American schools have traditionally favored those students who excel in the linguistic and analytical arenas because these skills are highly valued in our culture. Unfortunately, this traditional approach leaves certain students behind to stumble blindly through an educational system which ignores their unique abilities. This is not to say that the development of linguistic and analytical skills should be abandoned in favor of nontraditional approaches to education. Rather, traditional and nontraditional approaches should be combined to formulate a method of education that is best suited to the students who populate our classrooms.
The theory of multiple intelligences, developed by psychologist Howard Gardner, offers a balance which teaches students what they need to know in order to be successful in our society in a way that compliments the unique abilities that each individual possesses.
Having said this, how does one go about effectively implementing the multiple intelligences into the classroom? Unfortunately, much has been done in the name of multiple intelligences without actually stimulating any portion of a child's brain. For example, simply running around a classroom haphazardly cannot be said to call upon the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence unless another component of the activity triggers thought on the part of the student. On the other hand, the student who creates a dance based upon a work of literature and communicates the essence of that work to an audience is clearly demonstrating the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
The following lesson ideas target a range of intelligences...
1. Use a scenario that relates to your content (something controversial works best) and ask students to discuss it. I have used a scenario called "The Soldier's Dilemma" to introduce themes found in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and in literature from the Realism movement.
First, I read the scenarios out loud to the students, then I ask them to work in groups to answer questions about the scenario. Each group is asked to come to a consensus about their opinions. Once they have sufficient time to debate the issue, I ask them to return to their seats for a whole class discussion.
During the process of thinking about and discussing the scenario, students must use their interpersonal skills to defend their positions, first with their group members, then with the entire class. Students also need to use their intrapersonal intelligences because the emotional level of this discussion requires a sense of self-awareness and self-understanding. Students also need to use their logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic intelligences for analysis and their verbal-linguistic intelligence for communication.
2. Use an opinionnaire as a thought-provoking activity. I've used opinionnaires as introductory activities and I have also used them as the basis for essay assignments.
I use a wilderness survival opinionnaire when I teach "To Build a Fire" by Jack London. Students complete the opinionnaire before reading the short story, then again after reading and discussing it. The second opinionnaire is followed up with an essay assignment that asks students to identify three statements from the opinionnaire for which their answers changed as a result of reading and discussing the story.
This assignment requires students to consider the reasons for their answers on the first opinionnaire and then to consider what about the story and the class discussions made them change their opinions when completing the second opinionnaire. Students are also required to use textual evidence in support of their reasoning. As a result, students use their logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic intelligences for analysis of the literature and for organization of their essays, in addition to the verbal-linguistic intelligence for reading and writing and the intrapersonal intelligence for the introspective thought process.
3. Assign a mini-research project and allow students to present their research in a way that suits their own intelligences. I assign a 1920s mini-research project as an introduction to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I give students the opportunity to work alone, in pairs, or in groups of three or four. Each student is required to select his or her own topic to research. If students choose to work with classmates, their individual research is to be integrated into one presentation. As preparation for their projects, students brainstorm methods for demonstrating knowledge. The form of the final product is left to the students' discretion. As a result, students can use the combinations of intelligences with which they are most comfortable.
4. Assign small groups of students to "act out" a portion of a work of literature. I have used this approach with novels and Shakespearean drama.
When using this approach with a novel, I assign groups of three or four students to a chapter. They are asked to select a passage or a series of passages that they like and which are important to the development of the chapter and the novel. They are also required to plan and present a rationale in which they explain the reason they select their passage(s) and the importance of the passage to the novel. They are asked to consider foreshadowing, symbolism, and characterization when planning their rationales. (The literary devices assigned depend upon the novel.)
To complete this assignment, students use their intrapersonal, verbal-linguistic, and logical-mathematical intelligences in scene selection, their interpersonal and logical-mathematical intelligences in planning and organizing their scene, their interpersonal, verbal-linguistic, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences to act out the scene, and they use their logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic intelligences to organize and present their rationales at the end of the scene.
When using this approach with Shakespearean drama, I manage to incorporate all of the intelligences into one assignment. It is an elaborate assignment that cannot be fully explained in the given space, but students are asked to adapt the play to a modern situation. Then they have to write a script, create sets, props, and costumes, plan music/sound effects, etc. Finally, they perform their rendition for the class.
Handouts are available for most of these assignments. Visit The Writing Tutor to obtain handouts or to obtain more information about any of these assignments.
Johannessen, L. R. (1994). The call of adventure: Jack London's "To Build a Fire." Notes Plus, 12 (1), 11-15.
Johannessen, L. R. (1997, January 20). Teaching the Vietnam War. Presented at a teacher's institute meeting at Township High School, LaGrange, IL.
Michele R. Acosta is a writer, a former English teacher, and the mother of three boys. She spends her time writing and teaching others to write. Visit http://www.thewritingtutor.biz/articles for more articles, http://www.thewritingtutor.biz/writing_editing_service for professional writing/editing services, or TheWritingTutor.biz for other writing and educational resources for young authors, teachers, and parents.
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