Wednesday, February 25th, 2009...10:23 am

Five Surefire Ways to Engage Students, Part Two: Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles

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Looking for ways to engage your students and motivate them to be self-directed learners?  Here is the second of five installments of surefire tips!  This time we focus on Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences and find out “WHAT KIND OF ‘SMART’ ARE YOU (AND YOUR STUDENTS)?

Dr. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has strong implications for how our students will develop into adults, get jobs and support families.  Many adults find themselves in jobs that do not make optimal use of their most highly developed intelligences - for example, the highly bodily-kinesthetic individual who is stuck in a linguistic or logical desk job when he or she would be much happier in a job where they could move around, such as a recreational leader, a forest ranger, or physical therapist.

The theory of multiple intelligences gives adults a whole new way to look at their lives, examining potentials that they left behind in their childhood (such as a love for art or drama) but now have the opportunity to develop through courses, hobbies, or other programs of self-development.
The implication for students is that educators who understand the concept of multiple intelligences have a better understanding of how to reach young people.  When a student struggles to understand a concept, teachers have this ‘tool’ to try alternative ways of getting kids to understand and grasp the information.

The most successful learning environment for a child is one that incorporates the conditions or manners (preferences, tendencies, strategies) under which he or she learns best.

Individual learning style is a combination of environmental, emotional, sociological, and physical responses that characterize how each person learns.  Learning style is a function of heredity and experience, and develops individually over the life span.

The Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Inventory concentrates more on learning environment, while McCarthy’s 4MAT approach deals more with how students learn curriculum.    You may use learning styles to broadly assess your students learning preferences.  Multiple Intelligences allows you to go much deeper into how students learn and to see how they might better grasp concepts.

There are several distinct intelligences that a person/student may possess, according to Dr. Howard Gardner. These intelligences are developed in different ways and at different times, that allow each to approach tasks with different strengths. Dr. Gardner identifies these as verbal, logical, spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intra-personal, and naturalistic. The existential intelligence has been added to Gardner’s original eight.

Use a learning styles and/or multiple intelligences inventory like this one to assess yourself and your students.  It is important to know your own learning style in order to understand how it affects the way you deliver instruction.

QTL helps teachers begin to design lessons so that all of their students’ learning styles are addressed – every student every day – increasing the probability that the learner will grasp the learning more easily and at a deeper level.

Teachers should not strive to meet all ways of learning at one time but over the span of teaching a concept give students the opportunity to process the information in a variety of modalities. The brain uses different representations to store different types of information in different areas of the brain.  The goal for teachers should be to help students make as many connections as possible.

Take a look at the LEARNING STYLES diagram below, keeping in mind the MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES we just talked about from Howard Gardner.

What kind of learner are you?  Are you a visual learner?  Do you need to see it to know it? If so, you are probably described or describe yourself as being imaginative, social.  When someone tells you something new, you will ask WHY?  You want to know WHY that is so.

Now, think about the multiple intelligences theory.  Where are you on that?  Are you a math teacher?  Are you analytical?  If so, you probably know you fit into Gardner’s MATHEMATICAL LOGICAL intelligence and on the learning style chart, you are probably task oriented. You ask WHAT and need the facts.  You likely are an auditory learner.

multiple intelligences

Now that you see how this all works together, you might start thinking about your own students.  Who are they?  How do they prefer to learn? Does this help you to understand better how to reach them in your instruction and in authentic assessment?

By allowing your students flexibility like this in authentic assessment, do you think student engagement will increase?  Will your students be more apt to ‘buy into’ the learning process when they are allows to express their learning in their own way?  Students will begin to see the WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME.

Here is an example of how you might integrate multiple intelligences into a science curriculum (6th Grade, Population Dynamics, studying Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”). Each of the examples allows students to express their learning in their own unique ways, based on Gardner’s theory.  See how you can adapt some of these ideas into your own classrooms.

Kinesthetic learners may find it interesting to draw a model in their homework summary or in their PowerPoint presentation in the Jigsaw activity of how the pollutants enter the ecosystem and some of the effects.

Musical students may find it interesting to listen to the song Big Yellow Taxi and transcribe the words, then interpret the words and discuss its significant in respect to Silent Spring.  Do they think the song was inspired by Rachel Carson?  How do the key words fit the song?

Interpersonal students are ’people-smart,’ often visual learners who might interview a company and ask them what they do with their contaminants in respect to the key words (for instance, ask how would your product harm the ecosystem?).

Intrapersonal students are ’self-smart’ and would rather work alone than in groups or with other students.  These students might work on the Jigsaw activity by blogging, rather than face to face.

Naturalist students are nature-smart and enjoy the great outdoors.  A naturalist student might gather soil samples near a river or plant (under the supervision of a parent or adult) and have the soil tested at the county to see if the samples are different than samples taken at home and tested.  Again, the key is to use the target vocabulary words to guide the work.

Verbal Linguistic learners are word-smart and might find it engaging to write their own essay about their own community as did Rachel Carson.  Or they might write about why they believed Rachel Carson wrote the book and what she hoped would be achieved by letting others know her thoughts, beliefs and her findings.

Spatial students are picture-smart students who might draw a picture that represents the invisible or hidden elements of “Who Polluted the River?”

Mathematical/Logical students are number-reasoning-smart and might find it interesting to dig deeper into the data compiled on the website activity for WHO POLLUTED THE RIVER and compare and contrast the findings by how the rivers flow into each other and where the water is drawn for public consumption.

The bottom line is that different assignment will engage different students. A teacher who understands that and makes an effort to accommodate these differences in learners has a much better chance of reaching them.

The Five Surefire Ways Series:

1. Brain-Based Learning
2. Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles
3. Cooperative Grouping
4. Graphic Organizers
5. Inquiry Based Learning

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic,1983
Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic, 1993.
Gardner, Howard. Intelligence Reframed:  Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York:  Basic, 2000.

The “Five Surefire Ways” Series:

1. Brain Based Learning
2. Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles
3. Cooperative Grouping
4. Graphic Organizers
5. Inquiry Based Learning

1 Comment

  • I took the test and found it to be very accurate of what I know of myself. I think many teachers would agree that students learn in many different ways, regardless of the controversy of the theory of multiple intelligences. I have found it’s a great idea to chart lesson plans to make sure you are covering many, if not all of these ways of learning. This way they will get the material more than once in a different way. Also, if students are allowed to choose from a variety of assessments, much like the projects in the 6th grade science example, they not only take a greater responsibility for their learning, but can show what they know in the best possible way.

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