How Multiple Intelligences based Curriculums advance classroom learning?

The theory of multiple intelligences as expounded by Dr. Gardner in his pioneering work Frames of Mind has been discussed in our earlier article. If we consider it as established that there are multiple intelligences at play during cognitive exercises like learning, and that there are dominant intelligences among the set of intelligences which differ from one person to another, a question of reconciling the difference in the interest of teaching a particular subject to a classroom composed of individuals with differing dominant intelligence naturally surfaces.

We have seen while reviewing the different curriculum solutions designs that in almost all the cases theory of multiple intelligences has purportedly been applied. At this point a critical question arises-- How is the said theory, that is complex in its structure, be translated into a practical design to suit K-12 school curricula? I will cite and try to explain the various ways in which the theory of MI been practically applied in classroom settings in this article.

MI and classroom teaching

It is useful and instructive to take into account the challenges that factor in while applying the theory of multiple intelligences and also contrast it with the scenario where it is not applied—or not identified as practical for purpose of instruction. For these purposes we must re-enlist the various identified intelligences—logical-mathematical, verbal- linguistic, visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal intelligences and naturalistic intelligences.

It is postulated that everyone has a unique spectrum of intelligences, therefore, if education accommodates individual needs and adopts plurality it becomes all the more effective.

The challenges before the advocates of MI are twofold. Firstly, the spectrum of intelligence possessed by the student is not exactly determinable and that makes the entire theory susceptible to be reduced to the observation of learning styles. Secondly, even if the stipulates of MI are taken while teaching, it would require individualized attention on the part of the teacher and a curriculum that appeals to every intelligence and nurtures it. Furthermore, it is difficult to achieve such diverse intellectual stimulation across subjects without using the tenets of inter-disciplinary learning and education technology; essentially, the productive application of MI requires a drastic shift in the teaching culture.

The fundamental premise of the theory of MI is that conventionally, intelligence has been exclusive in definition focusing only on logical-mathematical and linguistic abilities and basing the tests of intelligence on these two (IQ). By implication, we can safely assume—and experience confirms it—that the scenarios where MI is unheard of, or not heeded, become biased in favor of mathematical and linguistic abilities and students who show promise in these are taken to be the bright ones and the rest are dubbed in unflattering terms. It is natural to assume that this creates a motivational disparity and further retards the progress of the students who are differently inclined. The result is inequity in learning outcomes. The potentialities of the majority remain unexplored throughout the school years and the odds of their ever becoming manifest later in life are significantly diminished.

Can application of MI solve these problem?

We have reasons to believe that it can solve the issues that ail the conventional education system not least because it warrants a transformation of the classroom and progressive bent of education.

Now, coming to the specifics, one is inclined to ask how a subject like mathematics can be made appealing to students with diverse spectra of intelligences. For example, let’s suppose a topic like coordinate geometry is being taught in the class. It is safe to assume that students with dominant mathematical-logical intelligence will find it easy, those with visual-spatial intelligence dominant will find it interesting. Now, what about others? Well, let’s say the teacher introduces the topic before coming to the equations of the ‘line’, the ‘circle’ and the ‘conic sections’ by stating that there is no shape or form in the entire world that cannot be derived by the ones going to be discussed in coordinate geometry. This very statement, it is reasonable to say, will activate the interest of the students with naturalistic intelligence. The terms parabola, hyperbola and ellipse, if emphasized with some tonality, are surely going to impress the ones with verbal-linguistic intelligence and even those with musical-rhythmic intelligence. And, sustenance of the interest will thereafter depend on the individualized attention, systematic evaluation and familiarity with the differences in the learning styles.

There is hardly any subject or topic that is introduced in the school years which cannot be made appealing to all the students, and with diligence combined with pedagogical imaginativeness, the performances and learning outcomes can be taken to a level near excellence. Additionally, the use of co-curricular to advance curricular goals can open unlimited avenues for the children with different dominant intelligences and can create opportunities for one and all.

How MI curriculum solutions make a difference?

The curriculum solutions available are digitally intensive. They add value by introducing or optimizing education technology and most importantly, they train teachers which raises their pedagogical merit.

As far as MI is concerned, the curriculum solutions do not appear to apply it exclusively. And, as there are no tests to quantify intelligences unlike IQ, a comprehensive understanding of the MI theory, subject knowledge and inventiveness can only be relied upon for the designing of learning modules and other material. What curriculum solutions essentially do is customize the syllabus by introducing inventive content which has MI overtones. They emphasize on individualizing instruction and diversifying lessons in an effort to accommodate all intelligences. It must also be said that the digitized lesson plans—a characteristic feature of all curriculum solutions-- standardizes the pedagogy to a significant degree. Their evaluation plans also complement the establishing of teaching –learning patterns.

The success of the curriculum solutions is attributable to the elements of progressive education they induce in the educational ecosystem of the school; some do it more sustainably than the others and that is what determines their relative superiority.

All curriculum solution designers have eagerly pursued MI credentials, and to that end, they have acquired—or earned—recognition from psychologists including that from Dr. Harvard Gardner himself. However, no one has attained any endorsement from developmental psychologists yet. Some have to their credit, published case studies in leading universities’ publications as well.

As competition incentivizes studies, research and improvement. With time, we can hope for wholesome curriculum solutions like Chrysalis with more authentic use of MI.

Like I stated earlier, It is often observed that concept of multiple intelligences is confused with and thus limited to ‘learning styles’ which is rather unauthentic use of the theory of MI. it is notable, that many curriculum models are not exactly following the theory as they conflate it with learning styles. There are several theories and models advanced regarding the learning styles all of which harp on the theory that individuals learn differently or they have different ‘style’ of learning any given subject. The learning style models have had significant impact on education and are quite useful, however, they are distinct from MI despite apparent theoretical likeness and has been far less scientifically credited than the theory of MI.

The criticism based on lack of empirical evidence and non-quantifiability of most of the proposed intelligences notwithstanding, the theory has been adopted by a large number of schools. The schools in south-east Asia come to mind, they with their curriculums ranging from the national to IB and Cambridge International have garnered praise for authentically applied theory of MI in their way of educating children in the 21st century world which calls for multiple literacies.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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