Dickie Wada-Thomas has many years of teaching experience across primary school and is now ICT Co-ordinator. Dickie has two children of his own. Follow him on Twitter @dickiewt.
Imagine at the end of a school year, before meeting parents for the final time, you find yourself in a position where you have a student that academically you feel has made very little progress. You have seen them grow and develop in so many other ways but their grades in Maths, English and other traditional subjects show very little difference from the start of the year. How would you deal with this situation?
This got me thinking about how we capture student learning, how it is then shared with parents and what we are actually assessing and reporting on. I also started to think of my own two children. The elder one is quite academic and gets on with ‘school stuff’ quite independently. The younger one finds basic numeracy and literacy challenging and needs a lot of support from both my wife and me. I have often described to my family and friends that my children are ‘wired differently’. They are both intelligent children but in different ways. My eldest enjoys words and numbers and is a bit of a bookworm, whereas my youngest loves being creative and is a wonderful communicator (for a 6 year old!!). She has great empathy with others and is really supportive and tolerant of her friends.
Considering the original situation, my own children and children in general, this led me to question that as teachers at an IB School, should we not be celebrating and capturing the successes children have across the whole curriculum and the student’s whole school life experience, recognise that children are intelligent in different ways and stop the success criteria purely being based on phases, continuums and grades. The IB Learner Profile Attributes and Attitudes give us as teachers a wonderful opportunity to look at the whole child but only a small part of the report card is dedicated to this.
As a specialist teacher in ICT I have the great fortune of working with every child in the school and see so many of them come alive when they use technology as a tool to aid their learning. Colleagues have often commented about how they see some of the students in their class become switched on and excel when technology is involved. They are motivated and engaged by it and, as digital natives, they find so much of it intuitive. From experience as a teacher over many years, I have also seen other students express themselves more readily in Drama, Music, Art, PE and other specialist subjects as opposed to the more traditional academic ones.
It has been widely recognised and acknowledged that everyone learns in different ways, be it visual, audio or kinesthetic. Are we therefore doing our students a disservice if we do not acknowledge that they are intelligent in different ways? Shouldn’t a school report celebrate the whole child and a portfolio capture every aspect of their school life rather than most of it being dedicated to academic success?
Howard Gardner in 1983 published his book ‘Frames of Mind’. In it he describes how he was concerned about the stress in school being based on two forms of symbol use :- Linguistic symbolisation and logical-mathematical symbolisation. These two forms of symbols used are what most schools around the world use to monitor and measure the progress and development of children. Gardner argued that human beings are better thought of as possessing a number of relatively independent faculties, rather than having a certain amount of intellectual faculties (or IQ) that can be simply channeled in one or other direction. He called these faculties ‘Multiple Intelligences’.
The image above identifies these multiple intelligences and the table below gives a brief description of each.
|Verbal Linguistic||Well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words|
|Logical – Mathematical||Ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical and numerical patterns|
|Naturalistic||Ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature|
|Intrapersonal||Capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes|
|Visual-Spatial||Capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly|
|Musical||Ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber|
|Bodily-Kinesthetic||Ability to control one’s body movements and to handle objects skillfully|
|Interpersonal||Capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others|
With regard to the students you have taught over your career, I challenge you to reflect on how many students you have taught, who were not strong in the two most common forms of intelligence that we use to measure academic ability; Verbal-Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical but who showed strengths in the other forms of intelligence which Gardner mentions.
With your reflections in mind, would you not agree with the focus of this blog, that it is now our responsibility as teachers to plan, assess and reflect upon learning engagements that relate to multiple intelligences rather than just traditional forms of measuring intelligence throughout the curriculum.
Although Gardner himself, 20 years after publishing ‘Frames of Mind’, has acknowledged that many people have misinterpreted his theory of multiple intelligences and that he himself, as a psychologist rather than an educator, never actually developed his theory to be applied directly to education, his work should lead every educator to question their practice, look at every child as an individual and in doing so, transform curriculums so they harness all of the multiple intelligences. The result of this is, I hope, that no teacher will ever have to panic about their student/s not showing progress; parents not worrying about their child’s lack of ‘academic ability’ and most importantly, every child feeling growth, success and celebrating their own individual progress.
“An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings.”
Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind (1983)
“Howard Gardner: Leaders as Storytellers.” Conversations on Leadership Wisdom from Global Management Gurus (2015): 123-40. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. Web. <http://www.niu.edu/facdev/resources/guide/learning/howard_gardner_theory_multiple_intelligences.pdf