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September 1, 1997
Vol. 55
No. 1

In Australia / Multiple Intelligences in Multiple Settings

Multiple intelligences theory has transformed teaching in Australia, especially among preschool, primary school, and special educators, a survey of 30 schools shows.
Instructional Strategies
In a sleepy suburb in Canberra, Australia's capital, Judy Perry unlocks the huge double doors and greets students and teachers as they arrive for school. She is the new principal of Cook Primary School, which has been reopened after parents picketed on the steps for approximately 200 days. The reason? The government had closed the school because of its low enrollment figures. Perry realized that the school's future would depend on its offering something different from other schools, and that's exactly what it now does. As a result, student enrollment has soared, and a sizable number of new students come from outside the area.
Meanwhile, in Cabramatta, the bustling, industrial western suburb of Sydney, teachers at Sacred Heart, a large Catholic school, welcome their students. The children come from predominantly low socioeconomic and non-English-speaking backgrounds. Stereotypically, they would not be expected to do well academically. But principal Shirley Jackson looked for ways to reverse negative expectations and enable her students to reach their full potential. The school now impresses others with its students' high achievement and the high demand for places there.
Both Perry and Jackson found the answer to their dilemmas in Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (1983). Five years after adopting a schoolwide multiple intelligences approach, Cook School is thriving. So, too, is Sacred Heart. Both are outstanding examples of the way Gardner's theory has revolutionized teaching in Australia, particularly at the primary level.

A Wide Range of Settings

Unlike many other educational innovations that have limited impact and appeal, multiple intelligences has wielded a strong influence in a wide range of educational settings in Australia. One example is Lift Off, an innovative television program produced by the Australian Children's Television Foundation. Designed for 3- to 8-year-olds, the series honors all intelligences through its celebration of diversity and educationally stimulating segments. The program's success is reflected in the video and book packages that the Curriculum Corporation (1993) subsequently developed to help early childhood teachers implement the multiple intelligences philosophy. The nine titles cover topics from wondering and thinking to music to the environment.
Teaching approaches based on multiple intelligences are being implemented from the preschool through the university level. The theory is most widely used in preschools and primary (or elementary) schools, however, because primary teachers are responsible for teaching all disciplines, whereas high school teachers teach only one or two subjects. Nevertheless, the comparatively few high school teachers who have adopted the approach have found it to be a powerful way to activate student learning.
Multiple intelligences theory also has revolutionized special education in Australia. In the past, the deficit approach has dominated practices in the field. Multiple intelligences theory, however, allows teachers to acknowledge that intellectual strengths can coexist with learning problems. As a result, special educators now seek their students' strengths and build on them, rather than limiting curriculums to remedial techniques.
Gifted education has been enriched as well. In particular, the multiple intelligences theory has broadened educators' views of giftedness and, perhaps most important, has led teachers to more frequently identify giftedness in students from disadvantaged groups.
Beyond the classroom, the theory is widely used in training programs in business and industry.

Teaching To and Through

How are Australian teachers implementing multiple intelligences theory in their daily practices? To answer this question, I have observed classrooms in 30 schools and interviewed 150 teachers across the country since 1993. I have found that teachers are using two basic approaches. They could be described as teaching to and teaching through multiple intelligences. The best teachers seem to use a combination of the two.
To illustrate, imagine a classroom in which students are learning to play a musical instrument and being encouraged to develop their musical intelligence. Then, compare that situation to one in which students use a musical jingle to remember a mathematical formula. In the latter case, the musical activity is used to promote skill development in a different domain.
  • Linguistic: Read books about the solar system. Present a talk about the life of an astronaut.
  • Logical-mathematical: Count the number of planets and moons per planet, and create a database. Arrange the planets in order of size.
  • Spatial: Make scale models of the planets from different materials.
  • Musical: Listen to "spacey" music (for example, "2001: A Space Odyssey").
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: Simulate the planets orbiting the sun.
  • Interpersonal: Create and perform a play set in space.
  • Intrapersonal: Reflect on what you have learned about the solar system. Which activities did you enjoy the most?
  • Linguistic: Provide examples of silent W words in context. Talk about spelling rules and exceptions.
  • Logical-mathematical: Count words with silent W. What patterns do you see?
  • Spatial: Draw ghosts over W in words where it is silent.
  • Musical: Create and perform a tongue twister. Write a jingle using W words.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: Make the shapes of letters with your body. Trace letters in sand using different textures for silent letters.
  • Interpersonal: Reach a group agreement on why W is silent.
  • Intrapersonal: Ask yourself: "What do I know about silent letters?"

Integrated Units: Mind-Maps to MI Olympics

I have found that the most common approach to incorporating multiple intelligences is through integrated units. These offer a broad range of classroom activities while promoting the connections across disciplines that make learning more meaningful.
In developing an integrated unit, teachers select an appropriate theme, such as Fantasy or Refugees or the Human Body. They then plan activities that will require students to use all of the intelligences, as well as cover all the Key Learning Areas. (The Australian National Curriculum Statements include eight Key Learning Areas: English; mathematics; human society and its environment; science; technology; the arts; languages other than English; and health, physical education, and personal development.)
  • Give instructions or directions to others, such as telling someone the way to grandma's house or how to make a gingerbread figure.
  • Interview characters, asking them, for example, "How did it feel to come home and find someone had been in your house, Mrs. Bear?"
Teachers at Sacred Heart in Cabramatta use a mind-mapping approach to plan daily activities for the next term's integrated units. Teachers in each year group (that is, each grade) are given one day of release time from class to create this organizational map. They then display maps on a notice board so that everyone is aware of what is happening in each grade.
In the middle of the mind-map is the focus question or theme, such as: "Why do people create?" or "Why should we care for birds?" The teacher then lists the related skills or experiences that students are to develop for each intelligence. A teacher of Year 1 students, for example, listed the logical-mathematical skills for one unit as sequencing, computer programs, subtraction and addition, graphs, temperature, volume and length, and numeration. She then added each Key Learning Area to the map with a summary of the content to be covered. Finally, she linked the activities in each Key Learning Area with the skills for each intelligence, using color coding to clarify the plan.
Teachers also make use of classroom learning centers based on the different intelligences—particularly teachers who specialize in the early childhood years. These learning centers range from a small number of special interest areas that are changed often to supplement regular teaching activities to more permanent structures that a number of classes may share. Teachers encourage students to share the responsibility for designing and maintaining the materials and activities for the learning centers.
In schools that are just adopting the multiple intelligences approach, teachers often set aside special afternoons—perhaps once a week—for multiple intelligences activities. Or, they may stage Multiple Intelligences Olympics. Sacred Heart does this regularly, having each class demonstrate work in a particular intelligence on a rotating basis. Each Olympics session is thus a celebration of students' diverse abilities, where all intelligences and all classes are represented.
At other schools, teachers work cooperatively and regroup their students into intelligence focus groups. Each group then undertakes a relevant project for a number of weeks, such as dancing or photography. Other teachers design a range of activities for each intelligence, with students rotating through the intelligences over a number of weeks.
Teachers at Saint Patrick's High School in Dundas use a variation of this approach. They call it the Brain-Flex program, emphasizing that students develop their different intelligences as they undertake various activities (see "The Brain-Flex Project" on pp. 69-70).
Through activities such as these, schools can adopt a multiple intelligences approach that is not threatening to teachers who are entrenched in more traditional ways of thinking. Noting their students' enthusiasm, these teachers begin to incorporate some of the multiple intelligences-based strategies into their everyday teaching.

Respecting Parents

The multiple intelligences schools that I have worked with have transformed their relationships with parents. In both Cook and Sacred Heart School, for example, parents have been given an active voice. They are frequently invited to share their expertise with students and teachers, to share their observations of their children's developing skills, and to participate in professional development activities. They regularly receive newsletters informing them of student activities and achievements, and they are invited to attend celebrations of student work in all the intelligences.
Parents also have been involved in redesigning assessment reports on their children. At Cook Primary School, parents and teachers negotiated a list of reporting principles. Among them: Reporting should reflect each teacher's classroom practice; indicate areas for students' future development; include student self-assessment; and provide information on social development and personal growth as well as academic achievement. Vehicles for reporting include phone calls, visits, written reports, checklists, extra interviews, photographs, audiotapes, and displays.
Parents and teachers also agreed on a reporting schedule. For example, the school holds a parent information evening in February and an end-of-the-term interview in which the teacher asks parents to supply information about their child. The school also agreed to publish a weekly newsletter with ongoing descriptions of classroom activities and to hold informal interviews with parents.

A Student-Centered Shift

The most significant change I have noted at the schools I have visited is a shift from teaching and learning as a teacher-centered activity to teaching and learning as a student-centered activity. The linear process of learning from teacher to student through cycles of planning, implementing, and evaluating has been replaced by a more dynamic model. Teacher and students are mutually engaged in planning, implementing, observing, and reflecting on their mutual work.
In general, multiple intelligences is an effective tool in ongoing professional development. The theory also has helped teachers shift assessment and evaluation from a narrowly based, end-of-unit process to a broader demonstration of understanding.
In one classroom, for example, the teacher gave students a choice of studying a particular history unit in the usual manner or working on it independently. Five students opted to complete their own projects. At the conclusion of the unit, all students were given the same multiple-choice test. The five students who completed independent projects received higher marks than they had on previous tests. Even so, they expressed their displeasure to the teacher. As one student explained, "I didn't have the opportunity to show what I knew." This teacher now allows students much more flexibility in the ways they demonstrate their understanding. Assessment has become part of the learning process.
One reason teachers have embraced multiple intelligences theory is that it provides a manageable framework for observing and evaluating students. At Cook Primary School, for example, one teacher commented that this approach has helped her get to know her students better, and she particularly valued the ability to see their strengths in different areas. Cook's teachers use a record sheet to note their observations. The form lists criteria for each intelligence (for example, two criteria for Linguistic are "Seeks and enjoys speaking/writing" and "Explains and teaches"; two criteria for Logical-Mathematical are "Has good inductive and deductive reasoning" and "Discerns relationships and connections"). Spaces are available for the teachers' observations, and the teachers invite students and parents to add their comments to the form.
It could be argued that among the most critical teaching skills are a keen awareness of each student's interests, abilities, and learning style and the ability to individualize the curriculum accordingly. Therefore, a cornerstone of good teaching practice is the close observation of each student in his or her work and interactions.
Although good teachers have always recognized the differences among their students and nurtured that diversity, multiple intelligences provides a framework that helps teachers look for the differing strengths and develop the full range of intelligences. As one teacher put it, "Multiple intelligences makes me aware of what I'm doing." Teachers agreed that this dual observation—of themselves and their students—makes them far more effective practitioners and their students better learners.
From a sociological and reform-minded standpoint, teachers reported liking multiple intelligences for several reasons. They can defend it from a social justice perspective, which is important to Australian educators. The theory is compatible with other recent educational philosophies and initiatives that teachers are expected to embrace. And, finally, in a climate of diminishing resources for education and increasing demands on teachers to restructure, multiple intelligences reaffirms the importance of the teacher-student relationship.
References

Curriculum Corporation. (1993). Lift Off in the Classroom Series. Carlton, Victoria: Curriculum Corporation.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Vialle, W. and J. Perry. (1995). Nurturing Multiple Intelligences in the Australian Classroom. Melbourne: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Wilma Vialle has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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