Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tips to implement Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory in the Primary Classroom

 Basic Principles of the MI Theory
Dr. Howard Gardner introduced the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory in 1983 in his book “Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences” (Peters, 2010). Gardner’s own definition of intelligence differs from a conventional definition which views that intelligence is “the cognitive capacity that people are born with” (“Tapping into Multiple Intelligences, 2004). Instead, Gardner defines intelligence in his “Frames of Mind” book as “the ability to solve problems or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings”. Initially, Gardner introduced seven multiple intelligences, and he subsequently introduced two additional ones in 1999 in his book “Intelligence Reframed” (“Tapping into Multiple Intelligences, 2004). These intelligences are described in Table 1.

Table 1. Description of the Gardner’s 9 Multiple Intelligences
“Word smart”. Consists in good aptitude with oral and written words.
“Number smart”. Consists in good ability with numbers and reasoning.
“Picture smart”. Allows for pronounced facility with 2D and 3D visualization of images, as well as visualization of thoughts.
“Body smart”. Entails a good control of body movements and a good aptitude with hands-on activities.
“Music smart”. Encompasses a facility for sounds, rhymes and rhythms.
“People smart”. Involves a good facility with social interactions and cooperation.
“Self-smart”. Consists in the ability to be in touch with inner feelings and to self-reflect.
“Nature smart”. Involves an understanding of the natural world and its components.
“Existence smart”. Entails the ability to engage in deep reflection about human existence.

Gardner believes that each individual possesses all nine intelligences, but that some of these intelligences are more developed and prominent than other intelligences in each person, based on several factors, such as the individual’s biology, culture and interests. (Brualdi, & ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, 1996) Interestingly, Gardner himself acknowledges that there are two opposite ways to view the MI theory and how it can benefit individuals:
“For example, some say that if the concept of multiple intelligences is true, you should find a child’s strength and try to develop it as much as possible. Others say that we have to be sure to develop all the intelligences, with the implication that if a child has difficulty in developing the intelligences, he is given extra help. So the same theory leads to two opposite kinds of recommendations” (Lockwood, 1993)

Focus of Teaching and Learning
Hence, some proponents to the MI theory argue that an individual’s most pronounced intelligences should be developed further and used to further a child’s learning, whereas others are of the view that the weaker intelligences in a child should actually be developed by having him learn through these intelligences. This contradiction in how the MI theory should be applied in the classroom is rather unsettling for the well-intentioned educator.
However an educator decides to use the MI theory in her classroom, the initial step should be to develop a thorough and detailed class profile (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013, p 34). The class profile is a living document that includes, among others, learning styles and preferences, as well as specific interests, strengths and needs for each student, based on on-going teacher observations, diagnostic and formative assessments. The class profile is a very useful tool for planning instruction that is differentiated to the children’s needs and interests. It can also be used to plan instruction according to the MI profile of the students.
There are many possible classroom tasks and activities that activate and build on each specific intelligence of the MI theory. (Dickinson, 1996; “Tapping into Multiple Intelligences”, 2004) Table 2 outlines a few possible tasks according to each intelligence.

Table 2. Possible tasks and activities for primary students that use a specific intelligence as described in Gardner’s MI theory
            reading, writing
           word games
            story telling
            class-discussions and debates
            inquiry learning
            science inquiry
            drawing, painting, photography
            use of manipulatives such as blocks, Cuisenaire rods, etc. for mathematics
            hands-on manipulatives
            drama, dance
            use of songs (listening and composition)
             musical instruments
            cooperative learning
            group discussions
            journal writing
             quiet time for reading and reflecting
             individual work
            nature walks and scavenger hunts
            classification activities
            science activities

The combination of learning centers and an interdisciplinary approach is an excellent method to have students develop each of their several intelligences (Campbell, 1989). Campbell describes his grade 3 class which contained seven distinct centres that were based on Gardner’s original seven multiple intelligences. A portion of each day (about 2.5 hours) was spent in the learning centres. Students moved through each centre, in groups of 3-4, and they spent about 20 minutes in each centre. The following excerpt from Campbell’s article describes examples of specific activities in each centre (Campbell, 1989):
“For example, while studying a unit on Planet Earth, the seven centers provided activities to help the students learn about the structure of the earth.
  • In the building center, the students actually constructed a three layer replica of the earth with three colors of clay to represent the core, the mantle and the crust. They sliced their clay earths in half for a cross-section view.
  • In the math center, each group worked with geometric concepts of concentric circles, radius, diameter, etc.
  • At the reading center, the students read a story called "The Magic School Bus" that depicted a group of school children exploring the inside of the earth.
  • The music center provided a listening/spelling activity. The students listened to music while studying spelling words such as earth, crust, mantle and core.
  • The art center involved cutting out concentric circles of different sizes and colors, pasting and labeling them to identify the different zones.
  • The working together (interpersonal) center had a cooperative learning activity where the students had to read a fact sheet on the earth and jointly answer questions.
  • The personal work (intrapersonal) center involved a fantasy writing activity on the subject: "Things you would take with you on a journey to the center of the earth".”
Teachers should be aware that it is also possible to design centers so that several intelligences are represented within each center (“Tapping into Multiple Intelligences”, 1996). For example a reading/writing center encourages students' Verbal/Linguistic; Visual/Spatial; Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Intelligences. Possible activities within this center include books of any kind and form, word games, writing tools (including technology tools), etc. A science/experiment center encourages students' Logical/Mathematical, Naturalist, and Visual/Spatial Intelligences. An excellent list of centers and specific activities can be found at (“Tapping into Multiple Intelligences”, 1996).

In order to have students develop their preferred intelligences, teachers can easily provide choices in authentic tasks and assessments. Providing choices to students is beneficial for many reasons, in addition to developing their preferred intelligence. When students can choose among different types of activities, they are more engaged and interested in their tasks. This increases the students’ learning and it helps with classroom management (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Offering various assessment opportunities depending on the multiple intelligences allows a child to demonstrate more accurately what he has learnt (Meyer & Glock, 2004). Such assessments can range from composing a song that demonstrates learning of a specific topic, writing a blog reflection post, doing a class presentation, constructing a 3D model, etc.

Type of Classroom Environment Required
Implementing the MI theory in the primary classroom does not require a complicated set-up. For the centers, it is useful to have well-defined and physical spaces in the room, possibly labelled for each multiple intelligence. When students work in centers, they work more independently. In order to have a smooth center session, the teacher needs to ensure that each center is well-organized and labelled, and that the students understand the nature of the work that they should do in each center. This will allow the teacher to observe, assess, and assist the students as they carry their tasks.
However, teachers must be aware that there are challenges on the emotional front when implementing the MI theory. When teachers choose to have the students work on their weaker intelligences, they have to ensure that there is a culture of respect and risk-taking in the classroom. This is because students will be pushed out of their comfort zones. Teachers also must ensure that they can provide the appropriate support to enhance their students’ weaker intelligences. Ultimately, challenging students to develop their weaker intelligences is worthwhile and rewarding since they will fulfill their potential, will lead happier lives and will be able to function better as adults in society.

Further Reading
Official Authoritative Site of Multiple Intelligences.
“Multiple Intelligences”. New Horizons for Learning, John Hopkins School of Education (2005)
Bernard, S. (2009). “How to Address Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom”. Edutopia.
Gardner, H. (2005).Development and Education of the Mind, the Selected Works of Howard Gardner”. Taylor & Francis.

Brualdi, A. C., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, W. D. (1996). “Multiple Intelligences: Gardner’s Theory. ERIC Digest.
Campbell, B. (1989). “Multiplying Intelligence in the Classroom”. New Horizons for Learning’s On the Beam, Vol. IX, No. 2, p. 7 : 167.
Dickinson, D. (1996) “Learning through Many Kinds of Intelligence”. New Horizons for learning, John Hopkins School of Education.
Lockwood, A. T., & Wisconsin Center for Education Research, M. S. (1993). “Multiple Intelligences Theory in Action.” Research and the Classroom, (4).
Meyer, M., & Glock, J. (2004) “Learning Celebrations are Authentic Assessments of Student Understanding”. INTELLIGENCE CONNECTIONS, Newsletter of the ASCD, Multiple Intelligences Network, Volume XI, Number 3.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013) “Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12”.
Peters, L. C. (2010). “Teachers help students succeed by using multiple intelligences theory in the classroom”. Innovation and Perspectives, VCU.
“Tapping into Multiple Intelligences”. Concept to Classroom, WNET Education, 2004.

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