What every child needs

The nature v nurture argument is probably best thought of as an agricultural model: your genes are the seed with the potential to flourish providing you have good soil, nutrition, and a supportive environment.

Much of the nature – nurture research has centred on twins separated at birth or comparing identical and non-identical twins. J McFadden’s article in the Guardian (10 July 2010) reports on new twins research from  Florida State University on reading ability which has added a new angle. They have assessed the teachers as well by comparing changes in grade averages for everyone in that teacher’s class.

They discovered that the differences in reading ability between identical and non-identical twins was greatest in classes with good teachers.

So if you have a good teacher your genes  will make a difference. With poorer teachers the differences were less pronounced because it was the environment rather than the genes which had the most influence.

In other words good teachers get the best from pupils whereas poor ones allow the child’s backgrounds to affect their performance. Jeanette Taylor, the author of the study, said; “Better teachers provide an environment that allows children to reach their potential“.

I wrote in an earlier posting about how we now know from geneticists that excellence is not just down to genes but the effects of the environment which can modify their impact; “Practice makes perfect...”. So whether it’s teachers or coaches, good ones make a real difference.

So just how wrong-headed were Zenna Atkins’ remarks last week about every school needing incompetent teachers? Her widely reported remarks in the Sunday papers, for example, received well-deserved criticism from just about everyone.

Ofsted, the supposed champions of educational standards is prepared to put up with 17,ooo sub-standard teachers, it’s soon-to-be departing chairman makes ill-informed remarks, and the General Teaching Council has only removed 18 bad teachers in 10 years.

Due in part to lack of leadership in head-teachers who prefer to give them references and let them move on (and for which they should be sued by the receiving schools) rather than manage their performance.

So where is the leadership needed to ensure children get the education they deserve and we need as a country?

Originally posted on EI 4u July 2010

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Intelligence not all genetic

Intelligence is not that straightforward. We used to think IQ was about 50% inherited and then recognised the impact of upbringing which started the nature-nurture debate.

Geneticists discovered that your genes could also be influenced by environmental factors – epigenetics –  but also that people who were assumed to have inherited certain skills probably got them through hard work.

Other recent research show that high IQ scores are as a result of innate intelligence PLUS motivation (See Posts on intelligence). That means you can improve your scores if you really want to.

It is clear now that there is no single gene for intelligence and the latest research at the University of Edinburgh shows that about 40% of the variation in knowledge (crystalline type intelligence) and about 50% of differences in problem-solving skills (fluid type intelligence) are due to genetic factors.

Scientists still can’t tell you exactly which genes have an effect on intelligence but have found broad patterns. Research like this could help to understand how people suffer cognitive decline in old age (See: Can you keep Alzheimer’s at Bay?).