Saturday, March 19, 2011

Helping children learn through different learning styles

Current educational theory abounds with discussions of multiple intelligences, learning styles, use of different senses, etc. What can Boston-area parents learn from these helpful resources when teaching or interacting with their own children, particularly when it comes to making sense of public school experiences that may be less-than-ideal for their own youngsters with special needs?

Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard developed the multiple intelligences theory in 1983. Basically, it says that there is really a broader range of “intelligences” that we use to learn with than many educational institutions are equipped with or prepared to use. Gardner’s list includes:
  • Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
  • Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
  • Musical intelligence ("music smart")
  • Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  • Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  • Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

According to a review of multiple intelligences by Dr. Thomas Armstrong, “schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled "learning disabled," "ADD (attention deficit disorder," or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.”

Armstrong says, “The theory of multiple intelligences proposes a major transformation in the way our schools are run. It suggests that teachers be trained to present their lessons in a wide variety of ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more.”
Theorists like Gardner and Armstrong undoubtedly have some very valid points to make. But when the rubber meets the road, how many people are really able to separate these different “intelligences” in the learning process? How each of us uses our particular gifts, talents, and learning styles is what makes us unique. So perhaps we don’t need to worry so much about making activities that are 100% Bodily-Kinesthetic, Spatial, etc.

A better approach may be to look for a variety of opportunities to invite an individual child (or a group, if one is working in a classroom setting) to encounter and engage in different ways. Gardner, for example, explained his seven ways to approach subjects, in “Intelligence Reframed”:
  • Narrational, learning through stories
  • Quantitative/numerical, learning through numbers and the use of them
  • Logical, learning through deductive thinking
  • Aesthetic, learning through works of art or the ways materials are arranged
  • Hands-on, learning through building something, manipulating materials, or carrying out experiments
  • Social, learning through assuming the roles of someone else, observing other people, interacting with others, especially in problem solving
The key to using theories like this is being constantly open to new learning and/or teaching opportunities, and adapting lesson plans to the many different situations, circumstances, interests, and abilities as they present themselves, either in the classroom or outside, in home or play settings.

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