Psychology of Learning Journal Three

Reflections on Multiple Intelligences
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences makes a lot of sense to me. Over the last few years, I have become increasingly aware of distinct differences among students in terms of the different tasks and texts they enjoy, their performance in different assessments, and their individual ways of approaching specific assignments such as oral presentations.

In my classes, I have tried in the past to incorporate visual, auditory and kinesthetic content – the see it, hear it, do it approach, as it were. The idea of three distinct learning styles has been part of education theory since Lewin proposed that personality is as great a factor in determining behaviour as environment; in our context, this means that individual students learn differently, regardless of the instructional method(s). The upshot of this is that we tend to think of students in three categories; the seers, the listeners and the doers. Of course, there are myriad other models – the Gregorc/Butler model, the Felder/Silverman model, and so on, but the basic idea of perceptual modality, it seems to me, remains the strongest pattern with which we design our classes.
Gardner’s theory, for me, does not change this view, but it adds a lot of depth. After all, his eight intelligences incorporate a lot of the characteristics of the PM model; but his approach is from a different angle. For instance, someone who is, according to the Gardner model, strongest in linguistic intelligence can be a visual or auditory or kinesthetic learner, depending on how that person manifests his or her sensitivity to language. Also, as with the PM model, the Gardner model allows for a lot of overlap – presumably everyone has a certain level of each identified intelligence, and one’s strengths and weaknesses are simply a matter of dominant or weak areas.
I believe that our role as teachers, then, is not to label our students according to any scale, but to present our material in a variety of ways in an effort to provide tools suited to a wide range of intelligences and learning styles. If at all possible this should extend to assessment – after all, there’s little advantage in presenting a topic from several angles if you’re only going to assess from one angle.
In my ideal Cegep, each student would be required to take a workshop – not necessarily a semester-length course, but a few sessions – on determining individual learning styles. Whether or not the teacher is aware of learning styles and intelligences is almost a moot point if the students remain in the dark. Imagine how much more Jack would get out of every course if he knew from the start that he was a predominantly visual learner with a pronounced spatial intelligence? Maybe he would stop doodling random pictures in class and start drawing relevant diagrams to help him study. If Jill knew that her strength was musical, perhaps she would invest some time in musical mnemonics. The possibilities are endless.
There is a little voice in my head saying “yes, but don’t we all know what kind of learner we are, even if we don’t know what to call it?” I think that to a certain extent, most people are aware of their strengths and weaknesses – but not necessarily to the extent that they know how to exploit their strengths or shore up their weaknesses. Cegep students come to us after 12 years or more of primary and secondary education in which they may not have been exposed to the notion of individual learning styles and strategies. I know my seven-year-old son’s strengths, but he doesn’t recognize them yet. For instance, more than one teacher has tried to teach Colin how to tie his shoes, using various analogies such as the traditional bunny and tree method. Last week, frustrated because he was reluctant to wear his new lace-up sneakers, I sat him down and explained it to him in terms of letters – first you make an X with the laces, then two QQs, then you tie the QQs together. Now he knows how to tie his shoes – but he doesn’t know (or even wonder) why my method worked and previous attempts didn’t.
The bottom line for me is that I need to invest time and energy into finding varied and creative ways to present content and assess learning, and help my students to develop their metacognitive abilities.