Posted by: minnow | February 7, 2008

Multiple Intelligence in the Typical Classroom?

Before you read this post if you are not familiar with the theory of multiple intelligence you may want to read the brief definitions of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences on a separate page of this blog.

If you visit any public school in the United States today (K-12) you will learn that approximately 85 percent of class time uses verbal-linguistic methodology and is geared toward verbal-linguistic learners. Lectures and note taking; question and answer study guides; fill-in the blank, multiple choice, true-false, or short answer essay tests; history, business, and science text books; novels; oral presentations; essays and research papers; all are verbal-linguistic teaching methods or assignments which expect verbal-linguistic outcomes and are measured by verbal-linguistic standards. Predictably, the students who get the best grades have a strong verbal-linguistic intelligence. Those areas that are most often considered hands-on and lend themselves to non-verbal-linguistic teaching methods—art, music, math, science, drama, industrial education, and physical education—share the remaining 15 percent of the average school day. Of course, portions of class time in these areas of education are given over to verbal-linguistic teaching methods as well. For example, math and science texts, instruction manuals, scripts, and lyrics must all be read and the most common form of examination even in PE, art, and music are written tests.

If a non-verbal-linguistic component is even a part of the average lesson plan or incorporated into the classroom it is generally tagged on at the end, dropped if the assignment gets to be too time consuming or used to fill time. If you want to illustrate your stories you may—after they are finished. Once you have completed your assigned work you can spend time looking through the microscope at the science table, building with Legos or Kinexs in the play corner, or molding clay at the art table. This set up has the appearance of valuing non-verbal-linguistic experiences. But in reality, those experiences have become rewards for the students who finish their real schoolwork (their graded work) quickly enough. Furthermore, the students who might excel in non-verbal-linguistic areas rarely get the chance to do so because they are also, most often, the students who cannot finish their real work on time. Not only are the non-verbal-linguistic intelligences devalued in this set up but non-verbal-linguistic learners—those who are musically smart or intra-personally smart, or…—are punished. (Oh, I’m sorry. Is punished too politically incorrect? Should I say they are denied opportunity instead?)

Some teachers, especially at the elementary level, do provide whole class assignments which utilize some non-verbal-linguistic intelligences. But again, these projects tend to happen at the end of a unit as a summary of what the students have learned or they are the group activity portion of the unit, which may allow interpersonal learners to excel, but which do not give the students who are bodily-kinesthetically intelligence or logically-mathematically intelligence or visual-spatially intelligence a separate place to shine. The individual members of the group might know that little Terry, who cannot spell the word CAT, drew the historically accurate battle between the French and English knights complete with a castle and a moat in the background. The class might even realize that Sammy who is destined to be this year’s spelling bee winner merely printed the labels for the pictures. But, the parents who come in for the open house only see the group’s final product and a list of names and the group grade. Sammy’s parents are pleased their child got another nice grade while Terry’s parents are relieved their child did not flunk everything. Had individual effort and ability been measured on this assignment, Sammy’s grade on the project might have matched Terry’s grade on the vocabulary test. Had the entire unit been a group project Sammy’s verbal-linguistic intelligence and Terry’s visual-spatial intelligence would have both contributed to the group grade. Few parents and even fewer educators recognize the disparity (as illustrated by this example) in how these two types of students are graded and regarded.

So Sammy got a break because Terry is a good artist maybe that is a problem but what does this have to do with learning disabilities?  How do those factor in? Sadly, the Terrys in our society are often the students who receive the learning disabled labels. “They just don’t seem to get the hang of reading.” “They can’t remember simple spelling rules even though we’ve gone over and over them.” “They are so easily distracted.” “They can’t keep up with the rest of the class.” Until, that is, they have music (once a week), go to PE (every other day) or get art (once a month). Then they are the most enthusiastic, most verbal, most animated, fastest, strongest, creative, meticulous, and imaginative. But, heaven forbid we let the strengths we see in music, art, and PE help us understand how best to teach these students reading, social studies, or math. Instead well-meaning educators tell legitimately concerned parents, “Maybe he is hyperactive.  Maybe she is attention deficit.  We will know more after we do some testing.” ARGH!

A NOTE TO PARENTS: If your daughter can tell you about the cool frog she found in the mud by the creek using complete sentences filled with detail or if your son can spend hours by himself building Lego skyscrapers, your child does not need to be on Ritalin or any other drug for hyperactivity. Your child does not need it at school and certainly does not need it at home. Yes, some children are truly hyperactive and drugs can help those children. (After you check out their diet and look into allergies)!  However, hyperactivity does not show up at school and go away when a child gets home. Please, do not let a teacher convince you to drug your child so the teacher’s classroom is more manageable. Zombies may be more compliant but they do not actually learn better. And, children who are not truly hyperactive become zombies when they are put on drugs.

Attention deficit (ADD) and hyperactivity (ADHD) are only part of the learning disability spectrum. Students face several other labels as well. The most prevalent is Dyslexic. At times Dyslexia seems to be a catch-all disability because those who are diagnosed with Dyslexia can appear to be quite different types of people. The degree of Dyslexia they struggle with may be able to explain some of the differences. I suspect however the variations have more to do with the different ways in which Dyslexics are intelligent. The three of my children who have been tested and are labeled as Dyslexic for example, are extremely different from one another. The oldest is visually-spatially intelligent. He excels in the areas of art and film. As I mentioned in a previous post his weaknesses are in the area of organization and penmanship. The next, our most severely Dyslexic, is incredibly verbal (ironic since he still reads well below grade level), memorizes well, and loves music, dance/theatre, and cooking. In addition, he is inter and intra-personally intelligent, in other words, very social. The third has bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal intelligences. Give her a climbing wall and she is at the top. Give her a book and you may find it a month later under her bed or at the bottom of her backpack. Her weakest areas are writing and spelling. However, with a scribe she and her brothers are all creative, detailed, and prolific.


  1. I’ve seen one of the Dyslexia cases during my school visit last term. The student is among the brightest students in the school. He is great in the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. The only problem that he has is that he cant write that well.

    However, the school has done a great job by giving the special treatment to him by providing a teacher assistant when he needs to write something. He will try to write the sentences down by his own and at the same time read it aloud so that the asistant teacher can write another copy of his work.

    If only all the students are given special treatment according to their strenghs and weaknesses there will be no child left behind. All the students can enhance the intelligences that they are good at and develop the intelligences that they are lacking.

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