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Multiple Intelligences: Theory and Practice in Adult ESL

Mary Ann Christison, University of Utah Deborah Kennedy, Key Resources December 1999 The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) broadens the traditional view of intelligence as solely composed of verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical abilities. MI theory maintains that all humans possess at least eight different intelligences that represent a variety of ways to learn and demonstrate understanding. This digest outlines the basic tenets of MI theory and describes how it has been applied in teaching English as a second language (ESL) to adults.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Intelligence has traditionally been defined in terms of intelligence quotient (IQ), which measures a narrow range of verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical abilities. Howard Gardner (1993) argues that humans possess a number of distinct intelligences that manifest themselves in different skills and abilities. All human beings apply these intelligences to solve problems, invent processes, and create things. Intelligence, according to MI theory, is being able to apply one or more of the intelligences in ways that are valued by a community or culture. The current MI model outlines eight intelligences, although Gardner (1999) continues to explore additional possibilities.

Linguistic Intelligence: The ability to use language effectively both orally and in writing. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: The ability to use numbers effectively and reason well. Visual/Spatial Intelligence: The ability to recognize form, space, color, line, and shape and to graphically represent visual and spatial ideas. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: The ability to use the body to express ideas and feelings and to solve problems. Musical Intelligence: The ability to recognize rhythm, pitch, and melody. Naturalist Intelligence: The ability to recognize and classify plants, minerals, and animals. Interpersonal Intelligence: The ability to understand another person's feelings, motivations, and intentions and to respond effectively. Intrapersonal Intelligence: The ability to know about and understand oneself and recognize one's similarities to and differences from others.

Application of MI Theory with Adult ESL Learners

Rather than functioning as a prescribed teaching method, curriculum, or technique, MI theory provides a way of understanding intelligence, which teachers can use as a guide for developing classroom activities that address multiple ways of learning and knowing (Christison, 1999b).

Teaching strategies informed by MI theory can transfer some control from teacher to learners by giving students choices in the ways they will learn and demonstrate their learning. By focusing on problem-solving activities that draw on multiple intelligences, these teaching strategies encourage learners to build on existing strengths and knowledge to learn new content and skills (Kallenbach, 1999). It may also mean the adult learners who have had little success in traditional classrooms where only linguistic and mathematics skills are valued may experience more success when other intelligences are tapped. Likewise, adult ESL learners from cultures where other intelligences-such as interpersonal or musical-are highly valued may find the MI classroom a productive learning environment. Broadly speaking, teachers have developed four ways of using MI theory in the classroom. 1. As a tool to help students develop a better understanding and appreciation of their own strengths and learning preferences. Christison (1999a) has developed an inventory to identify the preferred intelligences of adult English language learners. Learners are asked to respond to six statements about each of eight intelligences. An excerpt follows. Multiple Intelligences Inventory for ESL/EFL Adults Directions: Rate each statement 2, 1, or 0. 2 means you strongly agree. 1 means you are in the middle. 0 means you disagree. Total the points for each intelligence. Compare your scores on the different intelligences. Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. ______ I like to read books, magazines, or newspapers. ______ I often write notes and letters to my friends and family. ______ I like to talk to people at parties. ______ I like to tell jokes. ______ I like to talk to my friends on the phone. ______ I like to talk about things I read.

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. ______ I can do arithmetic easily in my head. ______ I am good at doing a budget. ______ I am good at chess, checkers, or number games. ______ I am good at solving problems. ______ I like to analyze things. ______ I like to organize things. ______ I like crossword puzzles.

Naturalist Intelligence 1. ______ I like houseplants. 2. ______ I have or would like to have a pet.

3. 4. 5. 6.

______ I know the names of many different flowers. ______ I know the names of many different wild animals. ______ I like to hike and to be outdoors. ______ I notice the trees and plants in my neighborhood.

Teachers may adapt the language and accompanying activities to suit the needs of the language learners in their classes. Word finds, pair dictations, dictionary and spelling work, focused listening, and grammar activities can help learners become comfortable with the inventory language even while they are engaged in skills work. Teachers may choose to let the students decide whether or not to score the inventory. Other activities, such as dialog journals, murals or bulletin boards, and small group conversations also offer adult ESL learners opportunities to reflect on their own strengths. The ideas and information that come from these activities can inform learner needs assessment and goal-setting processes. 2. As a tool to develop a better understanding of learners' intelligences. An understanding of MI theory broadens teachers' awareness of their students' knowledge and skills and enables them to look at each student from the perspective of strengths and potential. Teachers also become aware of the different ways in which students may demonstrate their understanding of material. MI theory provides a structured way of understanding and addressing the diversity that ESL instructors often encounter in the classroom (Christison, 1996). On a given topic or skill, teachers can brainstorm with learners a list of activities to practice. For instance, beginners can learn about consumerism by making and labeling collages of merchandise, reading newspaper ads, developing dialogues, or going on a scavenger hunt to the store. In this way, each learner can acquire language skills by employing individual strengths or preferences. 3. As a guide to provide a greater variety of ways for students to learn and to demonstrate their learning. Identification of personal strengths can make students more receptive to nontraditional learning activities and can give students a successful experience that builds their confidence as learners. As learners and teachers work together, intelligences can emerge naturally through partner interviews, preference grids (I can, I like to), and needs assessments. However, some teachers have encountered at least initial resistance to this process of describing intelligences among students whose cultural or educational backgrounds emphasize more traditional modes of teaching and learning (Costanzo & Paxton, 1999). In this case, teachers may choose to focus learners' attention on the language they are practicing through these activities rather than on the theory. (More challenges to using MI-based activities in the adult ESL classroom are described in the upcoming study on MI from the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy [Viens & Kallenbach, in press].) Teachers have noted other positive effects of applying MI theory. A curriculum informed by MI theory provides a way of handling differing language skill levels within one class-a very common situation in adult ESL classes (Costanzo & Paxton, 1999). When multiple activities are available, more students can find ways to participate and take advantage of language acquisition opportunities. With an MI curriculum, students become aware that different people have different strengths and that each person has a substantive contribution to make (Kallenbach, 1999). This fits in well with project-based learning where students in a group can divide tasks

based on individual strengths. For example, one learner might feel confident about planning, another might prefer to do the writing, and a third might feel able to present the project to the whole class. 4. As a guide to develop lesson plans that address the full range of learner needs. An MIinformed reading lesson may begin with typical prereading activities (reviewing earlier material, predicting what will happen next), followed by silent reading or reading aloud with discussion of vocabulary and text meaning. Learners can then complete a project, individually or in groups, to demonstrate their understanding of the text. The teacher offers a choice of projects, such as descriptive writing, map drawing, illustration, creation of a dialogue or skit, making a timeline, song writing, and retelling. The objective is not to teach to specific intelligences or to correlate intelligences with specific activities, but rather to allow learners to employ their preferred ways of processing and communicating new information (Coustan & Rocka, 1999). Teachers using this type of lesson report that students become more engaged in and enthusiastic about reading; the students gain greater understanding of material when they express what they have read in ways that are comfortable for them; and their reading strategies improve as reading becomes a tool for completion of projects they are interested in (Coustan & Rocka, 1999).

Teachers who use MI theory to inform their curriculum development find that they gain a deeper understanding of students' learning preferences and a greater appreciation of their strengths. Students are likely to become more engaged in learning as they use learning modes that match their intelligence strengths. In addition, students' regular reflection on their learning broadens their definitions of effective and acceptable teaching and learning practices. Students' increased engagement and success in learning stimulates teachers to raise their expectations, initiating a powerful expectation-response cycle that can lead to greater achievement levels for all.

Christison, M.A. (1996). Teaching and learning languages through multiple intelligences. TESOL Journal, 6(1), 10-14. Christison, M.A. (1999a). A guidebook for applying multiple intelligences theory in the ESL/EFL classroom. Burlingame, CA: Alta Book Center. Christison, M.A. (1999b). Multiple intelligences. ESL Magazine, 2(5), 10-13. Costanzo, M., & Paxton, D. (1999). Multiple assessments for multiple intelligences. Focus on Basics, 3(A), 24-27. Coustan, T., & Rocka, L. (1999). Putting theory into practice. Focus on Basics, 3(A), 21-24. Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences (10th anniversary ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). Are there additional intelligences? The case for naturalist, spiritual, and existential intelligences. In J. Kane (Ed.), Education, information and transformation (pp. 111131). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Kallenbach, S. (1999). Emerging themes in adult multiple intelligences research. Focus on Basics, 3(A), 16-20. Viens, J., & Kallenbach, S. (in press). MI grows up: Multiple intelligences in adult education sourcebook. Boston: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.

This document was produced at the Center for Applied Linguistics (4646 40th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20016 202-362-0700) with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE), under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0008. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of ED. This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

ntellectual ability more broadly. Drawing a picture, composing, or listening to music, watching a performance -- these activities can be a vital door to learning -- as important as writing and mathematics. Studies show that many students who perform poorly on traditional tests are turned on to learning when classroom experiences incorporate artistic, athletic, and musical activities. Take music, for example. As educator, David Thornburg of the Thornburg Institute notes, "The mood of a piece of music might communicate, clearer than words, the feeling of an era being studied in history. The exploration of rhythm can help some students understand fractions. The exploration of the sounds of an organ can lead to an understanding of vibrational modes in physics. What caused the great scientist Kepler to think of the motions of planets in musical terms? Astronomy students could program a synthesizer to play Kepler's 'music of the spheres' and explore history, science, math and music all at once." Benefit You will provide opportunities for authentic learning based on your students' needs, interests and talents. The multiple intelligence classroom acts like the "real" world: the author and the illustrator of a book are equally valuable creators. Students become more active, involved learners. Benefit Parent and community involvement in your school may increase. This happens as students demonstrate work before panels and audiences. Activities involving apprenticeship learning bring members of the community into the learning process. Benefit

Students will be able to demonstrate and share their strengths. Building strengths gives a student the motivation to be a "specialist." This can in turn lead to increased self-esteem. Benefit When you "teach for understanding," your students accumulate positive educational experiences and the capability for creating solutions to problems in life. How can applying M.I. theory help students learn better? Students begin to understand how they are intelligent. In Gardner's view, learning is both a social and psychological process. When students understand the balance of their own multiple intelligences they begin

To manage their own learning To value their individual strengths

Teachers understand how students are intelligent as well as how intelligent they are. Knowing which students have the potential for strong interpersonal intelligence, for example, will help you create opportunities where the strength can be fostered in others. However, multiple intelligence theory is not intended to provide teachers with new IQ-like labels for their students. Students approach understanding from different angles. The problem, "What is sand?" has scientific, poetic, artistic, musical, and geographic points of entry. Students that exhibit comprehension through rubrics5, portfolios6, or demonstrations come to have an authentic understanding of achievement. The accomplishment of the lawyer is in winning her case through research and persuasive argument, more than in having passed the bar exam. 5. 6.

Students become balanced individuals who can function as members of their culture. Classroom activities that teach to the intelligences foster deep understanding about the essential questions of life, such as: Where do we come from? What's the world made of? What have humans achieved? What can we achieve? How does one lead a good life?

Applying Multiple Intelligences

How it matters for schools today, 25 years after its introduction by Howard Gardner by Joanna A. Christodoulou

As you enter the grounds of the amusement park, you encounter several activities and games from which you can make selections. Use robots to move objects around the room, play games involving balancing or juggling, mimic a phrase in an exotic language, or seek to lower your pulse rate! These options may not sound like the type of amusement park you have visited. That is because youve just sampled a few of the offerings of Explorama at Danfoss University in Denmark a theme park that features activities based on the theory of multiple intelligences.

Joanna Christodoulou is an instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Indeed, the ideas of multiple intelligences introduced by Howard Gardner of Harvard University more than 25 years ago have taken form in many ways, both in schools and in other sometimessurprising settings. The silver anniversary of this learning theory gives us the opportunity to reflect on the theory of multiple intelligences where its been, how its been used and what might be its future course? What exactly has come from the idea that the mind can be parsed into several types of intelligences, and how might these issues matter for those who lead elementary and secondary schools? The answers come packaged in diverse ideas and applications, with a few warning signs as well. A Starting Point Lets first review the basis for the theory of how the mind can be parsed into components. That is, what capacities make up the mind? In the early 1980s, Gardner identified seven intelligences: logical-mathematical, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical and spatial. More recently, he updated the list with an eighth, naturalist intelligence, and potentially a ninth, existential intelligence. (See sidebar on page 23 for descriptions of each intelligence.)

The goal of multiple intelligences is to offer a pluralistic view of intelligence, promoting the notion there is more than one way to be smart. The list of current intelligences remains a work in progress. More types of intelligence based on the strict set of criteria established by Gardner may become recognized moving forward. In addition, Gardner also has proposed a distinction in the way in which individuals deploy their intelligences. Consider Principal Courtney and Principal Alex. Principal Courtney transitioned to the education field after years of experience in the business world. She had drawn on many of the intelligences regularly and flexibly to adapt to new challenges in the schoolhouse. Principal Courtneys approach to interacting with her world can be likened to a searchlight for the characteristic range and adaptability of her intellectual profile. Principal Alex started as a linguistics major in college, then became an English teacher and a reading teacher. He always enjoyed working with people and thinking about the ways in which language plays a role. His intelligence profile can be likened to a laser as he demonstrates particular strengths in a few intelligences (in this case, linguistic and interpersonal). He draws from these deeply, at times to the exclusion of other ways of thinking. In just the same way these examples highlight the role of searchlight and laser approaches for administrators, the same applies for students. Learners with a searchlight approach run the risk of focusing on so many topics and experiences that these students have difficulty in distinguishing the important from the evanescent. Conversely, learners with a laser approach risk missing important things that are happening outside of their normal purview. Some Misconceptions The concepts and intentions of multiple intelligences require clarification since the ideas have entered the public domain. Is intelligence a general capacity to learn, a way or approach to learning or a skillset used to deal with challenges or problems? The best answer is none of these choices, though often these explanations are invoked when talking about a students profile. According to a definition honed by Gardner over the years, an intelligence describes the biopsychological potential to process information in certain ways, in order to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in a culture or community. The term learning styles, in contrast, implies an approach that applies equally to all contents. So-called styles may or may not pertain across multiple intelligences or domains. Similarly, any domain or discipline (e.g. chess, architecture, chemistry) involves the activation of multiple intelligences and any intelligence can be applied to multiple domains or disciplines. The differences among intelligences, learning styles and domains or disciplines are common areas of confusion. To put these key concepts that are relevant to multiple intelligences together, consider the cases of Paul Farmer, a leading activist for health and medical access in Haiti and elsewhere; Jonathan Kozol, author and education activist; or Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Childrens Defense Fund. You might think each of these individuals is categorically smart. Consider instead

asking, in what ways are these individuals intelligent, and how does the domain they entered draw on these intelligences so effectively? This is the question educators need to ask of their students (and of themselves). Forget considering how smart a person is. The multiple intelligences revolution changed the way we can think about intelligences. Everyone has a degree of competency in each of the intelligences. How much and what the combination of intelligences is within an individual will dictate his or her approach to learning (searchlight or laser). Because succeeding in different domains requires different combinations of intelligences, consider the demands of educational activities and how these will challenge or impede learners with different intelligence profiles. How information in different domains, like chess or chemistry, is taught and assessed will matter for how students learn and demonstrate learning. Returning to the exemplars, one might imagine that Farmer draws on particularly developed logical-mathematical and interpersonal intelligences to manage medical and logistical challenges involving health care in the Third World. Kozols intelligence profile may draw from a strong linguistic and interpersonal intelligence combination that drives his interest and dedication to other people that he then can record in books. Edelman likewise exudes mastery within the domains of activism and education, for which she developed intelligence in intrapersonal and interpersonal arenas. Well-known figures like Yo-Yo Ma, Pablo Picasso and Tiger Woods exemplify other combinations of intelligence, as do each of us as learners. The challenge is to figure out what these combinations are and how to best engage them. The discussion of intelligence is not an absolute you have it or you dont issue. Rather, the degree and combination of the range of intellectual capacities described by multiple intelligences dictates competence within different domains or on different tasks. Assessing Intelligences In a classroom of students, the daily hustle and bustle of academic, social and emotional challenges takes many forms. What value then would theorizing about a students profile of intelligences hold? Consider the case of Alexis, a high school student deciding what to do for college, and perhaps a subsequent career. Shes excelled at problem solving across academic areas (especially math and science), takes care to listen to the predicaments of her friends and prefers socializing in small groups or one on one rather than in large groups. Putting her profile in the perspective of multiple intelligences suggests a person who excels at logical-mathematical and interpersonal intelligences. An informed guidance counselor or teacher-mentor might point her in the direction of potential areas and disciplines to explore, such as counseling or psychology. Using multiple intelligences contextualizes and parses the workings of the mind. Understanding a students profile in terms of multiple intelligences can be much more valuable than a categorical smart or not description. One challenge to learning about a students profile is the assessment of multiple intelligences. A quick Internet search of multiple intelligences and assessment yields several sites claiming to

categorize an individuals profile based on questionnaire data. While following these efforts with interest, Gardner has not endorsed any of them. Most are actually self-reports of interests rather than direct measures of intellectual capacities and potential. Multiple intelligences may best be measured in the context of a meaningful activity or a topic area. Two promising examples of this latter approach are Project Spectrum for young children and the aforementioned Explorama at Danfoss University for older children, adolescents and adults. Project Spectrum features a classroom rich in opportunities to work with different materials in the manner of a childrens museum. Application of the Spectrum approach yields information based on meaningful activities that allow for a demonstration of different intelligences. This information then can be culled into a Spectrum profile, which may be drawn upon by parents, teachers and ultimately the child herself. A New Lens As we have shown, a multiple intelligences approach turns the traditional IQ question (how smart is she and how should she be tracked?) on its head. Instead the MI advocate asks, In which ways is she smart, and how can that profile be marshaled for meaningful goals? MI is more than a way to consider intelligence. It is a mentality with which to approach learning and teaching. Because the MI approach allows for and recognizes different strengths and challenges for different students, it also is a valuable tool in working with the children on the extreme ends of the spectrum of ability those who are gifted with strengths in many intelligences or deeply in one of them and those who are typically referred to as learning disabled. (Note that David Rose, chief education officer and founder of the Center for Applied Special Technology, often corrects this term and instead diagnoses curricula, not students, as disabled when not all students are successful learners.) Furthermore, the theory of multiple intelligences highlights that intelligence is not fixed, but rather is a dynamic capacity amenable to change via good teaching, high motivation and adequate resources, including those provided by technology. It is essential to note that the theory of multiple intelligences is not an educational end in itself. It is most useful as an educational means to a publicly stated goal. That said, an MI way of thinking brings with it two specific educational recommendations: Individualize teaching methods and curricula as much as possible (no uniform schools where all students are taught and assessed in the same way); and Teach important concepts in multiple ways, thereby reaching more students effectively. Assessment criteria and paradigms should take into account the various ways in which students can demonstrate knowledge and the various ways in which they can be intelligent. In this context, it is helpful to provide assessments that let students use their stronger intelligences rather than use short-answer, multiple-choice items that depend most heavily on linguistic and logical-mathematical skills, and possibly favoring students with strengths in these areas.

From an MI perspective, if one wants to assess interpersonal intelligence, one does not give a set of true-and-false questions. One puts a group of young people together, asks them to solve a difficult human problem, and observes how they interact and who is able to motivate others effectively to get the job done. Testing approaches that fairly capture the diverse types of intelligence with a focus on individuals rather than the average student can account for the diverse intellectual capabilities of children in a classroom. They also capture the often dynamic interactions among intelligences. Future Use The past 25 years of multiple intelligences have yielded updates, applications and a share of confusions. But most importantly, the theory has inspired many schools all over the world to improve teaching and learning. The advent of new digital media is likely to enhance the productive use of the theory of multiple intelligences. With the increasing integration of computer technology in education settings comes a practical way to present or teach the same topics via the activation of several intelligences. Advances in the biological sciences allow examination of the bases of multiple intelligences from a neuroscience and genetic perspective as well as the possible relationship of intelligences to one another. Finally, as our opening example of Danfoss University shows, multiple intelligences theory offers a way to stimulate diverse uses of mind across ages and stages of formal and informal education. Joanna Christodoulou is a doctoral student and instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. E-mail: Howard Gardner, author of several books on multiple intelligences, contributed to this article.