by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher and Learnist Evangelist
Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: Theory of Multiple Intelligences revolutionized the way we think about education.
Gardner proposed that “gifted” means a variety of things, and that we each have gifts in certain areas. He called this “multiple intelligences.” When I was in school, the “gifted” label meant we got extra stuff. It was a badge of honor, often regardless of whether we produced. I was a “gifted” underachiever. Being “gifted” was cool, because it meant I got tracked higher, and was given enrichment activities.
In middle school enrichment class, I escaped shop class and built little wood houses. In retrospect, I was skipping shop, to do… shop, but outside the mainstream. I’m not gifted in shop, but because of a random IQ test and some writing skills, I enjoyed things that would have benefited someone gifted in arts and woodworking. I didn’t care–it was fun, and it gave me a certain status,“gifted.”
Even at a young age, we knew being labeled “gifted” meant we were somehow better. We developed a certain sense of entitlement. I’m not proud, I’m just explaining the feelings I remember.
I feel the opposite today.
We are all gifted–schools need to look, and students need to believe.
The moms tried to keep this in check. Sure, I could read, but Jill could color. They’d take the books away and hand us crayons. Soon, I’d be in tears as they said, “Look, Dawn, Jill colors in the lines. You don’t.” Today, I understand that lesson. It’s why I look for students’ gifts and show them how they translate into success–how we use our gifts, develop our areas of opportunity, and do great things.
I find myself thinking–what is gifted, and how do we scaffold and inspire our students? Are students who shine in three R’s the ones that will succeed in life? Who should we be “enriching” and how? Shouldn’t we consider “enriching” all students? There’s not a lot of time for that in schools these days.
Many students do not think of themselves as “good students” because they are gifted in things outside the “traditional” set of intelligences. This can set them up for a life of self-fulfilling prophecy. Gardner’s theory, though it is not without criticism, gives us a different lens through which to imagine teaching.
Changing the paradigm just a bit is sometimes all we need to reach a student. Every year I have students tell me they are not good students. I dig deeper. If I adapt the lesson a bit, I can get better results.
The student who won’t write an essay can dictate one into Siri and learn how to copy edit using tech tools. He or she can design a multimedia presentation and teach a segment of class. There are endless options.
Success, in my experience, isn’t based on “traditional” giftedness, though that’s certainly helpful. It’s based on intelligence, motivation, creativity, determination, and desire. These are things school doesn’t measure well, but that Gardner’s theory shows to be key ingredients–if we can motivate and capture a student, we make them lifelong, intrinsic learners.
The moral of this story is that we must be ready to applaud students’ multiple intelligences, and somehow allow them to shine through our lessons, building their confidence. If we do, they will produce.–usually more than we ask. Making students realize they have what’s in them to succeed–that’s a challenge we all must undertake, whether we’re parents, educators, or educational leaders.
This week’s Learnist boards are about accessing multiple intelligences in order to get students to create, innovate, and become the next generation of great thinkers.
5 Multiple Intelligences Resources For Teachers
This board has information about Gardner’s theory and the learning styles. Also, there are quizzes to see what type of learning you (or your students) might be.
This board is about things we traditionally consider “gifted.” Can these tests, riddles, learning style indicators, and other resources be applied across the board to find other students’ areas of expertise and bring them to the forefront of the class?
This board is interesting. I may write an entire article on this board–gender and education is a fascinating topic because my generation was the first to believe that it gender no longer mattered. Sadly, that’s not always true. “Girl” behaviors and “boy” behaviors tragically play into the world of education and work. There aren’t enough successful women at the top–the playing field is not yet equal. Girls need to see other successful gifted girls at the top to have females to emulate.
Differentiation is often considered a special needs topic. What if, for just a moment, we took away the IEPs and considered “What’s this student’s special gift?” Would that apply to all students? Could we group, pair, and teach so that everyone got a chance to shine? That’s the inspiration. It’s difficult, and doesn’t work without advanced thought, but converting the term “differentiation” into the mainstream vocabulary of multiple intelligences produces success.
This is about the way we think. The first learning, “Nine Brilliant Inventions Made By Mistake” shows the value of accessing multiple intelligences in the classroom. Sometimes, the people who think and learn differently are the ones reinventing the world.
Image attribution flickr user isafmedia