4. Different Kinds of Smart - Multiple Intelligences
Linda Darling-Hammond: One child plays the violin and we call it a talent. Another fixes things and we call him handy. Another talks with most of his classmates, and sometimes we call that a distraction. When we categorize abilities this way, we may be losing important teaching and learning opportunities just because our definition of intelligence is too narrow. How can we improve all of our students' academic performance by taking best advantage of their different ways of being smart? That's the challenge of this episode.
Hello, I'm Linda Darling-Hammond and welcome to The Learning Classroom.
Many of us grew up in a time when we could earn the label of being smart by winning a spelling bee or acing the math quiz.
We knew there was more to being successful in the world, but that's what was measured in school and so that's how we earned the label of intelligent.
Then, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner published a book that challenged this view of intelligence and gave us a vocabulary to describe what most of us understood implicitly -- that there are indeed many ways to be smart.
Howard Gardner, Ph.D., Harvard University: My claim is that rather there being a single thing called intelligence, which we have more or less of, so it's called IQ view, that it makes more sense scientifically as well as educationally to think of people as having a number of different intelligences. Which are rather separate from one another. And each of these have evolved, just like we've evolved eyes, ears, and hearts, and kidneys, and so on, we've evolved a number of different intelligences. And I have a set of criteria which allow me to identify which candidate abilities are or are not intelligences.
Linda Darling-Hammond: Gardner identified eight independent categories of intelligence.
These are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. When teachers apply this theory to the classroom, it changes the way they view their students and the way they teach. In our first case, Rebecca Young and Georganne Urso-Flores team teach a combined first and second grade class.
Several years ago as part of a school wide reform, these teachers and their colleagues applied multiple intelligence theory throughout their curriculum. As students engage the content in a variety of ways, the school's achievement on state assessments has improved each year, from 57% of students meeting the third grade benchmarks in 1999 to 82% in 2002. When we visited, students were exploring the world of plants. As you watch these two teachers, consider how you might approach the subjects and the students you teach, while using many of their intelligences as pathways into the content. You may also consider alternatives for this lesson. What other approaches could you try?
Rebecca Young: We teach a lesson to this mixture of children by using multiple intelligences. And, and that's why we think this is the most successful thing, approach that we've taken because with all of the ranges we have age ranges, ability ranges, this is how we reach everyone. This is how everyone gets a chance to learn what their curriculum says we're going to be teaching.
Rebecca Young: Through multiple intelligences you're, you're giving the students a lot of entry points into one thing. Ah, for example if your class is reading a story and not everyone is very, very linguistic then you offer different ways for everyone to get into the story. So everyone owns the story. Everyone can discuss the story, and know about the story.
Georganne Urso-Flores: Some students do have a difficult time with just words so, which doesn't mean that they can't necessarily understand the concept or they can't you know, the comprehension is there so it's a way to show that they understand what they read if they can draw it. Or they can sing to it, or move to it, or act it out. Just another way to access what they know.
Rebecca Young: This year, our theme for the year has been Earth Our Home and right now we're on the, the part of that theme concerning plants. ..
And so one lesson that you might've seen is where we have the total group together and we're talking about plants and the parts of the plant and the functions of the plants.
Rebecca Young: That's fine for the whole group. You have to be a good listener for that. So, in order to make sure that everyone has a deeper understanding of what we're talking about, we break up into groups and do activities. And we plan each of these activities according to the eight intelligences.
Georganne Urso-Flores: They're dissecting, they're labeling, they're talking about the, and arranging their plant .that incorporated many intelligences in that activity .
We try to plan activities that incorporate many intelligences.
Rebecca Young: The plant dissection with the real thing I think is very appealing to the nature-smart children because no matter how many times they've observed plants, have they really ever gotten an opportunity to take one apart? So I think that had a, a great appeal there versus the activity where they were cutting a model out, which is also spatial and more exaggerated, larger, and included the labeling of the parts.
Rebecca Young: With this approach the total lesson gives them the concept but the rotation part, the small group, really reinforces and sometimes maybe it is the entry point of someone to learn about the topic .In a way that they wouldn't have otherwise.
Howard Gardner: But you can see that even when something as simple as learning about the stamen and the pistol that lots and lots of ways of getting to do that and why penalize kids who can't do it one way? Cause some kids will learn the best from reading and other kids will learn the best from dissecting or trying to put it together again or building a model out of 3-D. The other thing you'll do is you'll show the kids what it means to really understand something cause we really understand something when we can think about it in more than one way. And maybe if some of the kids learn it in a number of different ways it's much more entrenched in the head. That's certainly something which everybody that has ever thought about human psychology has learned, we can go back to Plato and that is if we have lots of ways thinking about something you're much less likely to forget than if you only have one way of thinking about it.
Rebecca Young: We find out our student's strengths by putting a lot of things out there that would appeal to the different intelligences and then we do a lot of observing of them and, and it takes a while sometimes, because sometimes even when someone is strong in an intelligence they, they aren't very developed yet in that. So, it does take a while to find that out about them.
Rebecca: What is that
Rebecca Young: One way that we are able to observe our students in, in their favorite activities and try to discern their intelligences is during choice time. And choice time, we have about twelve choices, twelve things to do. And they range from dramatic play to carpentry to more quiet things. We have reading and puzzles. And this is a very popular time of the day because people are allowed to choose. And naturally they choose the things that are fun for them.
Rebecca Young: One of the really popular things during choice is the take apart center and there's usually something in there to take apart, like a telephone or a keyboard. And I think children that are logical like to go there because they like to discover what makes things work .
Georganne Urso-Flores: Choice time is a very important part of our day. And because they, they get to choose and, and when you have the grade to look at their intelligences that they're very comfortable with and they enjoy.
Rebecca Young: It also allows us to play with them, which is another way to really learn a lot about a child.
Georganne Urso-Flores: We have a multiple intelligence pizza we call it and, visually we have each intelligence labeled and we have a picture and we talk about if you're, you know, if you like this kind of activity or, you know, this is what, you know, and then they would raise their hand, "Oh, yeah, I really like to do that, or I really like to play sports, or I really like to draw or be by myself." And they can, they can identify with that. And they really do get excited about it. And they can tell you all about it. They can, you know, they have the words now to describe how smart they are.
Rebecca Young: Definitely has changed the way I look at intelligence. I think that it's very easy to fall into just honoring linguistic and mathematical intelligences, but ah now I can see how wonderful it is and how really smart all of our students are.
Howard Gardner: I think that multiple intelligences theory comes from the fact that everybody who has three kids themselves know that, knows that kids think and learn in different ways. And so the question is do we ignore that or do we take it seriously? MI theory gives you a way of categorizing as a first cut. But even when you take a look at any of the intelligences they themselves can be subdivided, there are many kinds of linguistic intelligence. Being good in a foreign language is not the same as being good in speaking, or being good in writing, or being good in debating. These are all aspects of linguistic intelligence. So the multiple intelligences opens up the conversation, but it should never be used to stop the conversation or to prematurely label kids.
Linda Darling-Hammond: The theory of multiple intelligences allows two things to happen: First, it offers students multiple entry points into one topic. And second, it deepens students understanding of a concept by allowing them to approach it from a variety of angles.
It's important to note however, that using a multiple intelligence approach does not mean we should have students listen to music instead of reading, or draw pictures instead of writing. Teachers should think of students' strengths as starting points for instruction, not as end points. These strengths should be used as a way to hook the students' interest and get them engaged and then used as a base for developing other necessary skills.
Howard Gardner: Number one, decide what you want to teach, what is important, what you want students to understand. Because simply knowing there are different intelligences is not the same, as to say, "I want students, to be able to understand what happened in the 1970's, or to know how a flower is constructed, or to be able to depict in some symbol system what they're reading." You have to state what your educational goal is. And the second recommendation would be to take the differences among kids very, very seriously.
Linda Darling-Hammond: Accessing learning through a variety of media is something teachers of young children do all the time. But what about the upper grades? Traditionally this is a time when students are expected to learn primarily from lectures and reading.
Students usually move from class to class, where learning is compartmentalized.
In many schools, spatial intelligence never strays from art class and history is learned only from books, the dustier the better. But the fact is we all learn in a variety of ways throughout our lives.
As teachers we ought to take advantage of that.
For example, at Lake Orion High School, Tom Romito and his team of five colleagues routinely apply multiple intelligences theory to their teaching of writing, literature and history.
They do this through a program they've created called matrix - which serves a class of 9th and 10th graders including general, college prepatory and special education inclusion students.
Tom's class is near the end of a year-long study of the United States in the twentieth century. They are in the middle of a unit about the 1970s, in which groups have researched several issues that led to important social legislation.
The students use a variety of intelligences as they prepare and then present theatrical skits that introduce their classmates to the social, political, economic and environmental challenges of this time period. After the skits, each group discusses the information they discovered with the class and together they consider the impact of this era on the society we live in today. Finally, they write essays about the issues they have researched.
Tom Romito: It's really important to us to, to recognize that students learn in different ways. And just knowing that sort of colors everything that we do. So for, whether it's a theme of the '70's or the history of World War II, we try and think okay, different students are gonna learn this in different ways, so how can we connect with all of the students in some way or another?
Tom Romito: Not every activity is going to work for every student. There are going to be some students that say, 'Why are we going to be doing this silly skit? You know, just tell me about this or give me a book to read.' Because that makes sense to them and they can learn that way.
Tom Romito: But for other kids there needs to be more or doing something else with it is helpful.
Tom Romito: In this case they're in a small group, they've all read the information and then they have to process it. And say, "Okay, what is this information, what do we want to communicate to the rest of the class." So they have to have a conversation that way. So they're working with each other and some kids may not have understood everything. They're able to talk it out. And hopefully they can all together come to an understanding of the information. And then they have to say, "How are we going to communicate this? How are we going to show this?"
Tom Romito: And then once they can reach a decision, say this is how we're going to do it then they have to actually do it.
Tom Romito: So when they're done with doing that, having worked with each other and they've made something physical, had acted something out, plus having to do all that with each other, hopefully they're going to learn a lot more.
Tom Romito: When they sit down to take a standardized test they're not going to be able to write a song, they're not going to be able to perform a skit. They need to know information. So in order to make that work it's important that this type of activity is one part of an overall approach.
For instance, after we do these skits we're going to incorporate some sort of follow up that's a more traditional essay, so, to really emphasize that's what kids know that they have to be able to do that. But hopefully for kids that may have been struggling that part of it will be easier because we've accessed these other intelligences.
Tom Romito: Sometimes it's easy to fall into a trap and just say, "Oh we want kids to feel good about themselves, we're going to give them opportunities to succeed so that they can feel good and to focus too much on the self-esteem issue." But we know that that's not enough. What one thing that we were able to do is use some of these multiple intelligences to give students opportunities to focus on their own strength, and when you do that, it, it does build confidence and gives them the confidence to take that and apply it to something else.
Tom Romito: If they're just being confident because they did something creative that's not enough. If they can use that confidence and build on it and then take that and maybe be able to work on their research paper better because they've done something good, and they've been validated for that, and been recognized by their peers. Or you know, even down to they've gotten a good grade because of doing something that they're really good at, then, hopefully that will transfer over and apply to some other skills that they may not be so strong at.
Tom Romito: One thing that we always try and keep in mind is that we're not trying to teach kids how to be musicians, or we're not trying to teach kids how to, how to be able to, to move skillfully. But what we're trying to do is use those intelligences that they have to get at content information and also to get at real world skills, primarily working with each other. And if we're asking them to perform these tasks or do things a certain way, they've gotta think about it, they have to interact with each other, and those are the skills that are, they're really gonna take with them.
Tom Romito: One of the more difficult parts of teaching this way for some teachers is it really involves giving up some level of control. If you're really gonna have a student-centered activity, what that entails is you lay out the plan for the students and then you let them do it.
Tom Romito: And, and that's difficult for some people to do, to, to sort of stand back and say, "Okay, you know, this may be successful, it may not be successful."
And what you have to do, part of it is just, personally sort of getting over that and being willing to give up that control. But also there's a lot you can do in terms of really structuring the activity and holding kids accountable, even minute to minute and saying "By the end of this thirty minute, here's what you have to have completed and filled out." And then you can lay that out to the kids and say, "Now it's up to you, take responsibility, focus on your strengths, to really take the initiative to make this work for you, because I have done my part to set it all up for you."
And if it doesn't work, you, you look at it and you say, am I part of teaching with a team which is so great, every day afterwards we say, "What worked and what didn't work? How should we change this? How can we change this? What do we need to add, what do we need to take out?" And you constantly have to analyze what you're doing and think about it, and rework it, and retool everyday, because the next time you do it, you're gonna do it differently, because you have to.
Linda Darling-Hammond: What we saw in Tom Romito's classroom was a part of an overall lesson. As he mentioned, these activities supplement more traditional readings, lecturing and essay writing. Approaching topics in a variety of ways helps students bring the material alive and build bridges from their strengths to new areas of learning.
Students will need many skills to succeed in life. Tom Romito's students were not only learning history, they were learning how to do research, organize their thoughts, work in groups, and express their ideas both creatively in theater and coherently in formal prose.Howard Gardner: Still, at the end of the day it's good to have more than one area of intellectual strength, because that area is not going to be good for understanding everything, and one of the arts of good pedagogy is to help people, so to speak, cobble together the areas in which they are relatively good so they can master something thats important. If you think about lawyers, people can be very good as lawyers 'cause they're very articulate. They can be very good as lawyers because they can write a good brief. They can be very good as lawyers because they're very logical. They can be very good as lawyers because they know how to persuade a jury. Now you can have four different lawyers, but it's also great if a single lawyer learns to do all those things, which means that lawyer has to develop a number of different kinds of intelligence. And I think the same thing goes with kids, we probably want to help kids cobble together the intelligences where they have some potential to be very strong, because that's gonna equip them very well for the range of stuff they're gonna have to do, not only in school but in what we now call lifelong learning.
Linda Darling-Hammond: Multiple intelligence theory helps teachers think about and plan for their students' strengths. It recognizes that we are all smart in different ways and that we can develop intelligences through many pathways. If we keep this in mind when we're teaching we are more likely to reach every student.
This theory encourages us to approach lessons from a variety of angles, both to enhance our student's understanding of a subject and to allow each student multiple points of entry. When we give each type of learner a strong pathway to understand new content, we level the playing field, and we give students the confidence to approach areas that are more challenging for them. By broadening the way we view intelligence we can encourage all children to be lifelong learners.
This is The Learning Classroom, thanks for watching.
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