Looking Back at Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

It’s funny how Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences seemed like a  ground breaking discovery at the time in the early eighties  when his first book Frames of Mind came out. Now, I think most people take it for granted. Anyone who works with kids can tell you that they are unique and that their brains are all wired differently. they also all have different strengths and challenges. Because of this instruction needs to be tailored to the students’ needs.

While reading a couple of articles on Edutopia, one of my favorite education sites, they featured a look back at Gardner’s theory. You can read the article here. One thing I found very interesting was that his interview, taken in 1997 focused on the following which still feel very relevant today:

  • On the importance of engaging students actively in what they are studying.
  • On the characteristics of student-directed learning.
  • On the theory of multiple intelligences.
  • On technology and multiple intelligences.
  • On the need for fundamental change in the curriculum.
  • On how assessment in school differs from assessment in other arenas such as sports or music.
  • On the need for a new approach to assessment in schools.
  • On what needs to happen in order that long-standing change occurs in public education.
  • Those topics above were the main focus of his interview. What I wrote in red above really resonates with me even today. Students need to like what they are doing. They have to be motivated and engaged. Providing them with some autonomy is not a bad thing, it gives them a drive to do something interesting. I also truly believe that technology has the potential to increase student achievement, but it has to be done correctly. How many times have you sat through a presentation where someone just reads the bullet points off their slide? That’s not effective use of technology. If it doesn’t enhance your objective don’t use it. But often there are many ways in which technology does. Also, the curricula needs to change to some degree. When I first started teaching, there was little time to stop and work on social-emotional skills, for example. There’s no way to teach every objective written in the standards of every discipline without finding ways to integrate. Finally, assessments need to be mostly formative: simply a snapshot of where that child is. That information should be used to then inform you how you teach that child. I think that holds true with teacher evaluations, rather than the assessment be summative, it should be formative and used for opportunities of growth.

    Below is the interview, and if you want to take a quick test to see your own learning style, you can click here. It doesn’t surprise me that intrapersonal learning is my strongest style and kinesthetic is my weakest. Years ago I  sort of wrote his theory off as something that was simply obvious, but it’s good to reflect on the past sometimes as I think I learned something this time around. This reflection on our practice will help us attend to the needs of our kids more.

    One Way to Differentiate and Spiral Several Math Concepts

    It’s rare Seattle reaches 65 degrees in November, and on this beautiful fall day, the children went and harvested beans from a nearby garden. They worked in teams of 4 and 5, had different jobs and had to agree upon them before we left.

    When they returned they did some estimating (how many beans in the pod), and began to measure the length of each bean. And some groups began to graph the length of their beans. Reviewing how to use a ruler, asking what is the difference between cm and inches and how do you know, creating a graph, as well as what a key tells us on a graph were some of the objectives laid out for them.

    Tomorrow, they will continue by finishing their graphs and begin to weigh the beans they harvested. Again, they will get an opportunity to graph these beans by their weight. They will also use their graphs to generate word problems. Some will need templates, other children will be able to come up with very sophisticated problems that I probably would have never thought of myself. That’s the fun thing about open ended math activities.

    Furthermore, we will tie it in with the story of the bean farmer and how the Pike Place Market started in 1907. We will also take the pods and compost them in our school garden’s compost that we started this year. If time permits, a story about Jack and Beanstalk should be included too, as the 2nd graders work on fractured fairy tales later in the year. Fairy tales are hard to fracture if you’ve never heard the original.

    Next week the beans will be cooked and the children will follow a recipe (a little more measurement here too) to make bean dip, learn a little bit about nutrition, trying something delicious, and have a fun time doing it.

    These are the kinds of lessons that are so important in elementary school so that math, language arts, social studies, science, etc. is not taught in a vacuum. Yes, they will need foundational skills to measure length and weight, and some may need more direct instruction for some at remembering how to create a bar graph. Whatever the skill, it’s important to assess how the kids are doing by getting right in there and using that assessment to guide your teaching so that, like the beans, the children can grow.

    Some people think of spiraling as 10 questions at the bottom of a work page that asks questions that may include items one needs to review. The activity above has that all built in, but there are more places to differentiate in an activity like the one above.

    Here are some examples how one can differentiate just through questioning:

    How long was your longest bean? Use your graph.

    If you put all the beans your team harvested end to end, what would the total length be?

    If your team managed to harvest 3 times the amount you did, how many bean pods would you have?

    Make up your own question using the words total, weight, and graph.



    Whether you love her or hate her, Lady Gaga has, in a very short time has become recognized around the world. This article from Fast Company talks about the gold standard of physical album sales (CDs) as the measurement for success. But she’s just reached over a billion views on youtube, sold songs in multiple formats, mp3 singles, etc.

    The article says that it’s time for a much more robust way at measuring success and that there is plenty of other data to look at.

    Hopefully we do that with children too, but if you follow some of the news, we still have standardized tests as the gold standard of student success. There are many different kinds of assessments available for kids, including self-assessments, portfolio collections, demonstration of mastery, rubrics, etc. While standardized tests can provide useful information if you get the results in time to actually DO something with them (like play to the child’s strengths and challenge them, or work on any observable gaps the results may produce), so often you hear of schools using the results as a way to punish or reward a school. Whether you’ve read Freakonomics (by  Levitt and Dubner) or Drive (by Daniel Pink), you know that the carrot and stick formula will either promote cheating, teaching to the test, or even worse apathy and lack of motivation. Even in education, standardized tests need to evolve so that they are a useful tool to help kids and teachers reach their full potential.

    Do you know how successful your students are? Probably more important a question to ask is: Do your students know how successful they are?

    Economic Scene – Study Rethinks Importance of Kindergarten Teachers – NYTimes.com

    Economic Scene – Study Rethinks Importance of Kindergarten Teachers – NYTimes.com.

    The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers

    I had to post this (and not only because I’d like that paycheck), but more importantly, the article mentions that the fade-out-effect is “based mainly on test scores, not a broader set of measures.”

    Whether it’s administration, teacher, or student performance,  or even government incentives and funding, there need to be a variety of metrics.

    Even though this study has yet to be peer reviewed, I am confident that the year you have with your students matters a lot!

    Sustaining High-Impact Teacher Learning

    I’m finally going to finish summarizing the last section of the book Transforming Professional Development into Student Results by Douglas B. Reeves. The section is titled “How to Sustain High-Impact Professional Learning?” and is divided into 3 chapters.

    Ch. 10 Beyond “Train the Trainer”

    Reeve’s begins by reminding us of the etymology of the word ‘train’ – which isn’t very appealing. And even when you get to the definition implied by most when referring to training teachers, it reads, “Discipline and teach (an animal) to obey orders or perform tricks; school and prepare (a horse, especially a racehorse) for competition.”  The definition of trainer is just as bad.

    It’s amazing how schools still get excited about teachers who have had various ‘trainings’ in programs, rather than focus on growing the people and practices already in place.

    There are 8 essentials for sustainable improvement:

    1. Public service with a moral purpose
    2. Commitment to changing context at all levels
    3. Lateral capacity building through networks
    4. Intelligent accountability and vertical relationships (encompassing both capacity building and accountability)
    5. Deep Learning
    6. Dual commitment to short-term and long-term results
    7. Cyclical energizing
    8. The long lever of leadership

    The longer the list of things to be done and criteria to be met, the lower the probability that the list will be accomplished. Furthermore, this is to be done collectively and continuously. Such a tall order requires influence which Reeves describes is the result of a combination of personal motivation and ability, social motivation and ability, and structural motivation and ability – and avoid or eliminate counterproductive influences.

    Ch. 11 Performance Assessment for Teachers and Administrators

    Assessment should be thought of as a process designed to improve learning. That’s what we’re supposed to do with kids. Not judge them at the end by their performance on some test (that’s a different kind of assessment, not one designed to improve learning).

    Reeves provides several models and rubrics in this chapter for assessments for teachers and administrators. The bottom line though, is that it should be linked to student performance. “When the assessments of teachers, leader, and learning teams are all aligned to support student learning, great things happen. Not only does student achievement improve, but the valuable time of teachers and administrators is focused in the right places at the right time.”

    Ch. 12 High-Impact Learning In Action

    Reeves spends the last chapter of the book describing a school that has been successful in implementing effective change. But he doesn’t leave us with a happily ever after ending. Like most things, growth and improvement is a work in progress.

    I have to say that I thought this book was going to be a little dry and filled with too much data (it’s all there in the appendix though if you’re really interested), but like the back of the book says, “If you’re tired of professional development that takes up too much time and delivers too little, read Transforming Professional Development into Student Results and discover how to move toward a system that gives educators the learning experiences they need to make a measurable difference for their schools and their students.”

    Authentic Assessment

    The second graders at my school just completed presenting their portfolios to their parents tonight. This year, I wanted the children to focus on learning and effort. When asked to select works for their portfolio that highlighted these areas, I was just delighted when so many of them had such a hard time choosing. They wanted to include everything. By the time they were done, they had scrapbooks bursting with artwork, writing samples, math problems, and much more. While these are a good place to begin, upon reflection, I need to try and tweak these to make them more meaningful. A book I just read, Student Portfolios: A Learning Tool (Lightfoot and Davidson), along with one I read a few years ago, The Portfolio Organizer (Rolheiser, Bower, Stevahn) both suggest that it is the quality of the portfolio process that can reveal progress and achievement. Key parts of the process should include:

    • establishing the overall purpose
    • selecting the type of portfolio
    • considering the audience
    • designing the criteria and selection process
    • determining the time frame
    • generating and/or choosing self reflection activities

    While we did include all of these things, I felt I rushed my kids a little in getting these put together and should really build the time throughout the year for them to self-select pieces of work and reflect on them. If done well, these pieces will also act as assessment pieces that can be used to taylor ones teaching as the year progresses. These pieces can then be used as assessment “FOR” rather than “OF” learning (Stiggins has a great book on assessment).

    Portfolios should be part of teachers’ assessment literacy. Though it was evident that parents and students had a great time, I will need to remember to have these resources out in September rather than wait until May.