Guest post: If only we were all the same (by Dickie Wada-Thomas)

WADA-THOMAS-Dickie(1)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. <


  1. Hi! I enjoyed the article. Even though Learning Styles has been debunked by recent research I think the overall idea is still applicable. Engaging students in multiple modalities helps with engagement, attention and processing. Some of the strategies listed above also help with processing information so that it goes from short-term to long-term memory.

    1. Hi Mindcraftresearch,
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your focus on engagement and deeper learning. Connected to this, there must be a greater focus on experiential learning as opposed to more traditional methods, which would lead to better differentiation and more individualised learning for students.
      My overall focus on this post and my teaching practise, is for every child to feel success and growth.

  2. A great post Dickie, raising some very important issues.

    I think you would really like ‘New Kinds of Smart’ by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas. In this book, they bring together the work of others like Gardner, Art Costa and Carol Dweck and discuss how schools can embrace what we now know about intelligences and how to foster them in schools. I especially connected with the idea of social intelligence, a term originally coined by Daniel Goleman. That learning is a social function in which we work in communities of learners to create and solve problems. As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. I think the PYP really embraces this through the idea of collaborative inquiry.

    I really enjoyed your post. Well done,

    1. Hi Ross,
      Thanks so much for reading my post and your comments.
      I will add ‘New Kinds of Smart’ to my reading list.
      I wholeheartedly agree with you about the notion of social intelligence and learning is a social function but ask myself, do all students today want to learn in a social environment surrounded by others? With the onset of YouTube and other social media as ‘learning environments’, do all students (especially those ones who feel pressure in social arenas) have to work in communities of learning or today are there other platforms that we can explore?
      Just throwing that out there!

      1. Hi Ross/Dickie,

        An interesting discussion! Susan Cain, author of various books about introversion, states that technology is a fantastic tool to use as preparation for classroom collaboration. Students who are normally uncomfortable working collaboratively, or have their voice drowned out by the loud children, are given a platform to express their ideas comfortably first. They then go into collaborative environment with new confidence.

        I have seen this for myself using tools such as Google Classroom and Padlet. Giving students time to think, express and collaborate online first gives every student a voice in the classroom. Cain argues that every child needs to learn to work alone sometimes and work together sometimes.

        I have also added ‘New Kinds of Smart’ to my reading list! Thanks for sharing!



      2. Dickie / Adam,
        I totally agree. We need to cater for all types of learning styles. Social learning can take place in many ways and on different platforms, but the world we live in requires both individual and collaborative creativity and knowledge construction. I think Adam hit the nail on the head. Balance is the key. I love Susan Cain’s TED talk, ‘The Power of the Introvert’

        Another must read is Daniel Pink’s ‘A Whole New Mind’.

  3. Great post!! I “failed” in school since I failed Maths. Thankfully, approaches to teaching and learning have moved on a lot since then and I believe in the IB for my children because of its emphasis on so much more than literacy and numeracy.

    I studied Gardner and MI years ago and haven’t thought of it lately. (Should No 4 br INTRApersonal?). Funnily enough, I was speaking with a highly respected educator a few months ago and expressing some concern over one of my two children – the “dreamer” who seems struggles a lot of the time. The educator reassured me by highlighting my child’s strengths and now I realise she was referring to several of Garner’s MIs. The intelligence she seemed to value above all others was interpersonal.

    1. Hi Ruth,

      Thanks for supporting the post and for your comment.

      I totally agree about the IB and I am glad that your children’s talents are being valued. Nobody should ‘fail’ school in the same way that you did. Children can’t fail school, but schools can fail children.

      The mistake was actually mine! I assumed that Dickie made a mistake and I ‘corrected’ it for him! Haha! I have changed it back.



    2. Dear Ruth,
      Great to read your comments and I have a lot of empathy with what you have said.
      I found Maths such a challenge at school because of the way it was taught and only grew to like it when I did my teaching practise, as the concepts delivered became more relevant to every day life as opposed to it being abstract to me when I was a child.
      Being able to look at intelligence through two lenses, one as an educator and one as a parent, reinforces the notion that every child is an individual, learns and develops in different ways and at different speeds and we have to celebrate this as opposed to labelling or stigmatising them with ‘academic success criteria’.
      As a ‘dreamer’ myself, it’s a powerful asset!!

  4. Hi Dickie,

    Thank you so much for your effort and congratulations on being my first ever guest blogger. You have set the standard with this thought-provoking post.

    I like how you refer to both of your children as intelligent, but in different ways. I hope that your younger child grows up believing it too, even if her school grades and progress give her a different message. This post will strike a chord with many teachers and parents. It is very sad that traditional schooling values Maths and English at the cost of all other subjects. Children, such as your youngest, are often made to feel like failures if their talents lie elsewhere and are not valued or recognised by education.

    “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will go its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Albert Einstein).

    I’m not sure if Einstein actually said this or not, but who cares? It’s a fantastic quote and connects strongly to your post. No child should believe that they are stupid. We can combat this, as you say, by recognising all intelligences.

    Great post! Well done!


    1. Hi Adam,
      Thanks for reading my post and your comments.
      As you have touched upon, we are still stuck in a post Industrialised Revolution education and assessment system which decides to distinguish between those who can and those who can’t by , in your words, ‘traditional schooling values’.
      Reports arguably still put far too greater focus on these said values.
      Until we redefine assessments and reports and there is a paradigm shift towards capturing ‘multiple intelligences’ and celebrating the whole child, we will continue to live in a world of those who can or can’t.
      Strong sentiments I agree but this is something I feel very passionately about.
      Will be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
      All the best,

      1. Hi Dickie,

        I couldn’t agree more. The obstacle to change, I guess, is teacher accountability. Teachers are accountable for what happens in their classrooms and for their students’ learning, and rightly so! Grades and continuums are a concrete way to show progress and therefore teacher effectiveness. Until there is a concrete way to evidence the growth of ‘the whole child’, I’m afraid that teachers will continue to prioritise, and sometimes panic over, Maths and English.

        How can we evidence wider growth in a concrete way? Subjective comments and casual observations are not concrete enough to hold us accountable. If only there was a test to measure maturity, communication, kind-heartedness, tolerance, risk-taking, teamwork, etc.


        This post is really making me think this morning! Thanks for that!


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