sponsors: “thank you for helping me to break the cycle of poverty that has imprisoned my family by giving me a chance.”

I also like Gladwell’s use of the term “academically minded” in his final chapter. I encourage our schools to say a resounding “yes, that’s cool,” to the academically minded, rather than causing children to hide their talents, dumb down, and lower their aspirations.

Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell’s book about outliers is thought provoking and disturbing to me. Maybe successful smart people are “outliers,” but they shouldn’t be. The first flaw of the book, in my opinion, is narrowing the concept of smart and successful to the level of genius. My whole career has been about finding talent, recognizing it, and developing it. If we did that broadly rather than labeling a few children gifted, we would find many smart children who need help in order to achieve their dreams and potential. I am not anti-gifted; I just don’t think smart and outlier should be used synonymously. And, I am anti-labeling.

In talking about the children studied by Lewis Terman in the early 20th century and called Termites, Gladwell says: “If you had met them at five or six years of age, you would have been overwhelmed by their curiosity and mental agility and sparkle. They were true outliers. The plain truth of the Terman study, however, is that in the end, almost none of the genius children from the lowest social and economic class ended up making a name for themselves. What did [they] lack? Not something expensive or impossible to find; not something encoded in the DNA or hardwired into the circuits of their brains. They lacked something that could have been given to them if we’d only known they needed it: a community around them that prepared them properly for the world. [They] were squandered talent. But they didn’t need to be.” Gladwell, Outliers, p. 112.

Of course I agree with his conclusion to that paragraph: unrealized talent is squandered talent. Maybe I both need to finish the book (I will) and read it more carefully (I plan to do that too). But right now I am disturbed in two ways. First, I don’t think smart kids are outliers and I think we need to stop labeling them as such. Second, I have not given up on society ever helping the poor children who are curious, smart and motivated to make it. It may almost seem like picking up sand one grain at a time to save a what could have been a pristine beach – nearly impossible. But let’s do it. And with each grain, let’s add a few more and then more and more. And then, let’s change the rules for saving the shoreline. Let’s enthusiastically put into practice – in our schools as well as our homes – an optimal match curriculum or experiences that will allow each child to learn at his or her own pace and grow into who he and she wants to be. If the pace is fast and the end result is different from the expectation, that’s wonderful – let the kid fly!  That is success, not necessarily making a name for oneself.

Small and Smart

Ayana was reading and writing by the time she was four. Her first attempts to put marker to paper involved drawing, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted to create little poems to go with the pictures she had drawn. She says, “I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read everything in the house and to write to my heart’s content. Even before I entered school I had a sense of self and a sense of authority. At age five, on a beginning level, I knew I was writing my own book, my own life.

“Home is where I always worked on my inner voice. School did not allow me to go into one subject – my writing – richly. I wanted to dim the noise and concentrate on my real work.”

At age 26, Ayana is weighing her options for a Ph.D. program that will match her interests. She says, “Talent is the currency that we as individuals invest for our future, but first someone must invest in its development. All the affirmations from my childhood encourage me to pass on the message I was given – it is good to show and develop your gifts.”

Smart children are crying out for recognition and support. The following poem is a compilation of comments made by students who were awarded small monetary grants by the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) to develop dream projects:

Please challenge me,

Save me,

Give me the guts to be me.

Please notice me,

Tolerate me,

Give me gold-plated wings to unfurl

Somewhere out there in the world.

Please welcome me,

Love me,

Give me the way to go forward

And become the me

I want to be.

In summary, there are smart children from all walks of life. Smart children need recognition of their abilities, and home is where they first need it. Early affirmations of talent start building the self-confidence the child will take from childhood into adulthood.

Highest Duty Revisited

Now I have read “Highest Duty” by Captain Chesley Sullenberger of the January 15, 2009 Hudson River miraculous plane landing fame. His subtitle gives a clue as to why his book was of interest to me: “My Search for What Really Matters.”

As a pilot, Sullenberger knew that his responsibility to the people on board and the community below really mattered. He was able to act on this belief in a crisis because he had spent a lifetime of learning how to do it. On p. 184 (caption) he writes, “I have a clear recollection that at age five I already knew I was going to spend my life flying airplanes.” His mother and father valued learning and supported his passion to learn starting when he was very young.

What may impress me the most about Sullenberger is his grit – his determination and focus. About the process that took him from being a child with a passion in a specific field to becoming an adult who would make a clear difference by applying all he’d learned in the intervening years, he says (p.138), “I’ve derived great satisfaction from becoming good at something that’s difficult to do well.”

“Becoming good at something that’s difficult to do well:” that’s my definition of accomplishment and the foundation for building self-confidence and high self-esteem. In terms of smart young children, this means encouraging them to continually take the next steps in learning new skills and knowledge; never letting them rest on their laurels; always providing a stimulating and challenging learning environment. It’s letting them know that it’s good, but not easy, to be smart.