Over the past decade there’s been a lot of debate about whether Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is valid as an approach to guide instruction. I’m going to take up the points of this debate in a future post. But right now, I want to argue for the most persuasive reason why every teacher ought to be using this model in their classroom: because it’s practical. New teachers can learn it in a few minutes and get right to work integrating it into their lesson plans. Veteran teachers can look back at their old lesson plans and see where they’ve already used many of the intelligences, and then set up a plan to use those that had been left out. All teachers will be able to see that this theory is just plain common sense because it’s based upon things that are real: words, numbers, pictures, music, nature, social interaction, self-reflection, and physical culture.
For over two decades, I’ve used a simple set of questions to help teachers make sure that they’re using all eight intelligences in their lesson plans over the long term (obviously I’m not asking teachers to teach everything eight different ways, but to see the possibilities that are available). First, select a specific instructional objective, skill, content area, or learning goal (I’m going to use The Great Depression as an example below). Then ask this series of questions to help generate teaching strategies:
- Word Smart – ”How can I used the spoken or the written word?” (Great Depression: read books and original documents, listen to oral histories and radio broadcasts, prepare oral report)
- Number/Logic Smart – ”How can I bring in numbers, calculations, logic, classifications, or critical thinking?’‘ (Great Depression: research unemployment statistics, analyze predictors of economic depression, quantify financial losses to companies, individuals)
- Picture Smart – ”How can I use visual aids, visualization, color, art, or metaphor?’‘ (Great Depression: watch video documentaries, imagine life in the 1930’s, create mural or other art work, discuss the use of a color to tell a story – e.g. Black Tuesday)
- Music Smart – ”How can I bring in music or environmental sounds, or set key points in a rhythmic or melodic framework?” (Great Depression: listen to songs of the era like Woody Guthrie etc.; perform percussion work identifying key events and concepts, compose songs about the era)
- Body Smart – ”How can I involve the whole body or the use of hands-on experiences?’‘ (Great Depression: build a diorama illustrating key points, perform a skit or play dealing with the hard economic times, act out or pantomime vocabulary words and meanings relevant to the era such as ”public works,” ”Hoover blanket,” and ”Brain Trust”).
- People Smart – ”How can I engage students in peer sharing, collaborative learning, or large group simulation?’‘ (Great Depression: group projects, small group discussions, peer teaching of key concepts, turning the classroom into ”a soup kitchen” etc.)
- Self Smart – ”How can I evoke personal feelings or memories, or give students choices?” (Great Depression: write about a time in your life when you felt depressed; keep a journal as if you were living in that era, develop an original project based on the Great Depression).
- Nature Smart – ”How can I incorporate living things or systems?” (Great Depression: study the ecological conditions leading to the Dust Bowl, research the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to convert water energy to electricity, examine the Great Depression from the vantage point of animals going through it).
Remember that you don’t have to use all these strategies, just be aware that there are a range of resources and tools available to you. The point is to get away from the LTW approach to classroom teaching (Lecture, Textbook, Worksheet), and explore other ways that involve different processing areas of the human brain. If you only teach through one or two intelligences (e.g. Word Smart and Number/Logic Smart), then you’re always going to neglect the gifts and abilities of a significant percentage of your students. But if you reach beyond your own comfort zone to include new ways of teaching and learning, then kids who have difficulties with the LTW approach will suddenly find both engagement and academic success at school.
For more information on creating lesson plans and curriculum units based upon the eight intelligences, see my book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th Edition.
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