My teaching is influenced by the theory of Multiple Intelligence. The theory states that human beings possess many types of “intelligences,” and that the idea of a single measured intelligence quotient (I.Q.) is flawed. Proposed by Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor at Harvard University, the theory posits that different individuals possess varying degrees of each type of intelligence, and that in a classroom setting, taking these differences into account can aid in developing different instructional techniques based on the strengths and weaknesses in a given individual’s intelligence profile.
According to Gardner, the 7 recognized intelligence types are linguistic intelligence (word smart,) spatial intelligence (picture smart,) logical-mathematical intelligence (number/reasoning smart,) bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body smart,) musical intelligence (music smart,) interpersonal intelligence (people smart,) intrapersonal intelligence (self smart,) and naturalist intelligence (nature smart). Most individuals are competent in at least several of these areas, but some individuals are highly gifted in one area while being woefully incompetent in another. Gardner believes that in Western Culture we tend to value linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence most highly, praising those who are particularly articulate and logical while under-valuing those gifted in the other types of intelligence.
While I do not believe this is entirely true (clearly our society values and rewards those who display high levels of musical and athletic ability, for example), it is true that our academic system is formulated in such a way that teaching and learning are heavily weighted towards those who excel in the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence based subjects. Recognition of this fact is the first step towards a remedy, or at least a shift in focus. The fact is, any subject can be taught in a way that emphasizes or takes advantage of a student’s particular learning strengths, potentially resulting in both increased learning and the absorption of material and knowledge among those students who might previously have been thought to be un-teachable — or at the very least, deficient.
In practice, the application of this theory could mean assessing an individual’s particular affinities and gifts and then designing a learning program based on these affinities. Another option is to cover all types of learning styles in the same classroom, allowing for a more balanced learning experience for everyone involved. This would allow each student to get practice in the areas in which they are weaker, as well as give them the opportunity to really shine in those areas where they possess inherent advantages.
The lesson plans that I have developed for my classes are designed in order to maximize the student’s experience, and to ensure that the information is absorbed and internalized with a high degree of understanding and retention. One aspect of my focus is towards creating a friendly, safe environment and teaching style, conducive to putting the students at ease and in an open, responsive mood. With this in mind, I ensure that I cultivate a sense of humor and fun (maintaining, of course, a respectful attitude towards the material and towards my students). I make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the classroom contains working equipment, as I incorporate engaging visual and auditory media in my lesson plans.
To put my students at ease, I ensure that there is engaging group work in order to create a sense of cohesiveness and common purpose in the classroom. I use group discussions to help my students to gain competency through hearing multiple perspectives, allowing them to benefit from the mistakes and successes of others without having to directly experience each one of those mistakes and successes themselves. Through support and encouragement, positive feedback, and an insistence on respectful communication, I create a safe learning environment for all my students.
Some of the techniques I use to cultivate success in my classroom are: clear and specific explanation of expectations; regular quizzes to gauge progress; recognition of achievements, including rewards for exceptional performance; progression of material from easier to more difficult; and a productive, focused use of classroom discussion. I believe a teacher needs to meet her students where they are at, respecting their limits but helping them to overcome those limits whenever possible. This means getting to know each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses through assessments, and not by putting them on the spot for any inherent shortcomings.
Success is important because it is only by practicing what they learn, over a period of time, that my students can build a true and long-lasting competence. I achieve competence in my class by assigning practical and doable projects, designed to require students to apply the knowledge to problems with specific solutions. By requiring them to repeat their successes under specific conditions, the skills become ingrained and instinctual. The projects I assign to my students build their skill-set one step at a time by focusing on existing strengths and reinforcing competency layer by layer.
Besides personal stories, I incorporate case studies into the curriculum, and bring in guest speakers to share their expertise and to act as mentors, if desired. The more real-world experience and outside exposure my students receive, the more profoundly they will understand how the concepts relate to their own life experiences.
Finally, utility of the information is of prime importance, as all of the knowledge in the world will be of no use if it is not readily applied. The importance of communicating to my students a sense of the opportunity, practicality and ease of application of the knowledge cannot be underestimated. I devote a portion of the class to discuss the certifications available, and the job opportunities and salary incentives that are available with the knowledge they gain. Through “lab activities” and “simulations,” my students get to improve their own reflexes, responses, and thought processes, allowing them to accomplish work of all kinds more efficiently, with greater focus and enjoyment. My focus is on providing them with “hands-on” experience necessary to fully realize the power of utilizing and maintaining the knowledge that they have gained.
I think respecting and accepting the different aspects of intelligence, and according each of them equal value, will result in a more positive learning experience for all my students, allowing them the opportunity to acquire knowledge in a way that works with them not against them. Utilizing the practical aspects of Howard Gardner’s theory will result in greater retention of information, and a classroom full of students who actually enjoy the process of learning. This enjoyment will translate not only into an increased mastery of the subject being taught, but also into a drive to continue learning and studying in the future.
Armstrong, Thomas (November, 1994) Multiple intelligences. Retrieved from http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/articles/7_ways.htm
Gardner, Howard (July, 2004)Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.howardgardner.com/FAQ/faq.htm