Friday, January 4, 2013

Multiple Intelligences and the difference they can make for you and your kids

“I hated school.  I was never very good a book learning,” says about a dozen guys I know who can turn a pile of rust and spare parts into a seductively purring war machine.

“I barely graduated.  I was just so glad to be done with the whole thing,” says several handfuls of women I’ve talked to who, with one glance at a bargain bin in a fabric store, can shame the runways of Paris.

I worked for a woman without a high school diploma who merely had to shake a notebook at the store safe to make the inventory match up with the deposit.

I watched a man without a GED fabricate an aluminum gizmo that solved centuries’ worth of fish processing needs in the time it took for me to eat a sandwich.

My own mother, who earned a GED months before I graduated from high school, is a brilliantly talented cook, seamstress, embroiderer, quilter, and creator of beaded jewelry.  She could turn any of those talents into a lucrative enterprise but for a deeply entrenched lack of self-confidence caused by her troubles in school. 

I think that most educators are aware that a high school or college diploma is no real indicator of a person’s intelligence and certainly no indicator of a person’s worth…  Well, I hope so.  What diplomas appear to indicate is a person’s ability to play the game.  Which is not an un-useful talent in the working world but it isn’t an indicator of raw talent or ability.

My MAT program has turned me on to a particularly useful tool for empowering students and aiding teachers in pedagogical differentiation.  In other words:  It makes kids feel good about their abilities and helps teachers reinforce those good feelings by giving kids different ways to show that they know the material.

This tool is called Gardner’s Theory of MultipleIntelligences.  It is somewhat controversial in that it is based on the rather “soft” science of behavioral psychology which has more to do with enculturation than how the brain operates.  However, like astrology sometimes seems to…  Okay, it’s a little more accurate than astrology… the Multiple Intelligences thing WORKS!!!

Gardner has put forth the idea that people express preferences for certain types of stimuli and expression.  His original work included 7 categories:

·         Verbal/linguistic-  reading, writing, & speaking
·         Logic/mathematical- numbers, patterns, & sequencing
·         Visual/spatial- drawing, sculpting, building
·         Kinesthetic- body, movement, athletics, dance
·         Musical- listening, singing, playing music
·         Interpersonal- engaging with people
·         Intrapersonal- introspective, wise about one’s self, self-expression

Another category, Naturalism- orientation toward the natural world, has been added and another, Technological- orientation toward technology is sometimes included in the list.

This concept is a very handy way to make lessons more interesting and appealing to students who dread holding a pencil and despise reading. 

In a study of about 50 7th-12th grade students I found that orientation toward Verbal/Linguistic types of learning and expression was, in general, the least often expressed as the dominant preference in individual students.  And yet it is the dominant form of teaching and assessment in schools!  Most interesting to me, when I averaged out all of the dominant forms of expression, they were almost equally distributed among all of the Intelligences, reinforcing the need to distribute teaching and activities among the different Intelligences.

As a teaching tool, Gardner’s theory is great, but the most important aspect to me is that it empowers students to believe inthemselves. 

Imagine a student who struggles at reading and writing and, therefore, despises school.  That student, perhaps a brilliant athlete, a talented artist, or a skilled outdoorsman, is simply biding her time before she can drop out and be rid of hated worksheets forever.  She is suddenly handed the results to a quiz that shows her “Intelligence” for the things that she loves to be extremely high along with a list of activities that would play off her talents to allow her to succeed at the things at which she struggles. 

Who is awesome now?

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that parents and teachers profile themselves and their students using the following websites.  They are both designed for adults and older students but an upper elementary student may benefit from them with the help of a teacher or parent.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Backwards Design: A lesson in education for parents.

When my daughter, Colleen, is 25 she will email me a picture of herself on a beach South of Barcelona.  She will be pointing at a pod of dolphins splashing in the sandy shallows of the brilliant blue Mediterranean.  The email will also include a link to a news article about her boss at some European Union summit.  There will be a snapshot of two official-looking older people shaking hands and smiling at the camera.  Colleen will be in the background, smartly dressed and holding a briefcase.  She will be staring at the gilded wainscoting with her mouth slightly open.  I will laugh at the picture.  I will also be slightly annoyed that she won’t make it home for Christmas.

My three children; Colleen 14, Morgan 4, & Quinn almost 2
Colleen is currently fourteen years old and a freshman in high school.  I have 10 ½ years to get her from our little town in Alaska to where I want to see her when she’s 25.  3 ½ really as there won’t be a whole lot I can do to influence her decisions after she graduates from high school.  Other than hope that everything I've taught her has sunk in.

In education this idea of getting your kids where you want to see them is called “backwards design.”  Rather than plugging along at the curriculum, doing what you think you ought to be doing, then testing on the material that you’ve covered, you decide your objective first.  What do you want your kids to know or, more importantly, what do you want your kids to be able to do? After you’ve decided your objective, you decide how you will assess or test whether or not your kids can do what you want them to do.  Then you figure out how to get them to that point.

Pile of building materials that randomly & holistically morphed into a 5 room, 32x20, 2-story addition to our home.  Not.
Think about this in terms of building a house.  One does not start with a pile of materials and begin randomly hammering & sawing, hoping for the best.  If that technique is used, one can imagine that a significant amount of time would be spent fixing problems that you, yourself created through lack of foresight.  Believe me, I’m in the process of building a house, I know.  The smart (and usual) way to go about constructing something is to plan first, then draw up your materials list, then begin, using your plans, measuring twice before cutting.

As I begin my teaching residency at a local high school, I have been following the backwards design rule religiously.  I’m a whiz at looking up national, state, Common Core, cultural, and district standards to figure out how to decide what my kids need to do/know.  Then I dig through the internet and my methods text to decide how they will prove to me that I have been successful in my teaching.  Then I will design a series of lessons/steps to get us to where we need to be by the end of the unit.

I have been particularly inspired by a Christmas present to myself, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  I ran across the title while doing some shopping on Amazon and found her ideas and writing style instantly engrossing.  Her work with curriculum innovation and the Common Core State Standards is doing a lot to bring the United States’ education system out of the 1800’s and into the 2000’s.  A particularly enjoy how she has declared war on the #2 pencil.

I have heard a lot about “traditional” skills and knowledge but since the threat of the end of the Mayan calendar has now passed, I’m hoping that more people will embrace the idea that our children’s future is uncertain.  I’m hoping that they will stop doing them a disservice by hobbling them, ensuring that they will be unable to compete in the Global Market with some kid in India who lives in a cardboard box but knows how to create a podcast.  Tony Wagner’s The GlobalAchievement Gap does a fair job of explaining how our pigheaded faith inThe Three “R’s” is rendering us obsolete.

I would like to make it very plain that my audience here is not a community of educators.  They’ve heard all of this.  They know what they should be doing and if they aren’t doing it, they are ignoring that Educational Psychology class they took way back before they got their license.  They are ignoring every inservice they’ve ever been to.  And, perhaps worst of all, they have not spend any time on the website of George Lucas’ beautiful non-profit, Edutopia.  So, basically, they don’t give a damn about your kids.  If they aren’t trying their hardest to implement 21st Century education into their school.

My audience here is parents.  Yes.  That’s right.  You.  Mom and Dad, Auntie, Uncle, Grandma, Grandpa, Foster whatever…  Whoever out there who is responsible for feeding and clothing a child is also responsible for educating them. 

What are the schools for, you ask?  The schools are there to do what YOU tell them to do.  Look around at successful schools and school districts.  Are they filled with children whose parents don’t give a damn about education?  No.  They have parents who are the squeaky wheels.  The “helicopter parents” who advocate, oversee, and, basically, make the lives of the principals, superintendents, and school board members a living hell if the educational needs of their children are not met.

I am the best/worst sort of "helicopter parent."
Keeping in mind that most educators have invested the same amount of time and money into their own education as your average doctor or lawyer and, therefore, have some level of expertise in their field which should be acknowledged if not respected; parents, ultimately, know what is best for their kids, or they would, if they paid a bit of attention to what is going on in the world.

Sound a bit harsh?  Good.

Backwards design works as well in parenting as it does in teaching.  Ask yourself, “Where do I want my kid to be in 10 years, 20, 30?”  “How do I want them to live?”  “What opportunities do I want them to have?”  Of COURSE you can’t plan your kids’ life out to the last detail but using the “they will rebel and do what they want anyway” line is about the biggest cop-out on the planet.

I know it’s hard.  Who can see the future?  But aside from being good, moral, compassionate individuals, your kids are going to need to know a lot more than how to tie their shoes.  So get to it.