EDU 6526: Multiple Intelligences – When and How to Differentiate

From day 1 of a teacher education program, teacher candidates are inculcated with Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. From taking personal assessments, reading countless scholarly critiques, and debating pros and cons of MI-aligned pedagogy, the theory that humans come hardwired towards a natural inclination to learn and develop intellect in specific environments is a crucial concept for educators to consider. I certainly support the theory of Multiple Intelligences, and my own strong propensity as a visual-kinesthetic learner proves to me that learning definitely does occur more easily when cultivated within the intelligence domain of the learner.

However, I think it is important to consider that public education in the United States does not easily lend itself to a Multiple Intelligence pedagogy. With 25-35 students in one class, as well as countless high-stakes accountability measures to constantly conform to, I expect that more often than not teachers simply do not have the ability to delivery the kind of differentiated instruction that a MI pedagogy would value. With that challenge in mind, I found the chapter on Homework and Practice in the text Classroom Instruction that Works to be particularly helpful. While I had never really considered homework as much more than an extension of learning in the classroom, this text highlighted that homework, when used intentionally, can be a valuable source of instructional differentiation. While homework should never take the place of classroom teaching, it could serve as an excellent source of classroom content practice, focused through a method aligned to individual learners’ intelligences. For example, a musical learner could be asked to create a song using vocabulary words, while a bodily-kinesthetic learner could create actions or dance movements for each word.  Projects could be assigned to be individual or group-based, according to groups of interpersonal learners versus intrapersonal ones. When considering Multiple Intelligence differentiation, homework could be the easiest and most effective space to do it.

When leaving differentiation mostly to the homework realm, the classroom space is opened up for the opportunity to focus instruction towards one or two intelligences at a time, thereby developing a more holistic learner over time. Indeed, research shows that learning might actually be more successful when the instructional style is more aligned with the content, rather than the learner. In his book Make it Stick, Peter C. Brown applies field research to common learning/instructional practices and myths (see Figure 1).

Make it Stick

Figure 1

Brown states “When instructional style matches the nature of the content, all learners learn better, regardless of their differing preferences for how the material is taught” (p. 146). With this in mind, a more logical-mathematical approach should perhaps be applied during math lessons, while a linguistic approach should be employed during a lesson on poetry. By providing differentiated homework along with focused in-class instruction, it seems that a teacher could develop holistic, successful learners, without too much disruption to the reality of available classroom time and resources.

Brown, P.C., Roediger III, H.L., McDaniel, M.A. 2014. Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA and London,England.
Dean, C.B., Hubbell, E.R., Pitler, H., Stone, B. 2012. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. McREL: Denver, CO.
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