Posted by: minnow | February 13, 2008

Schools Skew to Verbal-Linguistic Smarts

Standardized tests tell a very limited part of the education story. They reveal what our children do not know and are not understanding but they do not tell us why. In addition to the social ills that plague way too many of our children–TVs as babysitters, poor diets, limited exercise, and worse–many students are faced with over crowded classrooms, limited text books, malfunctioning or non-existent equipment, and in the worst situations unsafe environments. Still, if the student happens to be a verbal-linguistic learner chances are that student will meet with a certain degree of success. WHY?

The answer to the why question is simply really. All we need to do is look at how verbal-linguistic learners learn and how that particular intelligence plays into the methodology of most teachers and most curriculum. We can even examine the short falls we mentioned earlier and discover how those do and do not impact verbal-linguistic learners.

First, what is verbal-linguistic intelligence? Being verbally-linguistically intelligent means you have the ability to use words well. Verbal-linguistic learners generally think in words rather than patterns or pictures. They often talk early, gravitate toward letters, enjoy rhyming and other word games, have strong vocabularies and both talk and listen well. Those with this intelligence generally have good memories, spell and write well, and understand grammar easily. They learn best with their eyes and their ears.

Now let us take a look at the typical elementary classroom. In lower elementary grades a typical classroom is often bedecked with a running boarder of the alphabet, the classroom rules appear in bold type somewhere toward the front, bulletin boards with titles like “My Best Work” cover the walls, a job chart with everyone’s name and a list of daily tasks is often found near the door, and every desk has a name tag tape to it. In some of the better classrooms you will find (toward the back of the room) a computer, a corner filled with books, a fish tank or perhaps a gerbil cage, some blocks, a few musical instruments, and maybe an art table.

Okay, so some of this stuff is obviously word oriented but a student has to learn to read, doesn’t he? Of course. I absolutely believe a teacher needs to help his or her students to learn to read. The point of this post is NOT to discourage that effort but rather to encourage that effort for all learners.

While the environment can encourage learning and make a student’s day more pleasant the impact of teaching methods on learning strengths are much more likely to influence whether or not an individual student learns. In an effort to minimize noise distractions standard classrooms are set up with one student at one desk and everyone facing front. Teachers begin most lessons in almost every subject area by standing in front of the whole class and handing something out to be read or to be followed while the teacher reads. Instructions are often delivered orally and then written on a blackboard for later reference. Worksheets that need to be read with blanks that need to be filled in generally accompany all reading assignments. Students write papers and summaries on various topics, take multiple choice, fill-in the blank, true-false, and short answer essay tests, and give oral reports all to show what they know and fill in the grade book. These are the typical methods and measurements used by teachers across the country. Writing, reading, speaking and then more writing, reading, and speaking fill a child’s day.  Even math and science have begun to require students to explain their answers or not receive credit.  Children who are strongest in any other intelligence–interpersonal, musical, spacial, mathematical-logical, bodily-kinesthetic, or intra-personal–but not necessarily strong in verbal-linguistic intelligence are rarely if ever taught to their strengths.

In the most disadvantaged schools the prejudice toward the verbal-linguistic intelligence is even more pronounced.  Larger classrooms cause teachers to teach to bigger groups thus the chances for individual attention and student participation are diminished.  Those students who are inter-personally and intra-personally intelligent get even fewer opportunities to shine.  When a classroom does not have enough books to send them home with the students the better readers finish the assignments but slower one do not–advantage verbal-linguistic learner.  If lack of or malfunctioning equipment is an issue science experiments (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) become things to read about (verbal-linguistic intelligence), music (musical intelligence) and art (visual-spacial intelligence) are cut back or cut out altogether, and P.E. (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) is limited to a couple days a week and paired with health which turns it into one more reading assignment.  Advantage–verbal-linguistic intelligence. 

If the typical classroom was like tennis we would have game set match.  Champion? Verbal-linguistic learner.  Runner-up?  Everyone else.  Sadly, recognizing we have a problem does not mean we are willing to solve it.


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