A review of New Kinds of Smart: How the Science of Learnable Intelligence is Changing Education by Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

New Kinds of Smart: How the Science of Learnable Intelligence is Changing Education
By Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton
Open University Press, March 2010 
ISBN: 978-0335236183

This book is a compendium of research findings, resources and concepts that will be extraordinarily useful to teachers, educators and self-learners everywhere. In fact, it will be of interest to virtually anyone intrigued by the learning process.

The heart of the book lies in chapters 1-8, with each chapter covering one neglected aspect of intelligence. So chapter 4 explains why intelligence is intuitive and chapter 8 makes the claim that intelligence necessarily has an ethical dimension.

Each of these chapters has essentially the same format. First, there is a detailed examination of a particular research finding relating to the aspect of intelligence in question. Second, we are given a general overview of some of the other relevant scientific and educational research in that area. Third, a section called ‘Starting out’ looks at some schools that have just begun to apply this research. If you want to explore some of the ideas but are unsure of where to start, this section gives some useful pointers. The fourth section, ‘Going deeper’, looks at some schools that have implemented the afore-considered research in a more full-blooded fashion. They’ve striven to get the maximum benefit out of them. The final section, ‘Ideas into practice’, lists a slue of questions to provoke thought and ignite discussion. In addition, each chapter includes a ‘useful tool’ such as the jigsaw technique, the split-screen lesson and the Person-Plus Tool Kit. These are activities to try out immediately in class or in a seminar room, to see if they yield a benefit.

There is a lot to take in, and it is all a bit bewildering at first. For example, the authors mention the 5 Rs (on page 23), the 3 Ps (on page 41) and the 4Ms (on page 164): I won’t elucidate further on what these mean. There is a table of virtues and strengths, relating to the ethical dimension of intelligence, and an outline of the Harkness model, which concerns the arrangement of tables within the classroom and/or the arrangement of students around a table. Throughout, the authors refer to quite a number of models of learning, such as SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning), Costa and Kallick’s ‘16 habits of mind’.

The discussions of meta-cognition and self-efficacy were interesting, and also the notion of ‘communities of practice’: if you ignite fervour for learning and it ceases to be simply ‘being taught’, then you’re on a roll. In the chapter on social intelligence, the authors note that this form of intelligence can arise from the coordinated efforts of a group, just as a flowing football team, playing as a unit, can have an intelligence (seemingly) that is not attributable to any one player, or even the manager or coach.

Clearly, long gone are the days when psychologists considered that intelligence was fixed and could be captured by a single measure (e.g. Spearman’s ‘g’). A rough and ready definition of intelligence would be that it is about how well you respond to novel or unexpected challenges.

The pull quotes on some pages can be annoying. Their purpose, presumably, was to draw attention to certain passages, but if you’re reading the book straight through you end up reading the same piece of text twice. Their effect could be viewed as ironic: dumbing down, rather than ‘smarting up’.

The final chapter tied all the different strands together, and it included what the authors call their overarching 4:5:1 model. New Kinds of Smart is a useful and rewarding book. It delivers.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com