Originally Posted by KSLaura
Can intelligence be changed with hard work?
I think that if you define intelligence as intellectual potential -- a prediction of one's future ability to learn -- then 'changes' in intelligence must be interpreted as flaws in the measurement system. But I really don't believe there is such a thing as intelligence in that sense. In this age, where we understand how powerful neuroplasticity is, I think we're kidding ourselves if we believe intellectual potential is hard-wired by birth or age 7 or whatever as a result of genetics.
Originally Posted by KSLaura
Does the amount of knowledge when entering school have an impact on a child's later academic career?
Yes. I'm pretty sure it has a huge effect.
I haven't observed this phenomenon as clearly in the realm of math as I have as it pertains to reading, but I'm sure it applies almost as much. Here's the what I've seen: if you enter school and are not ready to learn to read by the expected age of 7 or so, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be a good student with strong academic skills. Why? Because your inability to read well by 3rd grade will become rolled into your self-concept: you will always view yourself and be viewed by others as not terribly smart. But when my eldest dd was growing up as an unschooler, two of her friends did not really read at all until age 10. Because they were not in a school situation where they were reminded over and over every day that they were not measuring up and could not do this important thing that all their peers could do, they did not define themselves by their lack of reading; they just kept merrily learning like crazy in ways that didn't depend on their literacy. They learned to read very well around age 10, and that was fine, it required no heroics. And both entered high school or college where they were placed in AP and accelerated classes, and are excelling at the post-secondary level. One just defended her masters thesis and has landed a comfy fellowship, another is on a full-ride scholarship at an innovative private university.
Literacy might be considered a special case, because so much of other learning within schools depends on solid literacy skills being obtained by 3rd grade. But John Mighton's book "The Myth of Ability" speaks to a similar situation in math. He began working with kids at the 5th or 6th grade level who were really struggling with math, whose mastery was more than 2-3 years "behind." Eleven and twelve-year-olds who were still counting on their fingers to multiply 3 by 4, if they even understood what that was. What he did was work on fixing their sense of failure in order to reduce their anxiety and defeatism. How he did that is outlined in the book, but he was able to pretty much universally reverse their math failure, so that within a year they were working at or above grade level -- with just 20-30 minute sessions a couple of times a week. His hypothesis is that they simply weren't ready for some crucial part of basic math understanding at age 5 or 7, and by the time they were ready for it, maybe a few months or a year or so later, everyone else had moved on and the lagging kids were now mired in an anxiety-provoking morass of more advanced teaching.
All of which is to say that where one's early academic skills lie along the spectrum seems to have very strong predictive value in determining future academic success, but that effect is much more pronounced in a standard classroom environment than outside it. And that suggests to me that there's a strong nurture effect, in that schools, by virtue of their format and expectations, create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy effect. Children who for whatever reason -- lack of developmental readiness, attentional immaturity, lack of exposure -- have fewer academic skills at those early ages, are seen by others and come to see themselves as less capable. And it's those beliefs that seal their fate.