A #eltchinwag summary by Peter Lahiff of Future Learning, Dublin.
Peter is a course designer and academic manager who has worked in ELT for 15 years. He is a Teacher trainer on the Swan Training Institute’s CELT course and is Academic Director of Future Learning Ireland, developing and implementing innovative technology enhanced young learner summer language courses.
He is @LahiffP on Twitter.
Of all the #eltchinwags, this was the one I was most sorry to have missed and was eager to take on the summary so I could catch up on all the juicy contributions.
The trouble with the Multiple Intelligences theory is that it says something which we all feel to be true about ourselves and others but which doesn’t seem to stand up to a rigorous examination of the evidence.
Russ Mayne, @ebefl, true to the principles of evidence based efl which he espouses, set the scene for this chinwag by tweeting a couple of links to articles that were critical of the theory and its application in curriculum design. Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences by Daniel T. Wllingham, Summer 2004, Education Next. He also tweeted a link to the article on Multiple Intelligences on Illinois Loop, which includes this and a whole array of other references on the issue.
@ebefl: Gardner doesn’t like the way MI is used by teachers…except when he does (Quote highlighted from, ‘Reframing the Mind’).
On the subject of pedagogy, Gardner sees no benefit in attempting to teach all subjects using all of the intelligences. He also expresses concern that some educators have a shallow understanding of what it takes to really engage an intelligence. Gardner writes, “It may well be easier to remember a list if one sings it (or dances to it). However, these uses of the ‘materials’ of all intelligence are essentially trivial. What is not trivial is the capacity to think musically.” It is therefore surprising that Gardner wrote the preface for Thomas Armstrong’s book, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, which includes many such trivial ideas, such as singing spellings and spelling with leaves and twigs, as mentioned earlier. In the preface Gardner says that Armstrong provides “a reliable and readable account of my work.” The inconsistency in Gardeners views is difficult to understand, but I believe he is right in calling some applications trivial.
@ebefl: When I argue against MI theory people seem to assume I’m in favour of lecturing students and treating them all the same. #eltchinwag
In the interests of science your writer did this test from BGFL that went up on the ELT Ireland Facebook in advance and posted the results on twitter #eltchinwag. These are my intelligences outlined:
@Lahiffp: My multiple intelligences. Verbal, not musical, prefer hearing to reading, see patterns and like diagrams. I’d also sooner try and fail and try again than read the instructions and apart from cycling I’m not that ‘body smart’.
@bpiki tweeted this useful description of how multiple intelligences is interpreted in practice. (source link removed from original post)
@ChristineMulla followed this with a link to a book on the same topic, A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom, by Michael Brennan. So the scene was set for the discussion that follows which starts quietly enough and then gets quite heated at times. The tweets have been selected and slightly edited in places to give a readable flow to the discussion but the views expressed are faithfully reproduced in this summary.
ELTIreland: Good evening chinwaggers. So, what do we understand multiple intelligences to be? #eltchinwag
ChristineMulla: (On the BGFL test of Multiple Intelligences) 40 questions to get your spread of intelligence. I’ve used it with students too. They were v. interested in seeing where their strengths lie. Not just seeing, confirming for themselves.
EdLaur: I’d used sth similar before in class as discussion material, but never really followed up.
ChristineMulla:: Yes, it’s one thing id’ing, another then knowing what to do.
McLaughlinLou: Interesting reading…liking Gardener correcting some misunderstandings…in best position
ChristineMulla: Loved the pron one. Just so full of activities. Print, stick on wall, reference.
EdLaur: I was interested in R Mayne’s blog post against the concept
Louiseguyett: I think MIs do exist, difficulty is trying to appeal to so many in one class.
ChristineMulla: @Louiseguyett Absolutely. I think almost every1 has MIs – but how do we attend to them all? Learn top 5 in each Ss and appeal?
McLaughlinLou: @Louiseguyett @ChristineMull Will have to get back to you on that 😉
Louiseguyett: @ChristineMulla good idea Christine. But can be difficult with continuous enrolment asking every new st to do a test . . And then you’ve got the whole issue with having to use a course book. Variety is key I think.
ChristineMulla: @Louiseguyett Yes, I agree wholly with that one. Almost impossible sadly.
McLaughlinLou: @Louiseguyett @ChristineMulla Interesting with course books…Many YL c/bks make reference to MI whereas most adult c/bks don’t #eltchinwag
ChristineMulla: @McLaughlinLou @Louiseguyett Yes, was reading that lots of schools’ve adopted and changed courses to incorporate MIs in schools. #eltchinwag
EdLaur: A lot of material I found online is very generic. No real ideas for further use
McLaughlinLou: @EdLaur @ChristineMulla agreed, sometimes it comes across as simply paying lip service to an idea without a stand either way #eltchinwag
EdLaur: @McLaughlinLou @ChristineMulla Exactly. Didn’t really inspire me to delve deeper. (Though I know it could be interesting)
bpiki: We having to careful not to confuse MI with learning styles. I think we already incorporate this theory in our teaching. Songs, ball games, running dictation
LangTeachersIre: What’s the difference between catering to multiple learning styles and multiple intelligences?
Louiseguyett: @bpiki Definitely, guess that’s why all those activities were thought of in the first place.
bpiki: as with all theory, sometimes its effective sometimes its not but I think that depends how well you understand the theory
EdLaur: @bpiki Is theory worth spending time on? Do we not probably cater to MI anyway, by trying different tasks to keep Ss engaged?
ChristineMulla: @bpiki This is what I’m thinking, thus it confuses me when people say they are ‘against’ the idea. Isn’t it 2nd nature to cater?
EdLaur: @bpiki True. Simple for Ts to confuse & decide to just focus on L/Styles- as easy option.
bpiki: furthermore MI ties in with vigotskys socio constructivism as well as other L centred theories
ELTIreland: What’s the difference between catering to multiple learning styles and multiple intelligences?
harrisonmike: @ChristineMulla @bpiki I think it’s more that grandiose claims are made when people say they cater to multiple intelligences or that if you don’t reference MI that you’re missing a trick.
bpiki: @harrisonmike dont believe it has anything to do with grandoise if its part n parcel of your normal practice
bpiki: MI is really just a recognition that we r all intelligent n tap in2 particular means 2 tackle tasks. MI is recognition that we all have intellect and r unique due 2 the varying dominance of some intelligence over others. Multi learning styles is the preferred way one learns… what are your thoughts?
EdLaur: @harrisonmike @ChristineMulla @bpik I agree.
harrisonmike: re multiple intelligence theory – it is just good practice to vary how you deliver material/content but it doesn’t make explicitly addressing ‘multiple intelligences’ (if you can classify them) a silver [bullet]
ChristineMulla: @harrisonmike @bpiki Don’t we all ‘cater’ to different style/intelligences by varying activities anyway? #eltchinwag
harrisonmike: @ChristineMulla @bpiki unless you’re a very bad teacher, varying activities and delivery methods happens naturally #eltchinwag
McLaughlinLou: @ChristineMulla @Louiseguyett Wonder how many ELT-ers have adopted this over the years? Maybe w/out making a conscious decision Do you think this found its way down to training or was simply at the forefront of the course.
MihaelaOlariu: @ChristineMulla @McLaughlinLou @Louiseguyett how would that be any different from any commun. class with vari practice actvs? I think I get all of the intelligence types in two weeks, with reg cls.
McLaughlinLou: @EdLaur @Louiseguyett @ChristineMulla Absolutely! Recently came across “new approaches” claim for YL c/book- of course it wasn’t
ChristineMulla: @harrisonmike @bpiki Totally, that’s why I don’t really get the against camp. The theory, to me, seems like; well… I’d teach to it without actually knowing it.
harrisonmike: Essentially…via @marekandrews “Treat your students as people first, learners second, and learners of English third, and then maybe some English might get learnt”.
harrisonmike: @bpiki but people sell books based on ‘catering to multiple intelligences’ among other things #eltchinwag
bpiki: @harrisonmike mike good practice seems to be a sweeping term that umbrellas all learner centred theory.
harrisonmike: @bpiki when there is a commercial link to promoting a methodology, or vogue theory I’m sceptical
bpki: @harrisonmike people also sell books on good practice, classroom activities etc
harrisonmike: @bpiki many people out to make a buck! But good practice is good practice, why the need to link it to flaky theory?
ChristineMulla: @harrisonmike @bpiki Maybe theory is needed by some to define ‘good practice.’ Other types of learners one might say. #eltchinwag
bpki: @harrisonmike I wouldn’t agreed that MI is flaky. There are many terms that fly around, all essentially telling us the same.
harrisonmike: @bpiki Gardner distanced himself from how people appropriated his theory… #eltchinwag
bpki: @harrisonmike you make some interesting points
harrisonmike: @bpiki I’m thinking and learning too. Dialogue is learning, for teachers as well #eltchinwag
ELTIreland: So, is the MI theory and its application in edu simply what comes naturally to teachers?
MihaelaOlariu: @ChristineMulla @bpiki think it’s the only way with clas of inconsistent lev, all ages, cultural diversity, diff lev. motivation
bpki: it might be worth noting that we all as educators take from theory what works and disregard what doesn’t
ChristineMulla: @MihaelaOlariu @bpiki Do you think somehow knowing their intelligences would make teaching easier? #eltchinwag
ebefl: @EdLaur @bpiki yup. Catering to different students is fine. MI is unproven and unnecessary #eltchinwag
bpki: I personally find MI, experiential learning theory and socio constructivism interesting
harrisonmike: @bpiki might be better to be sceptical and investigate what does/doesn’t work, “… any claim that a particular method or resource is ‘good’ or ‘best practice’ needs to be met with the following questions” Who says so? On what evidence? Using What criteria? ‘Best for whom” under what conditions? What what type of students?’ – Coffield, F & S. Edward, British Educational Journal Vol. 35, No. 3, June 2009, p 376.
ChristineMulla: @ebefl @EdLaur @bpiki But don’t you think that knowing x Ss are engaged by music/ x through working with others can be helpful?
bpki: @ChristineMulla I think we naturally discover their blend of intelligences thru time with them n their reactions 2 our lessons
ChristineMulla: @bpiki I think so too. For me the theory reminds me to remember the variety, but I’d see it without it I think.
harrisonmike: @ChristineMulla @MihaelaOlariu @bpiki personally I found doing learning styles questionnaires (diff I know) of little use to me … so think a load of different categories would be less helpful … Keep it simple: learners are learners, they like learning in different ways sometimes, try out things to see if they work?
bpki: @harrisonmike I agree. as with all theory these questions should be asked. Is that not part of ‘good practice’?
EdLaur: @ChristineMulla I’m skeptical. I see potential for focusing attention too much on fixed theory, not on Ss at the moment
harrisonmike: My question to supporters is how do you cater to 8(?) MIs and 80 ish LS in a class?
ChristineMulla: @harrisonmike @MihaelaOlariu @bpiki Yeah, me too in a multi-lingual class. Did one in China with early teens that worked.i Ss weren’t self-aware at all. From that stance, see where it cld be used 4 autonomy.
ebefl: Vary your classes, make them interesting. Present material in various ways but forget about MI 🙂
whippler: In most priv. lang. school contexts, we can only plan 4 students we know from last wk. So shd we assume which MIs to cater for? We should assume that they’ll be there and that they’ll be alive – after that it’s up to them to an extent, no? … I like what’s being said: continue varying. That works for planning in our contexts.
bpki: essentially MI theory gives those of us whom include variety n good practice another means to express how we differentiate
harrisonmike: Remember, even if you focus on MI in your classes, it’s only a small part of the picture – Individual Differences Count (by Mike Harrison, Mar 7th 2010)
ChristineMulla: @ebefl Aren’t you addressing MI in doing the above, whether aware or not? It’s all one and the same for me. #eltchinwag
bpiki: @ebefl I understand your scepticism, yet find your dismissal of theory surprising. I agree that we should focus on the leaner
harrisonmike: @bpiki I think you can teach the person (ie humanistic approaches) but you don’t need to reference MI necessaril …, teach the person in your class first and foremost and you can’t go wrong, but no need to find out categories of MI just consult regularly and ask/test what works or doesn’t work … is practice informed by theory or vice versa? Do we search for theory to match what we do or do we do it bc of theory? #eltchinwag
bpiki: @harrisonmike agreed in part , if you already know MI as well as other theories no harm having a better reflection on ur work
ebefl: @bpiki variety is great but I worry it gives legitimacy to something akin to horoscopes. Would you cater to ss’ star signs? Does anyone seriously cater for existential learners? #curious. “Some proponents of multiple intelligence theory proposed spiritual or religious intelligence as a possible additional type.”
harrisonmike: @ebefl by asking them to think about what learning could be hidden behind a closed door? #eltchinwag
bpiki: @harrisonmike haha good. funny point
On that lighter note we will leave it, but to round out the discussion here are two more quotes from the article Reframing the Mind and below are two more links worth a read.
Gardner has been careful to say that he has proposed a scientific theory that should not be mistaken for a prescription for schooling. He makes clear that the educational implications of children’s possessing multiple intelligences can and should be drawn, but he believes that many possible curricula and methods could be consistent with the theory. The sole general implication he supports is that children’s minds are different, and an education system should take account of those differences, a point developed in diverse ways by his many followers.
Gardner offers his own idea of how multiple intelligence theory might be applied to education. Teachers should introduce a topic with different entry points, each of which taps primarily on one intelligence. For example the narrational entry point uses a story (and taps linguistic intelligence), whereas the logical entry point encourages the use of deductive logic in first thinking about a topic. Entry points are designed to intrigue the student via a presentation in an intelligence that is a particular strength for him or her. Gardner also believes that a thorough understanding of a topic is achieved only through multiple representations using different intelligences. Hence significant time must be invested to approach a topic from many different perspectives, and topics should be important enough to merit close study.
An Interview with the Father of Multiple Intelligences: Howard Gardner reflects on his once-radical theory. By Owen Edwards on Edutopia, April 1, 2009.
Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles.’ By Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, October 16, 2013