Junior Cycle Student Award English Resources   Leave a comment

This is an extract from my new book ‘Blue-Sky Thinking: Teachers’ Guide’. I hope it proves of benefit to teachers and clears up some of the issues surrounding intelligence types. If you wish to look at 30 free lesson plans for the J.C.S.A, just click the link that says ‘September Lesson Plans’ on the next line:

September Lesson Plans


The full book can be accessed in Microsoft  Word by clicking here: BLUE-SKY THINKING

The Teachers’ Guide with the solutions in Microsoft Word is here: Teachers’ Guide

The full book in its PDF version can be accessed here: BLUE-SKY THINKING

The Teachers’ Guide with the solutions in PDF can be accessed here: Teachers’ Guide

I hope you enjoy the post.




Up to now, education systems in the 19th and 20th centuries have focused mainly on the importance of crystallised intelligence. Crystallised intelligence (i.e. for educational purposes) is the store of knowledge accumulated over the term of a student’s education. Think of it as a treasure chest in a student’s mind. Into this treasure chest are put maths theorems, grammar rules, the history of countries, new languages, scientific data and the many rules surrounding the value of conformity in society.

The only problem is that it wasn’t married to the myriad problems modern life can throw at you. What would you do if someone tried to open your treasure chest without your approval? Even worse; what would you do if what you thought were jewels were valueless in the real world? Even worse again; what if you could put everything into the treasure chest like other people but they never stayed in there for long? That every time you tried to access them, the chest was empty? Unfortunately, this has been the experience of many students in the previous model of education. Can the reasons be explained? Perhaps a quick look at the human brain might tell us something.

In neuroscientific terms, the amygdala is a ‘switching station’, a portal through which all sensory input reaches the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is where long-term memory is constructed and retained. When a student’s stress level is high, the portal closes more and more until it is too narrow to let any information in not relevant to the fight/flight/freeze condition. This manifests in front of the teacher as an ‘act up’ or ‘zone out’ behaviour.

What causes this stress? It is undeniable that a large number of students in many countries leave school embittered by their experience of education. Stress in this case refers to the inability (or unwillingness, in some cases) of said students to sit down for long periods, ingest information, process it and regurgitate it. When such a conflict between rote-based, education paradigms and the student exist, the following manifests itself:

1. Goal-directed behaviour is replaced with inappropriate behaviour.
2. Clear judgement processes are replaced with frustration and pettiness.
3. Emotional self-awareness is replaced with resentment of others.
4. Deduction skills become destructive skills.
5. Reasoning skills are replaced with boredom.
6. Abstract skillsets, now rendered valueless, are replaced with allegations of ‘daydreaming’.

This is where the new wave of educational thinking comes in. Fluid intelligence is the ability to think logically and solve problems in new situations. It is your ability to solve abstract problems which do not depend on skill and knowledge you learned in the past. It is a mix of creative, critical and concept thinking. Basically, thinking knowledge is going to replace information knowledge. It can be argued that it is of more practical use in this age of technology where information retrieval is no longer an issue. It may also be good news for a large swathe of students who were left behind by the previous system.

In general terms, fluid intelligence can be broken down into three parts: creative, critical and concept thinking. Let us look at each on its own merits.

1) Creative thinking is a term everyone is familiar with. In essence, it is the generation of new ideas. It involves a process that may require the following: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, elaboration and communication. Creative thinking tries to fit existing ideas into new patterns, develop new properties for something that already exists, or discover something new.

2) Critical thinking skills are subtly different. Critical thinking is the gathering of information and evaluating it as a guide to future actions and beliefs. There is a very comprehensive treatment of it to be found at: http://www.criticalthinking.org. Critical thinking may be paraphrased down to something like this:

1) To gather, research and prioritise information in order to make an argument based on logic.
2) To instil disciplined thinking that is open-minded and informed by evidence gained through observation.
3) To recognise problems and find ways to overcome them.
4) To seek out patterns (or not) where they exist.
5) To reconstruct your beliefs on the basis of this wider experience.

In short, it is a process which involves the following: problem solving, metacognitive skills, rational thinking and reasoning, decision making, linking knowledge to the intelligence of using it properly, reflective thinking and researching the types of mnemonics which favour one’s own thinking processes.
The most practical example of its use is Socratic questioning. Let us take Socrates’ method and apply it to teaching. The first sentence consists of an affirmative or reassuring statement in order to make the student comfortable. The question will follow the Socratic line of questioning.

1) I like what you are hinting at. Could you explain it further, as I don’t fully get it?
2) Excellent idea. Was this always the case or are there exceptions to your rule?
3) Interesting point. Can you show me the evidence you are basing it on?
4) I’m following you now but I have to ask; what is the inverse of what you are saying?
5) That’s great work. How would your theory function in a different environment?
6) That was very informative. What question that I asked was the most challenging for you?
7) I enjoyed your argument. Can you tell me how you it might be relevant to you in your everyday life or your future?
8) Let’s wrap this up and well done. Will you show me tomorrow how you can better remember all this information and your conclusions?

My own experience of teachers is that they are constantly evolving in line with the needs of students anyway. Many of the critical thinking techniques I have mentioned are being used as a matter of course. They won’t come as a surprise to the many committed and forward-thinking teachers out there. The big difference now is that these same techniques will have to be employed with far more regularity and will be embedded in the curriculum.

In deference to teachers, it would help if there were more structured supports in the form of textbooks specialising in these techniques. Unfortunately, they are as rare as hens’ teeth at the moment. If a teacher is supposed to gather the information and pedagogical skills needed to impart these techniques, a more centralised system of help may be needed. I know that in Ireland there is a teacher training course on ‘Instructional Intelligence’ being implemented at the moment. It is based on the work of Dr. Barrie Barrett and it is a welcome development. There is a very interesting document available on this and other matters if you type: Educational Innovators: Instructional Intelligence into Google. It includes articles on: What is Instructional Intelligence, Routines for Teaching Concepts and 20 Tips to Promote Positive Self-Esteem in students.


Conceptual intelligence is the understanding of concepts. We have seen how a heavy emphasis on crystallised intelligence in the last century is making way for fluid intelligence in this one. We have further seen how fluid intelligence is a mixture of creative, critical and concept thinking skills. The film ‘Rainman’ throws up an extreme version of the paradox between taking in information and using it effectively. Raymond, the ‘rainman’ in the film, knows the history of airplane crashes. He does not comprehend the statistical probability of a plane crash, however, leading to (in his case) an irrational fear of flying. Raymond has more empirical knowledge in that great, pulsing mind of his than anyone has a right to know. Unfortunately, Raymond struggles with concepts. He has little or no awareness of: social mores, ethics, philosophy, human interactions or the ‘street smarts’ needed to thrive. That, in essence, is the difference between crystallised intelligence and concept intelligence. One relies on ‘book smarts’ and the other relies on the ‘street smarts’ needed to apply it properly.

Included in concept intelligence is the use of mind mapping as a mnemonic technique. Tony Buzan wrote the definitive book on this, first published in 2006. It is well worth a read and it is called: ‘Mind Mapping: Kick-start your creativity and transform your life’. It is a short book with 89 pages of content. It has plenty of colours and will explain in concise terms everything you need to know to get started. Another recommended resource is available free at wikihow.com. Type in: How to build a memory palace and it will give you a very impressive colour model. You can discover how to memorise Shakespeare’s 40 plays in 6 easy steps by typing in: Memory palace to http://www.guardian.com. You can also type in: Brain-based learning to edutopia.org for an excellent site on metacognitive thinking.

I would like to add a note of caution to these theories. It is now accepted that task knowledge has to be married to person knowledge and strategy knowledge in order to achieve optimal attainment from a student. What is left unsaid, however, is that you can’t teach willpower. Pedagogical techniques and critical thinking of themselves won’t help a child who is hungry, emotionally distressed or psychologically damaged. That child needs help and empathy. Our job as teachers is to take a step back sometimes and see what the child needs, not what we wish for them. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on Wikipedia should be the first port of call for teachers to remind us what these children need most from us; to be the one adult in their lives who cares.

There are 8 recognised forms of intelligence. Recently, existential intelligence has been added. This is the awareness of one’s place in the world. Wouldn’t it be great if a teacher was aware of the different types of intelligences his/her students had and what learning style suited them best? It’s actually quite easy to do with the grid system I constructed on the next page.

First of all, the teacher should ask the class what they would like to work at when they are adults. Most or some will have an idea, depending on the ability of the class. Some may not have been asked this question before in an educational environment. The trick is to link what they can do immediately to help them achieve their goals. The lesson with ‘My Success Map’ in ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’ will help to reinforce that.

There is also a full lesson plan on making out a Life Map for 11-12-year-olds available by typing in: Life Map to uoregon.edu. I recommend it highly. It is a great way of focusing the students’ minds on the practical things they should be doing to improve as individuals and as students in the education system. It includes worksheets and simple diagrams. It might be wise to take an extra class to explore this Life Map.

Using the intelligence grids should be an invaluable experience for the student. I mentioned earlier that the crystallised intelligence that students build up may be seen as a treasure chest. I also made a reference to the treasure chest being opened up unwillingly sometimes by the teacher. If you look at ‘Intelligence C’, which is an intrapersonal learner, they may feel uncomfortable with the teacher asking questions of them in front of the class. To them, it is as if the question is invasive sometimes and they may prefer to write it down. On the other hand, ‘Intelligence A’ and ‘Intelligence B’ (Bodily-Kinaesthetic and Interpersonal respectively) would be very grateful for a direct question.

Similarly, those students who previously flourished under the crystallised intelligence system may feel isolated and undervalued under the new learning styles being adopted. I recommend reading a short article by teacher and qualified neurologist Judy Willis, MD. She makes the point that moving from “passive memorization to actively constructing, understanding and applying knowledge” may be a difficult transition for some students. It can result in the ‘act up’ or ‘zone out’ behaviour previously exhibited by students resistant to the crystallised intelligence structure. It’s a point I encountered frequently on other websites and so I have decided to include it here. Her article can be viewed by typing in: Student Responses to Common Core Instruction and Assessment to edutopia.org. There are comments by other teachers on the point she makes so I will leave people make up their own minds on this.

I linked the 8 intelligences to learning styles in order to make teachers aware that the needs of all students may be accommodated with a small bit of ‘savvy’ and tweaking how you present your classes. You cannot suit every student all the time but you can certainly develop your pedagogical skills to suit a wider range of learner styles. Finally, I did not put headings on the grids for a simple reason. If you were to put up the compound noun ‘Bodily-Kinaesthetic’ as a header, you would lose them forever! Underneath are the terms which should be used:

Intelligence A: Bodily Intelligence E: Logical
Intelligence B: People Intelligence F: Musical
Intelligence C: Inner Self Intelligence G: Nature
Intelligence D: Language Intelligence H: Spatial

Unfortunately, I could not upload the grids as WordPress 2014 won’t allow me to post pages with graphs in it. The books ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’ and ‘Blue-Sky Thinking: Teachers’ Guide’ have all the information you need to get you through the pilot year of the Junior Cycle Student Award, however.

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