being a teacher, label, Student-centered

Are You Smart?

Every day we journal in our classroom, sometimes it relates to our curriculum, sometimes it is to start a discussion.  Yesterday I asked my students to answer the question, “Are you smart?”  Stunned students looked at me.  Then the comments came flodding in…what do you mean…I don’t know….what kind of smart….in fact one student was so flustered by the question that he was unable to journal about it. 

Now make no mistake, I knew the question would be difficult and yet we, as teachers, often use the label “smart” to describe students in conferences and on report cards.  So can we answer what it means to be smart ourselves? 

My students struggled through the journal prompt and today I had the opportunity to read their thoughts.  I was blown away by their insight.  Many lamented the fact that they did not know which smart I was referring to; was I referring to the school smart or to the logical smart?  By smart, who was I comparing them to?  They feel smart compared to a 3-year-old but not compared to a teacher.  Many kids disucussed that school can make you smarter but one pointed out that it is not the only thing that makes us smart and my heart rejoiced. 
Some discussed, again so thankful at their wisdom, that smart is something you grow into, not something you are born with.  Some unfortunately compared their smartness to how well they do on tests, and my spirit dropped a little. 

In the end, no one student had the same answer but they made me think; how do we define smart?  How do we show our students that they are indeed smart?  Is their any point in even discussing it with them or should we be focusing instead on the abilities they have; their problem solving skills, their work ethics, their creativity?  Do students need to feel smart to succeed?  And how do we stop tests from robbing them of their self-esteem and faith in themselves?

I may have asked my students one questions, but they asked many more of me.  It was a great day for thinking.

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