Open Connections

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Multiple Wits and A Gritty Mindset of Learning

Imagine a world where people young and old are making valued, innovative contributions while passionately following their muses and pursuing unique interests in a manner that suits—with wits and grit we could be well on our way.


From planning to practice, the Group Tutorial programs are indeed a learning laboratory—rich and engaging, with a weekly promise of new discovery about the content explored, ourselves, our peers and ultimately the very process of learning itself. Any given day is likely to explore either a range of different content areas, or primarily a single focus from a variety of perspectives. There is a curiosity about the many ways to be smart and the many paths traveled in the journey from not knowing to knowing more. We aim to cultivate an atmosphere that values both the successes and especially the challenges along the way.


Starting with the belief that we are natural learners, there are many ways that Open Connections supports and nurtures our development as life learners. The ideas I would like to explore here are wittiness and grittiness—Multiple Intelligences and sticktoitiveness for the long haul.


Howard Gardner, developmental psychologist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recognized the limits of a belief in the brain as a single intelligence easily assessed with a single test. Developed intelligence in algebra, for example, does not also guarantee developed athletic skill. Minds are as diverse as the people who possess them, with equally diverse strengths and challenges. Gardner first introduced his broader ideas about human intelligence in his book, Frames of Mind; The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In an interview he explains:

The idea of multiple intelligences comes out of psychology. It’s a theory that was developed to document the fact that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn and how people represent things in their minds, and then how people use them in order to show what it is that they’ve understood.

If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing in the same way and assess them in the same way and that would be fair. But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths—some people are good in thinking spatially, some in thinking language, others are very logical, other people need to be hands-on and explore actively and try things out —then education, which treats everybody the same way, is actually the most unfair education. Because it picks out one kind of mind, which I call the law professor mind—somebody who’s very linguistic and logical —and says, “If you think like that, great; if you don’t think like that, there’s no room on the train for you.”


This Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) shares that rather than a single, central command center, there are 7 to 10 different computers in the brain lab; so far Verbal-linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Visual-spatial, Musical, Naturalistic, Bodily-kinesthetic Interpersonal and Intrapersonal are formally recognized.1 How liberating! Wait, it gets better! All human beings have these intelligences or wits—it is, in part, what makes us human. No two people have exactly the same MI profile, not the same combo—that’s what makes life interesting and challenging at times. Good news—there’s room on the train for everyone! 


All aboard in Group Tutorial I! Here are two examples from Group Tutorial I that speak to the complex matrix of a learning environment that welcomes and encourages interaction that invites thinking about things in different ways: the comfortable, familiar ways and the new, different and possibly more challenging ways.


  • A multi-week unit on Chinese culture, in tandem with a chapter book by Chinese-American author and illustrator Grace Lin, “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” invites youth to gain a deeper understanding through literature, discussion, games, art, craft, and food. Inspired by the protagonist in the story, youth experimented with different materials to create a homemade compass to navigate the campus in a scavenger hunt. Cardinal direction markers were collaged using elements from Chinese mythology. In one of several visits, OC parent and Chinese Medicine Doctor and Acupuncturist Mary Ann Settembrino discussed the significance of cardinal directions in Chinese Mythology and ancient medicine.


  • How many unique triangles can be created using any 3 of 6 total points equidistant on the circumference of a circle? This Morning Curiosity started as a drawing on the whiteboard and organically progressed to pencil and paper and use of color and manipulatives to devise a means of keeping track of triangles. We continued this exploration the next week when we wrapped yarn around stakes driven into points on a circle in the lawn to create more triangles. 


We are natural learners and not all learning comes naturally. So you secretly adore the violin and find when practicing that it’s not as easy as some make it look? Well, before assuming that you’re not gifted in this skill and throwing in the towel, please consider practicing some more. According to Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset, the ability to learn is not fixed. It can change with effort. Dweck developed the idea of Growth Mindset, which clearly states that failure is not a permanent condition. More good news! A growth mindset recognizes that talent and ability can be further developed through hard work, strategizing and/or simply asking for help. The antithesis of Growth Mindset is a fixed mindset which is based in a belief that intelligence and dexterity are fixed; some people simply have it, others have less. Vigilant focus and praise of intelligence and achievement alone can lead to a fixation on success and possibly an avoidance of any risk of failure—fleeing from difficulty and the uncertainty of challenges. 


Recognizing and valuing effort, strategy and progress, and connecting the process to new learning invites hopeful enthusiasm toward an opportunity for development. Dweck has found that this leads to sustained effort and engagement for greater periods of time. She believes this increased perseverance when faced with tough problems is the road to true success. 


Learning how to think through tough problems and bounce back from failures is what Angela Duckworth refers to as “grit.” Sharing insight gleaned from her research (Grit-The Power of Passion and Perseverance), Duckworth would agree that talent does not guarantee outstanding achievement. What do you do when you’re face to face with the unknown or unanticipated? A blend of dedication and determination is a trademark of high achievers from all walks of life; “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 


At Open Connections, we work consciously to acknowledge, explore and grow our multiple intelligences. We are supporters and advocates of Growth Mindset and intentionally create opportunities to develop grit. At all levels of our programs, youth are invited to experience multiple iterations of an activity, building on their previous experiences. Life-long learners are people who develop their wit with their grit. 

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Growth Mindset and grit collectively have big implications for our education, our work and our personal lives and relationships. People can be smart in different ways and they can grow their intelligence with passion and perseverance. Sounds like an invitation to think differently about ourselves and others as well.