One of my favourite modern-day educational thinkers is Howard Gardner, whose Theory of Multiple Intelligences changed the approach of many teachers in the last decade or so of the twentieth century. The notion that instead of asking ‘how smart are you?’ we should be asking ‘how are you smart?’ arrived, for me, like a bolt of lightning, simultaneously lighting up the way forward for learning, teaching, schools and education, and blowing away the myth that the only way to learn was by reading from a book or listening to an expert, and that the only way to prove your learning was through a written test.
Gardner’s reputation suffered somewhat when a minority of over-zealous teachers misunderstood what he was advocating, started labelling children according to their ‘preferred learning style’ (sometimes putting them in long-term groups with like-minded children) and trying to cater for the various learning styles simultaneously in every lesson, thereby driving themselves, and presumably the young people, to distraction. What Gardner was actually suggesting was that teachers take into account the fact that learners are individuals, and that learning is more effective when the differences between individuals are taken into account, rather than denied. Nor was he suggesting that it is possible for an individual to learn in only one way. Here he is, in his own words, from Intelligence Reframed – Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, published in 1999:-
“…..whether or not staff members have ever heard of MI theory, I would happily send my children to a school that takes differences among children seriously, that shares knowledge about differences with children and parents, that encourages children to assume responsibility for their own learning, and that presents materials in such a way that each child has the maximum opportunity to master those materials and to show others and themselves what they have learned and understood.”
Fortunately, Edutopia have recently revisited their 1997 interview with the Harvard University professor, along with a full transcript of the talk. Recommended professional development for all teachers, new or otherwise