Since 1983, people have been talking about “multiple intelligences,” an idea proposed by Howard Gardner, a Harvard developmental psychologist, in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence. By multiple intelligences, we mean that people have different intelligences in different areas. Gardner identified eight such intelligences:
- Musical: deals with sounds, rhythms, and music. People who have high musical intelligence have strong auditory skills and will therefore learn well through lecture.
- Visual-spatial: encompasses spatial judgment and visualization. People who have high visual-spatial intelligence learn well when reading from a book or notes on the board.
- Verbal-linguistic: deals with an ease with words and language. People with this intelligence are good at reading, writing, and telling stories.
- Logical-mathematical: much of this category deals with numbers and abstract concepts. People who have high logical-mathematical intelligence learn best when they understand the connections between different concepts and fields.
- Bodily-kinesthetic: includes a control over bodily motion and the ability to handle objects skillfully. People who have high bodily intelligence learn best through physical effort.
- Interpersonal: deals with good “people skills.” Those who have high interpersonal intelligence learn best in groups and when working with others.
- Intrapersonal: encompasses introspection and self-evaluation. People with high intrapersonal intelligence have a deep understanding of themselves and therefore often learn and work best alone.
- Naturalistic: includes a connection to natural surroundings. People who have high naturalistic intelligence learn best when surrounded by the outdoors and nature.
Now that we know so much about multiple intelligences, it helps us understand why students benefit from learning in different ways. This different learning in educational jargon is called differentiated instruction.
What Can Be Modified
In their book, Differentiated Instruction in the English Classroom, Barbara King-Shaver and Alyce Hunter explain that teachers can choose to differentiate their curriculum in three areas of modification: content, process, and product. Content is what a student is to learn; process is how the student will learn the content; and product is how the student is to display what s/he learned.
Content: If the curriculum is flexible, the teacher may modify what texts and concepts the students will study.
Process: Children can be involved in listening, writing, movement, musical, or reading activities. They can then discuss their separate activities in a whole class discussion.
Product: Upon completion of the unit of study, the teacher must determine the parameters for the final product. The teacher may choose to have the students write an essay, create a diorama, write a poem, or work on various other appropriate projects.
How Do You Decide to Modify?
Carol Ann Tomlinson, a pioneer of differentiated instruction and a professor at the University of Virginia, explains that teachers should look at student readiness, interest, and learning styles when deciding how to formulate their classrooms and curriculum. Student readiness represents how prepared or skilled the student is; interest is what a student likes, wants, or loves to do; learning style is how a student learns best.
Starting to assess student readiness, interests, and learning styles at the very start of the school year will enable teachers to better teach in a manner that is appropriate for individual students. Pre-assessment, or diagnostic testing, is a wonderful tool for understanding what a student knows before the year begins. While some might have mastered the sophisticated understandings planned for the year, others might be deficient in precursor skills necessary to become proficient later in the year. A teacher who intends to support success for each learner needs a sense of the learners’ starting points as a unit begins.
Simple back-to-school pre-assessments could include questions such as, “Do you need quiet when you study? What did you do over the summer? What is your favorite subject in school? Would you rather read a book or listen to a tape? Do you prefer Judaic subjects or secular subjects? How much time to you spend on homework each night?”