The Girl with the Eiffel Tower and the Structure of Intellect

Posted by The Learning Turtle | September 25, 2015
Pondering by Dave Meier

Pondering by Dave Meier

Last week we talked about how the Structure of Intellect (SOI) theory helps us pinpoint learning and performance problems. Today, we’ll dive deeper by breaking down one of the three major dimensions of the SOI–– intellectual operations.

To various degrees, some or all five operations may come naturally to a child. All of them can also be taught. As we have said, intelligence is malleable.

The five operations are:

Cognition — the ability to assimilate new material or to recognize material that has been encountered before
Memory — the ability to recall previously cognized material
Evaluation — the ability to make judgments or decisions
Convergent Production — the ability to arrive at a determinate answer from the information given
Divergent Production — creativity

The recognition of these five intellectual operations is a key component of the applied SOI and sets it apart from other theories of intelligence.

Building the Basics

Think of your mind as a big house. From the time you are in your mother’s womb to the time you die your mental house is being constructed and deconstructed by your experiences and decisions. You cognize, memorize, evaluate, converge, and diverge.

For better or worse, from the ages of 4 to 18 and older, about 9,500 hours a year of primary construction and deconstruction takes place in schools. Schools have a particular way of building. Most often, they heavily focus on cognition and convergent production, often leaving out evaluation and memory as skills to be taught, and only giving some attention to divergent production.

The construction and deconstruction goes on no matter which building blocks are used. When schools focus on two operations and neglect three, a house can come away with leaky plumbing, creaking floorboards, and other problems, much to the dismay of the educated, even bright and dedicated students.

Let’s examine a girl who has high cognition, average convergent production and divergent production, and low memory and evaluation. We’ll call her Sophie. This is how the house in her mind builds:

In ninth grade, Sophie looks at a list of forty French vocab words and shovels it, via color-coded flashcards (because she has decent convergent production), into her mental house, just in the foyer. It’s inside. It’s cognized. She will get an A on the test, and even an A for the year, and most of high school, with a few semesters of the dreaded B+.

Years later, a senior in college, Sophie’s a semester away from a BS in Business. She can’t recall what a cahier is and whether aller pairs with être or avoir for the passé composé. Since her memory was and remains low, even with all the notecards (And this is in part because she studied by the wrong learning style for her. But more on that in another post!), some of her French comprehension has blown to the back rooms of her house, some has decomposed into parts of floorboards and still others (like prepositions, always the pesky prepositions) have blown out the door long ago.

Sophie’s low in evaluation, so she wonders if “familiarity with the french accent” adds anything to her resume. She fiddles with the Eiffel Tower pencil sharpener she bought when she was sixteen. She thinks she’s creative enough (decent divergent production) to go into international business and feels paralyzed between applying to a Masters without a solid language, and forgoing school to take a job at a bakery in France. Could she make it in Avignon? Would she learn the language then? Would the job pad or hinder her resume?

If schools taught Sophie memory-building basics, she might have the confidence of the language under her belt to aid her decision. Had she been through evaluation exercises, even without the language, she might be able to break down the pros and cons of each path and find the best choice more easily and without the angst.

It’s never too late to benefit from SOI materials, but they have a great impact when begun in early childhood. We should not assume we know how to learn. We should build the basics, the foundations of the mental house, upon which we may construct strong and beautiful castles.


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