Same But Different: Catering for Multiple Intelligences in a Mixed-ability Classroom
Jennifer Breithoff, Luxembourg
Jennifer Breithoff studied at the University of Sussex and at the University of Roehampton. She started teaching in September 2006 and is currently teaching at the Lycée Josy Barthel, Mamer, Luxembourg. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Multiple Intelligences: an introduction
From theory to practice: a lesson
Evaluation and possible adjustments
This extract has been taken from the final piece of work included in my professional portfolio, entitled “Same same but different: catering for multiple intelligences in a mixed-ability classroom.” It exposes how I use multiple intelligences in the cycle inférieurof the secondaire techniqueso as to take into account the students’ needs which can be defined, in this case, as providing for their preferred learning styles. The account looked at how I had to change my teaching practice in the light of the PROCI (projet cycle inférieur) scheme and how multiple intelligences have become my own preferred teaching style in terms of possible differentiation in a mixed-ability classroom. After briefly depicting the theoretical ideas at hand, the statement embarked upon scrutinizing my practice in the present context. I had chosen to focus on four particular intelligences, namely musical, visual, kinaesthetic and naturalistic so as to be able to give them full credit in my differentiated classroom environment. This piece of work therefore mainly evolved around the analysis of one specific lesson fostering all four intelligences (and more). The aspect of everyday practice, of differentiation as a routine, was not neglected though: I put on display a range of material and activities randomly selected from various lessons throughout the year, which all involve catering for at least one intelligence. I hence predominantly concerned myself with differentiation in relation to process. In my conclusion I looked forward to see how I can also initiate differentiation in connection to product. The present data concentrates on the implementation of one lesson, including the four intelligences mentioned above.
Gardner’s theories had been initiated in 1970s but couldn’t find appropriate acclaim in teaching in the early 1990s. Gardner first felt the urge to define “intelligence” in its own right, thereby establishing criteria that would be pertinent to the eight different kinds of intelligences he was to ascertain hereafter. According to Howard, “intelligence” can be analysed in terms of skills, skills which belong to the human species and universally so:
An intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashions products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting or community. The problem-solving skill allows one to approach a situation in which a goal is to be obtained and to locate the appropriate route to that goal. The creation of a cultural product allows one to capture and transmit knowledge or to express one’s conclusions, beliefs, or feelings. Problems to be solved range from creating an end for a story to anticipating a mating move in chess to repairing a quilt. Products range from scientific theories to musical compositions to successful political campaigns. (Gardner, p.6)
Gardner then determines eight separate types of intellectual capacities constituting the core of his work, where each intelligence can be assigned to and evaluated in line with the intelligence patterns designed above.
I hence designed a lesson primarily working with and on the four intelligences above (and more). The following analysis though will focus on the intelligences under scrutiny. A short lesson plan and a detailed activity description should provide the necessary overview of the course of action:
Lesson title: Happy Valentine’s Day
Class: 8e PROCI
Learning objectives: “love” vocabulary, writing in context
Skills to be developed through the lesson: practise routines (word of the day...), be able to follow instructions, be able to apply newly acquired lexis in writing, be able to link new material with previously seen material (use of present simple in writing), foster organisational skills: follow instructions, deal with power point, group formation, encourage development of social competences: pair and group work
Structure: engage: Valentine’s Day context/word of the day (“darling”) - starter; study 1: “love” vocabulary activity (pair work) – activity 1; study 2: “love letter” Laufdiktat (group work) – activity 2; activate: produce own love letter (group work) – activity 3; summary
- methodological indicators: MI - lesson includes all 8 intelligences but focuses on the following: musical (engage – study 1+2 – activate); visual (engage – study 1+2 – activate); kinaesthetic (engage – study 1+2); naturalistic (engage – study 1+2 – activate)
- didactic material: beamer / PowerPoint / iTunes; overhead; fill-in worksheets; boxes; flashcards; love letters
Class interactions (teacher-learner, learner-learner, learner-autonomy)
- teacher-learner: teacher gives instructions/material; teacher = observer
- learner-learner: pair work; group work
- learner-autonomy: student air-time: 90%, teacher air-time: 10%
Starter: word of the day: “darling” / translation in German and French; vocabulary routine introduces context of Valentine’s day; students have a word of the day list
Activity 1: love vocabulary: pair work; vocabulary list with German expressions; on desk: 2 boxes with same pink and red sets of heart-shaped English expressions; action: one of the two students had to get up, go to the box, take out a card, go back to her seat, and find the correct expression to match with her partner and write it down into the chart. then the partner would take the card, put it back into the box, take a new one and repeat the action; time: 1 love song; overhead correction of vocabulary game
Activity 2: love letter Laufdiktat:group work; groups: 3 different levels of English letters vary in lexis, sentence structure and length; action: The first designed student of each group had to get up, go to their letter, take it out of the envelope, read the first sentence, try to memorise it, put the letter back into the envelope, go back to her group and reproduce it on a piece of paper. Then it was the next student’s turn. It was up to the students how to organise themselves but students had to take turns to run up to the letter and the letter was to be rewritten in the indicated order.; time: 3 love songs; correction: copy of respective letter
Activity 3: produce own love letter: same groups; love letter template; time: 4 love songs; students were given a copy of their respective love letters
present: study & activate (activities 1, 2, 3)
In my opinion, for a person to be musically intelligent, the drums, so to speak, need to trigger a reaction in that person, a response that establishes the music at hand as an element of the given situation. Here songs were employed as a time indicator. Instead of saying “you have so many minutes to complete assignment”, the students were told how many love songs they would have at their disposal. Part of my challenge in this context was to choose songs they would be familiar with in order for the music integration to have the desired effect, namely that of being a time regulator: recognizing the songs, students thus knew when these songs would come to an end. It is obvious that the way music is used in this lesson is closely related to visual and linguistic intelligences: the students were able to follow the course of the song on the beamer (iTunes) and their reaction and notion of time was prompted by the lyrics involved. Still, the students provided feedback by humming or singing along while working and knowing exactly when the moment to stop had arrived. At the last stage, the love letter production, some of the students even involved words and expressions that they remembered from the songs on the playlist. From a professional point of view I would like to add that for me, using songs is much more precise than working with minutes because I tend to yield to stretching the time frame. What is more, it goes without saying that having these songs in the background, songs that they know and might listen to in private as well is highly conducive to a positive working climate: the students remained motivated throughout the entire lesson and the music functioned as a productive asset to the environment instead of being the distraction it is most likely to be linked to in the first place.
present: engage – study – activate
Operating with visual prompts has become quite a must and is now indispensable tool in my teaching repertoire. I regularly introduce the word of the day by means of pictures, cartoons and the like. The visual element then is part of a scaffolding technique that allows the student to see, recognise, discover (the English word) and remember. I like starting a lesson in this way as it also provides some sort of achievement sensation which should help the student on his/her path of confidence building: he/she knows what’s in the picture, therefore he/she “can”. In this lesson, the starter was meant to set the context for the next 50 minutes. The colours of the power point presentation as well as the word of the day or the visual ingredients of it already reflected what was to come.
Another most essential aspect for visual learners and the PROCI class on the whole is a visual representation of any instructions that need to be followed. As previously indicated, instructions for this lesson were given orally and were projected onto the beamer at the same time. They stayed on view for the entire length of the activities; the students thus had the possibility to consult them at any time during that period of action. It cannot be denied, however, that certain adjustments could be made in this context: there seems to have been too much text on the individual slides for them to digest, although the instructions had been presented in oral form as well. In general it can be said that the more straightforward the visual input, the more straightforward the visual student’s output.
present: study (activities 1 & 2)
While I was explaining the first activity, one of the students got up to demonstrate the action without having been asked to do so. It comes naturally to the body-smart learner to move, to immediately translate theory into practice since for the kinaesthetic student, learning means doing, doing with your own hands and quite literally so. It might be interesting to add that the above student mentioned is considered the troublemaker in class and is a rather weak language learner at that. He is always edgy, cannot sit on his chair properly and is forever fiddling stuff and knocking things over. He finds it hard to concentrate and loses interest relatively quickly. Here, however, he showed an acute involvement in an action that hadn’t really started yet and additionally volunteered to clarify the instructions to the class in Luxembourgish. It made sense for him right from the outset because he was allowed to use body movement to learn and internalise. Our established goals in education are mainly divided into three categories: cognitive, psycho-motor and affective. For a kinaesthetic learner (not only though, but especially), the second domain provides a successful inroad into the other two. Ways of learning thus turn into ways of knowing. The kinaesthetic intelligence is generally associated with weaker students or students who are commonly challenged in terms of keeping focused. Using a kinaesthetic activity as a starter or a first activity hence makes sure to engage those students that find it demanding to pay attention to the teacher. Moreover, it takes away some of the teacher’s air-time and makes the students more responsible for their own learning.
Another beneficial entry point for a learning task involving body movement is opened up by the moment the students’ attention and concentration spans are their highest since they will gradually yet clearly drop afterwards. The formula below, far from offering a scientifically reproducible outcome at all times and levels, somehow allows to illustrate potential concentration and attention span curves.
AS: child’s age + 2 years = x minutes
CS: child’s age – 1 year = y minutes
In the context of a 8e, where the average student is usually about fourteen years old, this means that concentration and attention will theoretically falter after a quarter of an hour approximately. Making the students use their body in relation to their learning process, especially letting them get up and move around the classroom, might keep interest and engagement sustained and might avoid “losing” your audience at that critical moment.
A kinaesthetic moment in the classroom can therefore produce two positive results: first the enrichment and encouragement it offers the kinaesthetic learner, second the motivation and interest maintenance it can provide in general. Again, as with the musical intelligence, I can only confirm that the students seize these opportunities to participate but participate differently in class. Fortunately, I have not made the experience so far of students taking this as an occasion for disruptive behaviour; quite to the contrary, I believe this kind of activity to be fruitful and also fun for both teacher and those who are being taught.
present: engage – study – activate
I have presented my idea of the naturalistic intelligence as being connected to real-life circumstances and the senses of touch and feel. In relation to this lesson, the naturalistic intelligence, defined in that way, is the foundation and framework of the initiated learning environment. The lesson was held on Valentine’s Day. The overall theme of the lesson, enveloping and guiding each activity, was Valentine’s Day. The students were immediately able to connect with the setting, the colours and shapes in use and the nature of the activities. This was their present world, projected into the classroom. I think learning happens most easily in a contextualised social and physical surrounding. Situated learning, accordingly, is the main ingredient in the promotion of naturalistic intelligence and vice versa. Situated learning also prepares a safe ground for the students, thereby underlining the importance of the affective domain in any learning process: if they recognise the situation they have been put in, they feel comfortable and know what to expect.
Moreover, activities 2 and 3 involve real-life objects, although artificial reproductions were used in the first task. The letters had to be touched, had to be put back into their respective envelopes, and real love letters had to be written. The last activity was additionally driven by the fact that I had established myself as a jury who would choose the best letter and award a prize to the winning group. I would like to mention here that the “best” letter does not necessarily mean the most developed in terms of English. That would have been an unfair evaluation criterion since the groups had been divided up into different ability levels. What I was looking for was originality and progress and the students were well aware of that. They ran a genuine competition, glued rose petals and stickers onto their letters, drew hearts and roses on them and embellished the template and envelopes without me asking them to do so. The situated learning environment appealed to their naturalistic intelligence, the link to the real-life context, and made them creative and imaginative. They wanted it to be as authentic as possible while not failing to neglect the actual assignment, namely writing a love letter. Again, without having been pushed, they included words from the songs and worked with the vocabulary they had encountered at the beginning of the lesson. The groups remained in their original composition, so according to the students’ level of English. It is clear that the strongest team’s letter was the closest to my expectations, but that is how I have learned, as a teacher, to negotiate my expectations. The outcome might not have been what I had initially imagined in terms of language output but the students’ interest and dedication to this task due to its naturalistic framework are invaluable assets for a productively positive learning environment, and I will take these findings to heart while creating future learning situations.
The objectives of the lesson as such were clearly reached as shown by the filmed lesson and the letters fashioned. However, to ensure a reinforcement of the knowledge that had already been acquired that day, the students were asked to produce a love letter in the subsequent test. They were provided with the same template we used for the activity in class with the instructions to write at least 4 sentences and use at least two expressions from their love vocabulary list. The class scored 3.5 out of 5 as an average on that exercise. Admittedly, some students scored disappointingly low and these were not necessarily students who had worked in the low ability level group. In order to ensure an even better result, then, I believe I could have undertaken some adaptations in relation to the product in class. As a matter of fact, I did not correct the love letters as I deemed it confidence-decreasing to do so. This was their creation and I did not feel I had the right to meddle with it.(I usually do not encounter any difficulties with this but given the intimate nature of the subject and the students’ enthusiasm for the task I judged it best to leave the letters in their original form.) Also, I kept the originals for my own purpose and handed out a copy of their respective letter to each student. The problem that arises here is that the weaker students only got to see the weaker letter. I could have written either a model letter, but then again, it would have taken away some of the students’ autonomy, could have corrected them nevertheless or could have distributed the more linguistically-advanced letter to every student.
As far as the lesson itself goes, the only adjustment I would make for future reference is smaller teams, since I think that they would have worked even more efficiently.
An obvious problem that still needs to be solved, but is so inherently linked to and strongly rooted in our education system, is that it is the product that is being assessed here, not the process, the way the student takes in order to arrive at that product, his/her efforts, constraints and the progress implied.
Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
Pritchard, Alan. Ways of Learning: Learning Theories and Learning Styles in the Classroom. Oxon & New York: David Fulton Publishers, 2005.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. Alexandria, Virginia USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), 2004.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms, 2nd edition. Alexandria, Virginia USA: ASCD, 2001.
Please check the Teaching English Through Multiple Intelligences course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary Teachers course at Pilgrims website.