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Applying MI in Schools

Applying MI in Schools

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Published by Adam Simpson

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Published by: Adam Simpson on Jun 16, 2012
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09/15/2013

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Prepared by Michael J. Thomas
1. The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) has been seized by so many educators because it hastwo powerful attractions. First, of course, is that when viewed through an MI lens, morechildren succeed. Put another way, when teachers offer different pathways for students to learn – rather than just filtering all information and learning through the "scholastic intelligences" more students find success in school. MI isn't a solution, and direct instruction andmemorization of facts have their place in school. That said, an MI approach is "child-centered";educators begin by looking at how the child learns and then work to develop curriculum,instruction, and assessment based on this information. (Conversely, in most schools, a"curriculum-centered" approach is used as educators bend the students to fit the curriculum.)Intuitively, of course, most of us understand that children learn in different ways. After all, asadults, we still learn differently. Thus we see MI as a tool to help us reach more kids, as a way tobecome better educators. That attraction of MI inheres in its definition.2. A second feature of MI, though, one which may not be as obvious, is that using MI transformsthe role of the teacher. In traditional schools, teachers typically rely on – are often tied to – textbooks and other mandated curriculum materials. In these situations, the main purpose is oftenscoring well on standardized tests. Naturally, then, materials are purchased which preparestudents for the tests; the closer the match between the curriculum and what is tested, the"better" the curriculum. Aside from the losses to students – which are considerable – thisapproach also has a negative effect on teachers. How much fun can it be to read from a script allday? What's the message to us about our competencies when everything is set out andpredetermined by a faraway publisher?3. Most teachers went into education because they like working with children and playing a rolein a child's growth. They also enjoy being creative, being "on stage," using their talents, and,most of all, being a problem solver. They
relish
the thought of figuring out a way to reachJohnny, to get Maria excited about learning, to help An-Lin begin to believe in herself. At theend of a day, when a teacher comes home physically tired and emotionally drained (an everyday occurrence), satisfaction comes not from reflecting on how many workbook pages werecovered or how well the teacher's guide was followed. Satisfaction, feeling like a professional,comes from knowing that you've made a difference in a child's life. It comes from knowing thatyou brought your curricular expertise, knowledge of pedagogy, and understanding of childdevelopment together to reach your students. MI allows teachers to do just that. Whencurriculum, instruction, assessment, and pedagogy are viewed through an MI perspective, thereare a
myriad
of ways for student to learn. When MI is the approach, the teacher relies on his /her wisdom to find the right method to make learning meaningful.4. In an MI setting, not only are students more likely to learn and teachers more likely to bringtheir creativity to the fore, but other opportunities are presented as well. Viewing intelligencesas multidimensional and understanding that all children have many different talents has thepotential to change the discourse among a faculty. Faculty and committee meetings can move
 
Prepared by Michael J. Thomas
from simply the transmission of information to discussions about learning and student growth.Teaching can change from something that is done by individual teachers to a collaborative,collegial endeavor in which the entire faculty works and grows together. This philosophy(believing in MI really is a philosophy of education) also enables teachers to change the dialoguewith students' parents, both what is discussed and how it is discussed.5. The vision that I have described is true; I see it, elements of it each and every day where Iwork. I also hear about it from educators across the country who send me email messagesabout their progress. But it is also elusive. Indeed, the considerable
merits
of an MI approachaside, it is precisely because MI is so difficult to attain that, realistically, I feel that its use willnever become the norm in most schools. However, the acceptance and use of MI has
mushroomed
over the last five years. (The faculty of New City School began pursuing MI in1988 and for quite a few years our efforts were treated with some skepticism, as if MI was anovelty, a fad. Fortunately, that has changed. For the past several years, more than 700educators have visited New City School each year and I receive between five and twenty emailseach week, from teachers and principals around the world, people I've not met, but people whoare interested in learning more about MI.) But still, despite this enthusiasm, the use of MI hasonly scratched the surface among educators.
 
6. Why is this? There are several
impediments
to the acceptance and use of MI:
 
1. Parents not seeing the value of an MI approach, not understanding how using MI can helptheir children to be successful.2. Educators, particularly administrators, being so focused on short-term gains and standardizedtest results that they only focus on the scholastic intelligences.3. Teachers being reluctant to expend the time and energy necessary to bring MI to life in theirclassrooms.Fortunately, each of these obstacles can be addressed.7. Parent education, something which should be highly valued in any school, becomes a majorpriority in an MI school. Because none of the students' parents will have attended an MI school,educators need to help them understand how the intelligences are used and that their childrenare learning. (Oddly, sometimes parents are the most
skeptical
about the soundness of anacademic program because their children tell them that school is fun!) As logical and simple asall of these steps may sound, however, they are difficult to do. This is primarily because mosteducators don't appreciate the value of educating parents. Too often the parent-teacherrelationship becomes us vs. them. Teachers, often with justification, fear that more parentcommunications will lead to more parent criticism. And all too often, when teachers do try toinvolve and educate their students' parents, the parents do not respond.8. To each of these hesitations, I'd argue that an MI approach facilitates teacher-parentcommunication. Parents who are critical of schools are often so because they are wary. Simply
 
Prepared by Michael J. Thomas
put, they aren't sure that their child is learning (or, worse, they know – they've been told – thattheir child isn't learning). When parents view their children's progress through an MI lens,however, the gains are quite obvious. By reviewing the contents of a child's portfolio, forexample, or by attending (or seeing videotapes of) student presentations and performances, thegains are clear and striking. Over time, the enthusiasm and excitement about learning that isgenerated by an MI approach will result in students doing better on traditional measures aswell.9. The effectiveness of MI is supported by the findings of a study conducted by Harvard'sProjectZero. In interviewing the principals of 41 schools using MI, 78% of them said that their schoolshad realized gains on standardized achievement scores and 63% attributed the growth to"practices inspired by MI theory." (Not surprisingly, the use of MI paid other benefits in theseschools as well: 78% of the schools reported improved performances by students havinglearning difficulties, 80% reported improvement in parent participation, and 81% reportedimproved student discipline.) Anecdotally, I can readily extol the virtues of MI. Because of ourMI focus, our children are more likely to find learning fun and less likely to find school boring.Discipline problems tend to disappear when students are excited about learning and findingsuccess.10. Some teachers, of course, try to involve parents. They do all the right things, but still, despitetheir efforts, few parents come to school or get involved. It isn't that these parents love theirchildren any less. It could be that these parents are unable to get away from work, that theydon't have the flexibility to be present during the day (which is why sending home videos of students' performances and progress is good). But it may also be that these parents,themselves, struggled in school, that for them, walking into the building is a reminder of theirpersonal frustration and failure. (This is compounded if their children are having schooldifficulties. For regardless of how well we present our concerns, parents who hear that theirchildren are failing also hear that they are failing as parents.) But by using MI, by offering parentnights in which the parents can engage in the same activities that students do during the day –use their intelligences – we can begin to reduce some of the fear or cynicism that parents bringto the table.11. Educators, particularly administrators, have a clear goal: success on standardized tests.While it is easy to criticize this narrow goal, the reality is that education has become politicized.These same educators would tell us that they are aware of how limited and limiting this focus is,but they feel they have no choice. In any case, given this focus, teachers need to helpadministrators understand that students will perform better on any measure – particularlythose children for whom success in school is elusive, the kinds of children who typically farepoorly on a standardized test – when learning is fun and when they look forward to school.None of us enjoy failure and children are no different. Is it any wonder that students don't dowell on standardized tests when their daily educational message is "You're not smart"? Bycreating an environment in which more talents are recognized and in which more children cansucceed, students will naturally approach school with more enthusiasm and interest.

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