Academic Achievement: What is “Smart?”

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Guest Post by Ryan Enser: @ryanenser

In education, everyone seems to be concerned with who is smart. A student with good grades is smart, while a student with poor grades is not smart. Often the way people use the word smart makes it seem like it is a talent or an innate ability. Some people are born smart and others are not. This implies that some people will get good grades, while others are destined for low academic achievement.

I have found through teaching hundreds of students that smart is not only the result of innate ability, but also includes other factors.

Take the example of students I work with: English Language Learners. Some students have an innate ability to learn language at a faster rate than others. This would make them smart according to the definition of smart mentioned above. But I have consistently observed that after the same lessons, some lower level language students perform better than some upper level language students on the same tests. Something more than just innate ability must account for this.

I believe that a very important element in the definition of smart is hard work. I have noticed that the lower level language students that outperform upper level language students take their notebooks home even when there is no homework assigned. Also, they more often study the night before a test. Their hard work pushes their grades above the grades of their upper level language student peers!

When we think about smart, we should think of it as more than only an ability we are born with. Instead it includes other factors, not the least of which is hard work.

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