Through the 19th century industrialised age, education quite ruthlessly separated those who were perceived to be capable and therefore worthy of either further education or notable employment, and those who should be relegated to menial labour who did not deserve further education. There were necessary means to measure the academic potential of individuals and groups. There became a need to analyse, categorize, separate, distinguish, and label human beings. This was done to determine who were “fit”, and which individuals were not.

Charles Spearman’s theory of general intelligence was also born in this era, based on the now outdated notion that one’s intellect is relatively fixed, inherited through genes and chromosomes. Edward Thorndike then published his “associationist” theory, suggesting that knowledge is the collection between external stimuli and internal mental responses from the individual.

When reflecting on Spearman and Thorndike’s work, unfortunately the growth of standardised testing in schools and arguably outdated instruments used to measure success seems to be a hallmark of these 19thcentury theories which initially served as a rationale for these educational practices.

So why the history lesson here…?

This is because more recently, research supports the fact that intelligence is not fixed, and one can improve their mental capacity if they believe contemporary research to be true and are willing to improve their academic behaviours (Perkins 1995, Kotulak, 1997).

So why publish this article now, once exams are finished for Year 11 & 12 students… ?

In order to see intelligence grow incrementally, we need to develop learning goals that reflect the belief that ability is not fixed. That improved academic behaviours and effort can lead to a continuously expandable repertoire of skills and have a significant impact on one’s learning potential.

Receiving exam results or an academic report at the conclusion of a school semester is an ideal opportunity to sit together and discuss a number of things. Whilst it is easy to immediately focus on the performance, such as grades and exam scores, what really matters is the reflection on a student’s output. Fostering quality discussion and reflection in respect towards a student’s academic behaviours, their goals and their commitments for the following year cannot be understated and should be an important part of academic reporting. For a concise ‘vimeo’ summary of the research into “The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance” by the University of Chicago (2011), please use the following link

Brendan Chapman
Head of Academic Studies