Saturday, November 11, 2006

MI circus

Recently, I had occasion to watch Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory in action. The theory took the form of a questionnaire to be given to students. Instruction is to be geared to the "intelligences" of each student as uncovered by the questionnaire. The questions were culled from a book called So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences.

According to the latest count there are eight intelligences, though more are rumored to come. I was most curious about the bodily-kinesthetic and naturalist "intelligences". What questions would be asked to determine if a student fits these categories? Now I know the asnwer. A student has a naturalist intelligence if he gives a high rating to the following questions (a sample only):

I like being outside whenever possible. [Who woldn't prefer the outdoors to a stuffy classroom?]

I am good at forecasting changes in natural phenomena (e.g. rain and the coming of seasons). [Gee, I can predict the seasons. Less so snow and rain]

I like hiking and camping. [Don't most kids?]

I feel comfortable and confident outdoors. [So do I, but not when grizzly bears or rattlesnakes are around]

Here are a few bodily-kinesthetic questions:

I often talk with my hands. [In some countries like Italy and Argentina it's part of the culture]

If I can't move around, I get bored. [Who wants to sit around all day?]

I need to manipulate things with my hands to know how they work. [Who doesn't?]

Now I am waiting for the results to come in and for the instructional implications that will flow from them. Classes might have to be held in the wild. Wouldn't that be something.

As Gardner ponders new intelligences, it might serve the learning enterprise much better to adopt the intelligences discovered by Will Fitzhugh and posted at Right on the Left Coast:

In keeping with that view, I offer the following suggestions of Alternative Multiple Intelligences whose development should be most likely to contribute to the education of the majority of our students. Perhaps the most important is Paying Attention Intelligence. Without paying attention, it is truly astounding how much instruction even the average student is capable of ignoring on any given day, and as the word suggests, ignoring is the primrose path to Ignorance. Memorization Intelligence is seen as old fashioned, except when it applies to the names of music groups, sports or movie stars, and clothing or soft drink brands. Nevertheless, if students don’t remember anything, that is pretty close to the same thing as their not knowing anything. If a student is asked for the dates of the United States Civil War or the name of the first female Secretary of Labor, and she says, “I don’t remember,” that is the functional equivalent, for all practical purposes, of admitting, “I don’t know.”

Of course there is a storm of debate among professional educators, or rather between professional educators and the rest of the country, over the importance of knowledge as such, with the educators coming down on the side of correct sentiment fueled by general ignorance and propaganda, but let us put that aside for the moment. If one can accept, at least provisionally, that some knowledge may be useful for some purpose as an outcome of education, then Recognition Intelligence and Recall Intelligence, so useful on tests of knowledge, become central as well. When it comes to writing, I would argue, in the face of the united opposition from the National Council of Teachers of American English, that Punctuation Intelligence and Spelling Intelligence are also essential.

Another often neglected but vital talent for students is Hard Work Intelligence or Diligence Intelligence. We have so often in recent decades taught students that creativity is far more important than work, and that if they are not the smartest student in the class they should give up trying to do their academic work and fall back on their innate creativity and capacity for having fun instead...

There are many other neglected Intelligences not supported by Professor Gardner, such as Courtesy Intelligence, Time Management Intelligence, Turning in Homework Intelligence, Papers in on Time Intelligence, Seeking Extra Help Intelligence, Taking Personal Responsibility Intelligence, Asking Questions Intelligence, etc. In these cases, at least, it seems Tradition still Knows Best...
Daniel T. Willingham critically analyses MI claims here:

What would you think if your child came home from school and reported that the language-arts lesson of the day included using twigs and leaves to spell words? The typical parent might react with curiosity tinged with suspicion: Is working with twigs and leaves supposed to help my child learn to spell? Yes, according to Thomas Armstrong, author of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, especially if your child is high in “naturalist” intelligence—one of eight distinct intelligences that Harvard University scholar Howard Gardner claims to have identified. However, if your child possesses a high degree of what Gardner terms “bodily-kinesthetic” intelligence, Armstrong suggests associating movement with spelling. For example, a teacher might try to connect sitting with consonants and standing with vowels.
It's astonishing how semantic legerdemain can whip educationists into a frenzy. Hardly anyone would have noticed if Gardner had described preferences, abilities, aptitudes and talents instead of labeling these characteristics "intelligences". Much nonsense would have been avoided.


CrypticLife said...

"I like being outside whenever possible. [Who woldn't prefer the outdoors to a stuffy classroom?]"

No, no, no -- these days you'd need to replace these questions (kids test, agree or disagree on 5-point scale):

"On my Nintendo DS, I prefer Animal Crossing over Need for Speed 3"

"I like to watch shows like Animal Planet"

"If I want to know what the weather is like, I look outside"

"Bugs in the house do not give me a panic attack"

Chanman said...

For a great write-up on the absurdness of MI theory, read the book, "Class Warfare" by college professor J. Martin Rochester. He tears the theory to shreds through some entertaining anecdotes of what goes on in the ritzy school district his kids attend.