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Studying The Individual

( Originally Published 1924 )

PROBABLY the most important of the recent developments in education is the advance in scientific methods of studying individual children. Education is perhaps the last important industry, if I may call it that, to develop methods of analyzing its material. Business and the various professions have long had methods of examination and diagnosis. Education alone has continued to depend upon unsupported personal judgment. That this lack of diagnostic methods has proved a handicap is unquestioned. Teachers have been compelled to think in terms of large groups rather than in definite distinctions. Pupils have been considered "good" or "bad," "bright" or "stupid," and only the exceptional teachers have been able to analyze more completely.

This blind treatment of undiagnosed conditions is rapidly being replaced by methods that promise to point the way to intelligent meeting of the needs of each child.

It might be added that much more is now known about children in general, and this knowledge serves as a basis for the study of individuals.

The complete study of the child, aside from the information concerning his past, his environment, and so forth, falls roughly under four heads:

The physical examination (which has been taken up in another chapter),

Mental, or intelligence tests,

Subject-matter standardized tests,

Studies of habits and characteristics, mental, social, and moral.

The intelligence or mental tests are a twentieth-century development. The first practical tests were originated in France by Binet and Simon, the individual tests used in this country all being extensions or revisions of their work. On this account they are usually called Binet tests.

The object in using an intelligence-test is to find out a person's natural mental ability. The best tests seem to determine with some accuracy one's ability to think along certain lines, and their results seem to be largely independent of training. They examine a person's success in various kinds of thinking, such as remembering, making comparisons for likenesses or differences, making logical analyses of different situations, and so forth. The total result is a reasonably dependable estimate of the person's mental capacity in fields that require the kinds of thinking tested, and those fields seem to be the ones commonly considered as requiring "intelligence."

The tests rate a person by finding the " mental age," which means the age that his score on the test most nearly fits. For example, a ten-year-old boy might have a mind whose ability to think would be shown by test to approximate that of the average twelve-year-old child. In such case he would be said to have a mental age of twelve years. Similarly a ten-year-old child might think only as well as the average nineyear-old child, in which case he would have a nine-year mental age.

The most common way of referring to results of such a test is in terms of "intelligence quotients," or, as abbreviated, I.Q's. An examiner finds a child's intelligence quotient by dividing his mental age by his chronological or actual age, and expressing the result on the scale of 100. If a child is mentally the same age that he is actually, his I.Q. is 100; he has average intelligence for his age. A child of ten years whose mental age is twelve years has an I.Q. of If, of 100, or 120, so is considerably above the average. Similarly, a child of ten whose mental age is nine has an I.Q. of 9/10 of 100, or 90, and is therefore below average.

Experience seems to be showing that the I.Q. of an individual is likely to remain approximately the same. There are occasionally cases where a decided change upward or downward occurs, but the probability is that a test by a skilled examiner will give a reasonably accurate estimate of a child's inborn capacity for thinking along the lines tested, unless there is a physical reason that invalidates the result. Some of the changes that have occurred in intelligence ratings probably have come from the failure of an examiner to secure the entire confidence and cooperation of the child. One child said, "The questions seemed silly, so I gave silly answers." Others may be accounted for by changes in alertness or ability to control attention due to physical causes, or by other more lasting defects, one of which may be poor functioning of the ductless glands. In fact, marked improvement has come about in some children after they have been supplied with the lacking secretions. Whether actual changes in inherent quality or type of mind — aside from the maturing process — are possible seems there-fore still to be in doubt.

The wide range of variations in intelligence is shown by the fact that intelligence quotients among school children run all the way from very low figures, even as low as 50 or less, to very high ones, exceptional cases having scored as much as 180.

That schools in the past have treated all children in much the same way, only recently varying courses and methods to fit such marked differences in ability, is a commentary on the backwardness of our diagnostic methods and our lack of realization of the importance of individual treatment.

The success of the Binet tests has stimulated psychologists to devise methods of testing entire groups by written examinations. It takes an examiner an hour or more to give the Binet test to a single child, while written tests can be given to any number of pupils at the same time.

Such tests have been devised and, while not as accurate as the Binet tests, they have given startling results at a small expenditure of time. Even the marking does not require much work, as it is very largely done by the use of stencils.

One of the earliest group-tests was that used in the army to divide the enlisted men into groups of various intelligence-levels. More and more accurate ones have been devised until now they are proving of tremendous value in picking out school children who should be given more careful individual diagnoses, either because of very low or very high ability, in testing for college entrance, and in various other fields.

The experiences of several colleges seem to indicate that a one-hour mental test may be a better measure of a college student's likelihood of success than any other method yet devised.

At Columbia University three methods of judging candidates for entrance have been used : preparatory-school scholarship records, entrance examinations in subjects, and mental tests. The remarkable success of the mental tests may be judged by the fact that the three methods have shown the following correlations with success in the freshman year:

School records, about 30

Subject examinations, from 40 to 45

Mental tests, 65

Such results led the Dean of the College to say, in his 1922 report: " In fact, experience with the intelligence test indicates that it is the most reliable instrument that we possess for giving the information that it purports to present."

The usual type of group-test consists of printed blanks on which a pupil is asked to fill in or mark the questions in the ways directed. Like the individual tests, they ask questions that try the pupil's response in as many kinds of thinking as possible.

All tests have value beyond fixing a comparative intelligence-level, for they very often show the strong and weak points in a way that not only guides a school in planning courses for a pupil but sometimes also helps to choose a type of vocation in which the child is most likely to be happy and successful. In planning the future of a child, it is often better to consider a test as indicating a type of mind, rather than just a level of intelligence. There seems no doubt that some of those whose I.Q's are not high, due perhaps to in-ability to think abstractly, will, nevertheless, succeed in becoming decidedly useful members of the community, either because they have excellent manual skill, an aptitude for one of the arts, unusual ability in dealing with people, or some other asset not specifically measured by the tests.

It must always be remembered also that, while remarkably dependable in their own field, the mental tests are but part of the evidence, and all of it is needed for even approximate certainty.

Much fun was made of the early mental tests by the newspapers and popular magazines. The picture of a college professor trying a mental test and being shown to be a mere idiot has tickled the fancy of the public and so has been played upon in many forms. As a matter of fact, the tests — as has been shown — have been proved to be remarkably accurate if they are used by capable examiners, and are not expected to cover fields outside of their intent. It is quite true, however, that in the early days of such testing some very capable men and women did poorly with them. Two factors probably influenced these results : the first, that the tests given were still in a very experimental stage, and the second, that they were fitted for children rather than for adults. As a consequence, where a child might give a perfectly natural correct reaction, an adult, fearing from his greater experience some trap, might see a dozen possible avenues of approach, some of which would carry him into fields not intended and so would give him-a technical failure for the test. The latest forms for these tests have great value even with adults, and are beginning to make themselves invaluable in many fields outside of school. They are even being used to determine upper and lower limits for the various vocations, on the theory that there is a lower limit of intelligence below which a man or woman cannot succeed in a certain job, and an upper limit — in many at least of our occupations — such that a mind above that limit will not be satisfied to remain in the work or will produce dissatisfaction and unhappiness by remaining.

There has also been a certain- amount of opposition to mental tests, both among parents and among teachers. Parents' objections have been largely actuated by their unwillingness to confess the facts if their children did not prove to be unusually "bright." It is no kindness to a child not to acknowledge conditions exactly as they are and to try to make the best of them. All children seem bright to those who love them, for the development of any child is remarkable if the child is even approximately normal. It is then not to be wondered at that there are no ugly ducklings in the family circle.

The objection made by many teachers is that they prefer to trust their own judgments concerning pupils. Such an attitude is simply ignorance, for it has been proved over and over again that the judgment of even the most expert teacher is sometimes seriously at fault. Even if one were practically certain of that judgment, confirmation by such a scientific instrument would be worth having.

The number of schools that are using mental tests has increased so tremendously within the last few years that there seems no doubt that in the near future every pupil will be given this diagnostic aid and will be helped very greatly by the better understanding with which he will be treated in school. The following example is one from my own experience and illustrates the great assistance such tests can give in helping to ferret out the cause of school failure.

A number of years ago, a pupil almost seven years old at the end of the first primary class proved not to have learned to read, although every other child in the class was reading. He was given an individual mental test and a special physical examination, and every effort was made to discover the cause of his deficiency. The physical examination showed no defect and the mental examination showed him to be above average for his age. He had apparently grasped all of the interests and activities of the year aside from the reading, which confirmed the mental diagnosis. The boy was therefore assigned to the second grade, with the notation that something had prevented his under-standing the use of symbols to represent words, and that great care should be taken the second year to find out the cause and remove it.

During the second year the conditions remained the same, and in spite of every effort, even to the extent of having special teachers work with him, investigating his interests and his habits of thought and trying various expedients, the boy remained unable to read. At the end of the second year another investigation of his general condition was made, and as before it showed that he was normal mentally, normal physically, normal in his general reactions toward his work and toward reading, but he nevertheless was utterly unable to read. In the school's investigation of reading it was found that similar cases had occurred a number of times in the past and that they had been diagnosed as "reading, blindness." As the only symptom of reading-blindness seemed to be inability to learn to read, this did not throw much light on the situation, and that explanation was put aside for the time.

On the basis of the mental tests and the boy's general information and interest he was put in the third grade, with the problem again stated for study. Again the year ended with the child still unable to read. The matter had become seriously acute, as more and more of the school work centred about reading and the chance that a pupil unable to read would be able to continue his progress was small.

A final investigation was therefore made which separated oral reading into its most detailed steps, from the light's striking the printed page to the tongue's saying the word seen. All the various stages were marked as physical, mental, or combined physical and mental. A list of the physical steps was given the examining physician, with a statement that something must be wrong and it must be found. I myself took the mental steps in the same way, with an even stronger determination to find the cause.

When the physician's report came back it said : "This boy is perfectly normal except for his eyes, which are under the care of one of the best oculists in this part of the country and have been re-fitted with glasses within a month. I myself have tested the glasses and they are correct." In my mental examination I had much the same experience, for I again found that the boy was perfectly normal in all his responses, the total result showing him considerably above the average. The only thing left on the list of steps was a final paragraph which I had written without much hope of its having any bearing on the subject. It said something as follows : "Reading depends upon one's recognizing the words as old friends, much as one recognizes a person who has been seen many times before." This did not seem to be a key to the situation, but as it was all that was left it was taken up and studied. There seemed but two ways in which a person could fail to recognize an old friend — one a definite mental defect, such as "reading-blindness"; the other a failure to have formed the friend or to have seen him in a way that would impress itself on the mind. The second, used as a starting-point, seemed to show no possibility except a failure to see words as total pictures, and I could think of no reason for this except a retina that was not sensitized completely.

After considerable experiment, and some discouragement, I found the boy's range of vision to be so small that he could never see more than three or four letters at a time and then only by, much effort. It was true that his glasses were properly fitted, but the retina was sensitized only at the end of the optic nerve, so he saw only a spot at a time and consequently never formed the mental pictures necessary for reading.

Fortunately it proved possible to cure him, and he went on through school, learned to read as well as anyone, and lost only one year in the entire process.

I give this case because it is' clearly one where the mental tests alone gave us the faith to continue working until we finally found a defect so difficult to diagnose that neither physicians nor oculists had found it. Without those tests we should have been forced to conclude that the boy was mentally deficient, and his life might easily have been ruined by the treatment that would have resulted.

While this example is an extreme one, it is quite possible to quote many others that have had equally important results. I myself once tested a fourteenyear-old boy who was still in the second grade in school, who was recommended for commitment to an institution by every teacher with whom he had come in contact, only to find that the boy was absolutely normal mentally. His only trouble was a speech defect which made his language so difficult to understand that no teacher had ever taken the trouble to learn to interpret it. Once interpreted, it was possible to understand the boy, and the tests showed that he was thinking normally. The last report from that boy showed him to be earning his living and helping his widowed mother.

An important use that is being made of the results of intelligence tests in some schools is for marking every pupil on a basis of his or her possibilities. In such a system the pupil might receive the equivalent of loo % if his work was all that could be expected of one having his quality of mind, while he might receive a mark considerably above Ioo % if his other qualities, such as industry, perseverance, and so on, were so good that his achievement was greater than would ordinarily be expected for his ability. The most valuable results seem to come with the more brilliant children, who in the past have received high marks without effort and therefore often without receiving much training from their school work. Such pupils would, by this method, receive low marks if their achievements were not in keeping with their high abilities, and therefore would be spurred to effort in place of being allowed to mark time.

Another very valuable addition to methods of diagnosis is the standardized subject-matter test. Psychologists some years ago made a number of interesting experiments as to the ability of teachers to mark various kinds of school work. The results were astonishing and somewhat dismaying. It was shown that the extreme variation in the marks of a number of skilled English teachers on a high-school composition might average about 3o %, while variations as high as 6o % were noted in some cases. Even in mathematics, variations occurred wide enough to change from failing to almost honor work.

These differences came largely from different standards. Teachers of experience and ability might differ widely in the emphasis they gave to punctuation, grammar, spelling, paragraphing, the thought of what was written, and fluency of the language. A teacher who counted very heavily on spelling might well overbalance the good points of a composition by her deductions for a few misspelled words, while one who put most stress on the thought and its wording might well minimize other defects.

Such variations, however, were not the only ones. It was shown that the same teacher was unlikely to mark the same paper twice alike. The variation was greatest if the marking was done in the morning in one case and at night in the other, or if other external influences affected the teacher's mental attitude. Based partly on these experiments, partly on the need of having some definite standards, — especially in the fundamental subjects, such as reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic, — the so-called standardized tests have been devised. They are independent of the judgment of the teacher and practically automatic in their marking, so that it is quite possible by means of them to compare classes in different schools or different cities, and in this way to judge whether pupils are as well grounded as they should be.

Some of these tests, as well as other methods, are also particularly valuable for diagnosing individual weaknesses in the details of the various subjects. Dr. Colin Scott, head of the Department of Education at Mount Holyoke College, in his experiments in the public schools of Springfield has repeatedly obtained in a few weeks a gain of a year or more's efficiency in arithmetical operations. This was done by using methods of analysis that indicated the exact point of difficulty. When a difficulty is once known, it is often easy to remove it, with a resultant rapid gain.

This last year a sixth-grade girl in a private school showed an increasing weakness in arithmetic, although she was on the whole an excellent student. A complete analysis of her arithmetical operations showed that practically all of her errors came in the seven, eight, and nine multiplication-tables. A résumé of her school history showed that she had been sick and out of school when her class had done that work some years before. Although she had supposedly made up the work lost during her absence, those tables had never become automatic, and were proving an increasing source of trouble. It was then comparatively easy to help her to relearn the tables and so to eradicate to a large extent her arithmetical difficulties.

Tests on reading-speed and the amount that is understood of what is read are perhaps the most valuable of all subject-matter tests. Ranges of speed from below loo, to 600 or 700 words a minute are found among schoolchildren. A child's inability to succeed in high-school work is sometimes entirely a result of his having been taught reading in such a way that he cannot read rapidly nor can he centre his mind on the thought.

There are even tests in process of development that seem likely to show in which type of studies the pupil has the possibility of success. They are used to pick out those who are so weak in language-sense that the study of foreign languages is unlikely to be of value to them, to segregate those who should take a minimum amount of mathematics, and so on.

One of the results of the use of mental and subject-matter tests is an increased demand for methods of instruction that allow pupils in the same class to progress at different rates. It is not easy to allow this without losing the class discussions that are so valuable, and sacrificing the social coherence of the groups. Various experiments are in progress, several of which give opportunity for individual advance in such "tool" subjects as spelling, writing, reading, and arithmetical processes, but bring the group together for the social studies, or at least for those parts of them that are best suited to development in a group.

It would not, however, be sufficient for a school to know the physical condition of a child, his mental capacity and how well he was doing in his subjects, if the social and moral characteristics and the habits underlying success were not given consideration. The best mind may fail if other qualities are absent, while even one of no great mental ability may prove a valuable member of the community if industry, straight-forwardness, and other such qualities are present.

More and more, therefore, schools are studying these very important sides of a child's development, with the idea of helping him to correct weaknesses and to use his strength, and of planning for his future in school and beyond in a way that will best fit his individuality.

There are various ways of doing this, but they are all alike in trying to give the teacher a language in which to speak of the characteristics of the pupil and in helping her to think more definitely and with less personal bias in regard to development along different lines. One system that has proved very helpful divides children into five classes in relation to each characteristic, a teacher placing each pupil in the class into which he most nearly fits. The following classifications are examples of this method:


1. Those who try to get as much as possible from the course, showing enough interest and initiative to investigate beyond the teacher's requirement.

2 Those who conscientiously meet all requirements, both in giving attention and in doing assigned tasks.

3 Those who have the general intention of conscientiously applying themselves to their studies, but fail often enough in carrying out this intention to force the teacher to take too much responsibility for work the pupil should do.

4 Those who are decidedly irregular in their attention and application, so that the teacher must continually apply pressure.

5 Those who will not, or cannot, hold their attention to their work. This may be shown in class, in project-work, or study, or in all.

Honesty or Integrity

1. Those who not only are honest with property and in their school work, but are absolutely straightforward and truthful in all their relations.

2 Those who are honest with property and in clearly defined situations, but may sometimes evade or excuse themselves instead of meeting an issue squarely.

3 Those who are generally honest, but are still lacking in ability to make fine discriminations between honesty and dishonesty. They may sometimes strain a point in getting help in their work, or equivocate, or be careless of property rights in small things, such as pencils, paper, and so forth.

4 Those whose ideas of honesty are less clear than in the higher classes, or whose sense of honor is less keen. They more easily yield to temptation, and are likely to be more ashamed of being caught than of the dishonesty itself.

5 Those who are deliberately dishonest.

In case there are clearly defined differences between a child's honesty regarding property, school work, and straightforwardness and truthfulness, a double, or even triple, mark may be given. In that case the numbers would indicate in order the child's classification in these respects.

Initiative and Originality

1. Those generally able to start and carry on projects or investigations without suggestions from others.

2 Those generally able to carry on alone projects or investigations started or outlined by others.

3 Those who can help in group-projects or investigations. They may show a higher degree of initiative or originality where they have particular interest or expertness. (For example, a boy whose father is an electrician may appear to have more originality in this line because his environment has helped him to acquire greater skill and knowledge of it.)

4 Those who show little originality themselves, but appreciate the initiative and originality in others enough to follow their lead or to imitate them.

5 Those who are almost or entirely dependent in their thinking.

For young children an interesting variation is that in which every school subject, both the regular grade subjects and the arts, is marked not by a number or a letter, but by a complete analysis of the pupil's response. For example, a teacher would discuss a child's language-success under the following heads:—

Language Literature ORAL

Vocabulary Appreciation
Expression Reproduction Creation


Thought Style Mechanics

The teacher would also study the child's habits and characteristics, writing in the same way a paragraph descriptive of the analyzed response for each. For example, one heading might be

Initiative Self-Control

Leader Poise
Participant Courtesy Follower

Such studies not only give the teacher a better understanding of the pupil, but keep her in an attitude of mind that realizes the problem as one of the complete child rather than one of teaching particular subjects.

These methods promise eventually to do away with the failure of the school to meet the needs of so many of its pupils. They at least make evident the problem to be attacked, and in many cases they also indicate the method to be applied. As they become more complete and more dependable, and our knowledge of child psychology increases to a point where we know how to meet all recognized situations, every child should at last be given a fair chance to make the most of his possibilities.

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