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To think it's a nonsense to say you can tutor a child beyond their ability?

(57 Posts)
Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 08:57:47

First off I am unusual in that I believe it's possible to get smarter through practice, recent developments in cognitive science have proved this. I also believe seemingly effortless expertise and talent is often hidden practice.

Recently a few I know did well in the 11 plus and gained a place at a grammar school, several also gained places at selective independent schools after exam success. I've overheard gossip that many of this group were 'tutored beyond their ability' and are certain to struggle going forward. This is the sort of sentiment I've also witnessed on Mumsnet.

My view is that intellect can grow 'cells that glow together grow together' and anyway this group have fairly won a place. So why this attitude? Is it sour grapes? For those that believe intelligence fairly static & 'you can't get out what God didn't put in', Grammar and independent schools have sets and stream do they not?

Another thing, as a society we value 'innate ability' and genetically bestowed genius, but should we not value industriousness equally? A 'clever' but lazy child that wastes their time at a selective school is surely less deserving of a place than a 'less clever' hard working one? Should we not also test for suitable disposition?

KittyFane Sat 03-Sep-11 09:10:45

Sour grapes indeed.

I believe that a person can achieve beyond their potential (as assessed by a school). Who knows what can be achieved by a person when the good combination of effort, teaching and circumstances are in place. Knowledge isn't finate.

These people are trying to say that they think that some of these DC are actually too thick for grammar school. V unpleasant.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 03-Sep-11 09:22:06

YANBU... I'm sure a lot of it is sour grapes. But it's a valid observation that some will end up at a disadvantage because passing a test is only one hurdle. I saw it myself when I passed the 11+ many years ago. Some children that had passed the exam (even those who did so without external assistance) suddenly found themselves struggling to keep up in what was a very fast-pace, academic environment. For quite a few of them, rather than the exam pass and the 'good school' being a springboard to greater things, they became demotivated, switched off and stopped engaging in education all together.

After my experience of what happened to school-mates I'm very much in favour of assisting children with extra help but am wary of pushing them too far forward, too fast.

Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 09:33:37

That's disheartening, you could become disengaged for lots of reasons I guess, one being a perception things are moving too quickly & you can't keep up. Certainly that was true for me, I'd been conditioned to believe it all must be beyond me so in some areas I stopped trying. In the selective schools I know flexible setting helps, those that feel aren't grasping concepts instantly in some subjects etc can work at their own pace. I don't like the assumption ability has a ceiling & your intellect is set in stone.

FabbyChic Sat 03-Sep-11 09:35:25

A child either has it or they havent. Tutoring will make no difference.

Some things even grown ups never understand. The same applies to children.

Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 09:39:49

Fabbychic, you believe we inherit our intellect like our hair or eye colour and there's nothing you can do to alter it? You believe it's impossible for a minor intellect to become a major genius for example? Late developers therefore a myth?

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 03-Sep-11 09:50:25

"I don't like the assumption ability has a ceiling & your intellect is set in stone."

It may not be set in stone but aspects of intellect are as limited for some as sporting ability or musical ability is for others. There's a thread here somewhere from someone that can't do cryptic crosswords. I don't doubt that person is intellegent or that, with some practice, their crossword skills would improve ... but I think if they struggle with the concept quite so much, despite having had it explained, then that is an example of a natural intellectual limitation.

exoticfruits Sat 03-Sep-11 09:53:07

They can be taught to the test. I know DCs who have been tutored to the test and passed it. The sad thing is that is only the start and they are then in classes with those who didn't need tutoring and can pick up new concepts with ease.
They can't be tutored beyond their ability, but either the individual teaching helps bridge the gaps of things they didn't grasp so they can make connections, they had the ability anyway and were just not using it, or they are taught techniques for a secific test. The last one is the dangerous one-they can pass but are limited in understanding.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 03-Sep-11 09:53:46

"Late developers therefore a myth?"

On that subject, I think there is some evidence. It is more difficult - although not impossible - to learn new skills the older we get, and the more stimuli and the wider our experience as young children, the better.

exoticfruits Sat 03-Sep-11 09:53:49

It isn't set in stone-some DCs are just late developers.

pickgo Sat 03-Sep-11 09:55:35

A poster commented on mn th other day that some people were 'educated beyond their intellect'.

What absolute nonsense. I think it's a reaction to the phenomenon of people of lower social class becoming exceedingly well educated and those middle class snobs sectors of society who have traditionally benefited from education resenting 'their' territory being threatened. In other words it's a political statement disguised very thinly as pseudo fact.

The perception that intelligence is innate is often possessed by those who have not experienced a long period of education.

babybythesea Sat 03-Sep-11 09:56:13

I don't think it's as simple as inherited vs environment. I think it's an interplay of the two. I think there is a measure of inherited ability - the fact is that we are not all equally as good at the same things. I can practise as much as I like, but I will never beat Mr U. Bolt in 100m sprint (unless he disqualifies himself, then I might be in with a chance!). I don't think intellectual capacity is any different. There are certain things my brain will never do as well as someone else, however much I try.

However, if given the opportunity, I could improve on those things, and so beat my own personal best, IYSWIM. So with the right support, I could achieve more than might first be thought but that doesn't mean I will end up top of the class.

I also think there are long term effects at work where the effects can be hidden. So, if you are the child of Parents A, they will have provided the right sort of support from quite a young age - you will have been read stories and been encouraged to try etc etc (stereotypes but it will help me explain, please bear with it). You will have learnt to use what you have and if you are then offered extra help at age 11, you will know how to concentrate and get the best out of it and achieve.

Born to Parents B, you may not have been offered those chances as a small child. Say you start with the same intellect as child A, but you are not encouraged, not read stories (or whatever it is that constitutes good support). You don't have much understanding of how to use the brains you have and any success at school is ridiculed at home. At 11, you are offered extra help because the teachers think you can do it, but you have no real understanding of how to employ your intellect and you fail. It now comes across as lack of intelligence but in fact it's a long term environmental effect.

I've deliberately made those examples very stark and polar and black and white, and I don't think it's anywhere near that obvious but I do think there are hidden impacts on this. But I come back to the fact that we all start at different levels - we accept that some people can draw beautifully, or play instruments brilliantly, or play football brilliantly - others may work hard but just not have quite the natural ability that lifts them from extremely good to outstanding. We can certainly all improve with hard work, but I don't think hard work will turn everyone into a genius. I don't think intellect is any different. Accepting this means you can tailor education to the child and maximise the opportunity for every child, otherwise you end up with a one-size fits all programme which will leave some children bored and some floundering.

Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 10:09:50

I disagree, what one person is capable of learning most are capable of learning. I can't do cryptic crosswords but if I spent 10,000 hours with a cryptic crossword master with an effective teaching style, you know what? I think I could do the simple ones and get incrementally better as new neural pathways/connections were forged. I can't get maths easily, I believe it's hopeless and my mindset sucks. Taught well early, with a growth mindset and a good wind behind me, you know what? I think I'd grasp the concepts better. Even if there is some genetic inheritance/limitation it's amazing what you can do with a will. Intellect has been likened to a kitchen cooker, I might inherit an old gas oven with two rings but I'll produce better meals than you, even if you have an up-to-the-minute range if I work harder, have a range of experts to help and a better range of recipes.

Has anyone read the webchat with Matthew Syed? He believes all talent is largely a myth, you need the right hardware to begin with but beyond that an awful lot of perceived talent is in fact hidden practice. Interesting reading. I do know a belief you can get incrementally smarter has changed my life for the better, Carol Dweck has done some impressive research too.

Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 10:19:56

Baby I agree.

As far as tutoring to the test is concerned, English comprehension is tricky at commmon entrance and 11 plus. You won't have seen the passage before, the questions test understanding, reading a thesaurus and memorising difficult words won't cut it.

slavetofilofax Sat 03-Sep-11 10:20:18

I think children can be tutored to pass tests, especially the 11+.

I feel that with that sort of a test, a child with higer ability can score less highly than a child with lower intellect who has been intensivesly tutored. I think this because there are other factors involved in the 11+, not just intellect.

NVR and VR techniques can be taught, and a very intelligent child will have to spend time working it out if they have never ever seen that type of question before. That would lose them valuable time in the test, that a less intelligent child who was well practiced in those techiniques would not need.

However, I think comments surrounding these issues between parents are usually borne out of jealousy and resentment, and are deeply unpleasant. I also think that all grammar schools, and all 11+ exams are not the same. We shouldn't try to pretend that they are.

In a GS area, where children in the highest 20% - 25% can reasonably expect to get a GS place, and will be given a place if they get a high enough score, there could be children that were borderline and were tutored enough to make the difference with a few extra marks. There are other lone grammar schools that are surrounded by comprehensives, that will only take the pupils that score the highest in the test. This means that they could set the pass mark at 95%, but if 100 pupils score over 96% then there will be pupils that are intelligent enough (and much more intelligent than pupils that have a GS place in other areas), but don't get given a GS place.

In this second type of GS, I do not believe that children can be tutored above their ability, or that any child will be given a place that does not deserve it.

I'm saying this as the parent of a child who is starting at the second type of GS next week, after he passed the test, but did not fall in the top 100, and was only awarded a place after a very stressfull appeal based on reasons other than intellect why he should have a place.

QOD Sat 03-Sep-11 10:20:23

I know of 3 girls in my dd's year who had lots and lots and lots of tutoring for 11+
All 3 "failed" by around 100 points - I do think if the inate intelligence isn't there, they won't learn to pass the test. Yes it helps, and actually I think it did them a huge favour in their high schools where they came in at an average level.

tryingtoleave Sat 03-Sep-11 10:22:32

If what you say is true, Cortina, then character would be more important than ability. A perservering type would succeed. But how much control do we have over our character? That is something I wonder about. Intelligence would still be limited but by willingness to work rarher than natural ability. These are just thoughts.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 03-Sep-11 10:31:06

"it's amazing what you can do with a will. "

That's the crux of the matter. Motivation. I have a good friend that is an excellent trumpet-player. No-one in his family is musical and he was never encouraged at home, but he got an instrument from somewhere and then persuaded teachers to give him free lessons. That's what I call talented.... that innate ability and love for the subject, coupled with determination to get better at it.

You won't spend 10,000 hours with a crossword master because you don't want to.

Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 10:31:33

To PP in certain preps you are taught to pass the 11 plus from the get go, they tell you about the 'grumpy examiner' what he loves, what he hates. There are podcasts to download, things are put to music. Later on you are taught about 'having a PEE' - point, evidence, explanation. There's a creative atmosphere, expectations are high and classes are small. The children believe and most will pass. The lessons are highly tailored, targets are specific. In short nothing like our state primary (a good one).

slavetofilofax Sat 03-Sep-11 10:34:31

I think character is very important in terms of achievement.

It makes me think of my ex and my dh! My ex is a very intelligent guy, high IQ (can't remember what), but he seriously lacks drive and motivation, and therefore, hasn't really done much with his life and hasn't achieved. My dh, really isn't that intelligent, bless him. He's not thick, but is probably around average. However, he is driven, is highly motivated, and will always work work hard. Therefore he has achieved more, and is a much higher earner than my ex. I'm not slagging off my ex btw, we get on well, but there must be loads of examples of people just like this.

CailinDana Sat 03-Sep-11 10:37:04

I think the huge issue is motivation. If you tutor a child through exams making them believe that it's the be all and end all, then they get to a challenging school where a lot is expected of them and they are thrown into an academic environment that doesn't suit them then there's a huge danger they will just give up. It doesn't matter how super intelligent a child is, if they have no interest then they might as well not be at school at all. Some children are highly academically motivated and some are not, and if you squash a child into a mould that doesn't suit them they will fight against it. Helping a child through exams isn't an issue IMO but parents need to bear in mind that after that there are years of work and study ahead of the child, the exam is by no means the end of the road.

CailinDana Sat 03-Sep-11 10:38:39

Cross post with a few people all saying pretty much the same thing! grin

FabbyChic Sat 03-Sep-11 10:41:31

We have two colleagues at work, one just cannot grasp working with figures, yet she is intelligent and articulate.

I do believe that ability is inbuilt. I believe that no matter what school a child goes to they will learn to their capabilities. My son went to a school which had an awful Ofsted report, had awful results, yet he attained GCSE Maths at 13 self taught got excellent GCSE Results. Others had the same education yet done piss poor.

Hence you either have it or you haven't.

Cortina Sat 03-Sep-11 10:41:45

That PP I mentioned was QOD. smile re: crossword master, indeed, but possible & perhaps why 'Tiger mothers' get better results for their children who are no more inherently able than the next person.

Wow, re: that trumpet player! There's a primary head called Peter MountStephen from memory, can't remember the school off top of my head. Every September he learns to play a new instrument from scratch! He stands up in assembly and makes a total pig's ear of it, not musical apparently. He puts in the hours and at the end of the year plays again. Guess what? He's heaps better, great example to set the children.

exoticfruits Sat 03-Sep-11 11:12:55

Motivation is all important.
I tutored six year 6 DCs for Maths last year-individually in school.

The only DC out of the 6 who didn't get level 4 in SATs was the one DC with the most promise. He was the only one who knew his tables. He didn't want to be there and wasted the opportunity. He yawned his way through the 'back to basics' saying 'I know all this' and didn't pay attention but then I suddenly took it up a stage and he was lost! I went through his practise paper with him and he had thrown marks away-even he was a bit shocked. He obviously threw them away in the real thing-such a waste as he could have done it easily with effort.

In contrast the other 5 welcomed the one-to-one and made a huge effort. We were able to go at their own pace and they all got the level 4.

The parents of the DC who didn't were looking for a private tutor but I wouldn't have taken him on. You can't sit passively and let it happen-it is hard work. You managed cryptic crosswords because you wanted to do it-it wouldn't have worked if you just sat back and expected it to happen.

The problem with passing a selective exam is that once you have passed you are in with the high flyers-it isn't necessarily the best place to be-at the bottom.

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