Friday, 22 April 2011

Multiple Intelligences Theory and English Language Teaching

-Dr. D. B. Gavani
I.        Introduction
With the advent of "humanism" in the 60s of the 20th century, the conventional, authoritative teacher-centered instruction has given way to the learner-centered mode of instruction.  Educators started paying attention to the impact that learners' affective factors (e.g., their feelings, emotions, tension, anxiety, frustration, needs, interests, motivation, and confidence, etc.) may bring in the process of learning.  Then we have witnessed the birth and maturing of some innovative ELT approaches, methods, and techniques during the 70s to the 80s, such as The Silent Way, Community Language Learning, Total Physical Response (TPR), Suggestopedia, The Natural Approach, Communicative Approach, cooperative learning, interactive learning, whole language learning, task-based learning.  In the 90s, Dr. Howard Gardner, a distinguished American cognitive psychologist, suggested from his research findings (1983, 1993 and 1995) that human cognitive competence actually is pluralistic, rather than unitary, in design.  His multiple intelligences (MI) theory touched off a wave of educational innovation not only in the United States but throughout the world.  Educators recognize the diversity of the learners in their learning styles, learning potentials, etc. and appreciate the development of learning strategies on the part of the learners.  Being an English language teacher, I find the basic concepts of MI theory conform with my interest in "individualized instruction" and "independent learning."  That is the very reason I pick out the topic for my research paper.
II.        Multiple Intelligences Theory
In the past, intelligence was a fixed, static entity at birth which was defined operationally as the ability to answer items on IQ tests.  Even since the publication of his Frames of Mind (1983), Dr. Howard Gardner has postulated an alternative definition of intelligence based on a radically different view of intelligence.  According to him, an intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting or community (1993:15).  There are many, not just one, different but autonomous intelligence capacities that result in many different ways of knowing, understanding, and learning about our world.  As Gardner (1993:12) states:
It is of the utmost importance that we recognize and nurture all of the varied of human intelligences, and all of the combination of intelligence.  We are all so different largely because we all have different combinations of intelligences.  If we recognize this, I think we will have at least a better chance of dealing appropriately with the many problems that we face in the world.
In order to make a clear distinction between an intelligence with its biological origin and a talent/skill, Gardner asserts that each intelligence must satisfy all or a majority of the following criteria, namely brain damage studies, exceptional individuals, developmental history, evolutionary history, psychometric findings, psychological tasks, core operations, and symbol system (Christison, 1998).  Up to the present, he has proposed a schema of eight intelligences and suggests that there are probably many others that we have not yet been able to test (Gardner, 1995).  A summary of Gardner's eight intelligences is given as follow:
Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence is the ability to use language effectively and creatively both orally and in writing.  This intelligence can be seen in such people as poets, playwrights, storytellers, novelists, public speakers, and comedians.
Logical/Mathematical Intelligence is the ability to use numbers effectively, to recognize abstract patterns, to discern relationships and to reason well.  The intelligence can be seen in such people as scientists, computer programmers, accountant, lawyers, bankers, and, of course, mathematicians.
The logical/mathematical and verbal/linguistic intelligences form the basis for most systems of education, as well as for all forms of currently existing standardized testing programs.
Visual/Spatial Intelligence involves the ability to sense form, space, color, line, and shape including the ability to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas.  This intelligence can be seen in such people as architects, graphic artists, cartographers, industrial design draftspersons, and, of course, visual artists (painters and sculptors).
Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence is the ability to use one's body to express oneself and to solve problems.  This intelligence can be seen in such people as actors, athletes, mimes, dancers, and inventors.
Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence involves the ability to recognize tonal patterns and a sensibility to rhythm, pitch, melody, etc.  This intelligence can be seen in advertising professionals (those who write catchy jungles to sell a product), performance musicians, rock musicians, dance bands and composers.
Interpersonal Intelligence involves the ability to understand people's moods, feelings, motivations and intentions.  It includes the ability to work cooperatively with others in a group and to communicate, verbally and nonverbally, with other people.  This form of intelligence is usually highly developed in such people as counselors, teachers, therapists, politicians, and religions leaders.
Intrapersonal Intelligence involves the ability to understand the internal aspects of the self and to practice self-discipline.  This intelligence can be seen in such people as philosophers, psychiatrists, spiritual counselors, and cognitive pattern researchers.
Naturalist Intelligence involves the ability to recognize and classify plants, minerals, and animals, including rocks, grass, and all variety of flora and fauna.  It also includes the ability to recognize cultural artifacts like cars, sneakers, etc.  The intelligence can be seen in such people as farmers, hunters, zookeepers, gardeners, cooks, veterinarians, nature guide, and forest rangers.
III.       The Application of MI Theory to English Language Teaching (ELT)
It seemed to us that ever since the arising of the learner-centered instruction, every ELT method/technique with its specific emphasis has been developed to meet students' different needs, or interests (somewhat as Gardner's intention of developing and/or using different kinds of "intelligences").  The Silent Way, for example, emphasizes the development of students' inner thinking (intrapersonal intelligence); Total Physical Response, however, emphasizes language learning through physical action (bodily/kinesthetic intelligence); Suggestopedia, on the other hand, emphasizes the use of music (musical intelligence) to facilitate language cognition; both the Communicative Approach and cooperative learning emphasize the importance of interpersonal relationship (interpersonal intelligence) to language learning; and the whole language learning not only emphasizes the wholeness and reality of language (verbal/linguistic intelligence) but also believe the coordination of bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences to promote language learning.
The announcement of Gardner's MI theory acknowledges a broader intellectual spectrum in every leaner.  We, the English language teachers today, are better aware of the fact that students bring with them specific strengths, unique learning styles, and different learning potentials.  The theory of multiple intelligence offers us a way to examine and form our best teaching techniques and strategies in light of human differences. We can teach our students to be more intelligent in more ways, and on more levels than we ever dreamed.
With the reference of Christison (1996:10-11), I list four steps to show how MI theory applies to ELT.  The first step is to identify the activities frequently used in our classes and categorize them to each particular type of intelligence.  Through literature review (Lazear, 1999 & 1993, Christison, 1990, 1996 & 1998, Haggerty, 1995, Li's translation of Armstrong, 1994 and Campbells & Dickinson, 1993) and my decades' teaching and observation, I came up with the list below, which is by no means exhaustive, for your reference.
Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence
Vocabulary & Grammar Learning -- learning new words and grammatical points and practicing using them accurately in regular communication
Listening -- listening to tapes of stories, dialogues, and lectures, etc.
Formal and Informal Speaking -- making verbal presentation to others, making conversations, having discussions and debates, etc.
Humor or Jokes -- creating puns, limericks, and telling jokes on topics of study
Impromptu Speaking -- instantly speaking on a randomly drawn topic
Storytelling -- telling stories about any topic one is studying
Reading -- silent reading, oral reading, and group/choral/chain reading for comprehension
Writing -- doing written exercises, note-taking, summary/report writing, and journal/log/diary keeping to keep track of one's own thoughts and ideas
Creative Writing -- writing original pieces (e.g., stories, essays, poems, novels, etc.)

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence
Logic Pattern Games -- creating riddles or puzzles that challenge students to find a hidden rationale or pattern
Logical/Sequential Presentation -- inventing point-by-point logical explanations for items or making systematic presentation of subject matter
Number Sequences/Patterns -- investigating numerical facts or gathering and analyzing statistics on a topic
Problem Solving -- listing appropriate procedures for problem solving situations
Forming Relationships -- creating meaningful connections between different ideas
Syllogisms -- making "if…, then…" logical deductions about a topic

Visual/Spatial Intelligence
Visual Aids Using/Making -- using flash cards, pictures, paintings, charts, collages, graphs, grids, diagrams, flowcharts, slides, sculptures and video/film-viewing, etc. to facilitate learning and encouraging students to make the visual aids by themselves
Active Imagination -- finding connection between visual designs (or pattern) and prior experiences (or knowledge)
Mind Mapping -- creating or arranging visual mapping activities (e.g. word maze, visual webs of written information)
Environment Arranging/Decorating -- encouraging students to decorate bulletin boards, and arranging learning corner (e.g. English reading corner) to achieve the effect of peripheral learning
Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence
Physical Actions -- arranging and doing TPR and hands-on activities
Body Language -- "embodying" meaning, interpretation, or understanding of an idea in physical movement
Role Playing/Mime -- performing skits or characters to show understanding of topics of study
Dramatic Enactment -- creating a mini-drama that shows the dynamic interplay of various topics of study
Sports Games -- creating a contest or game based on specific knowledge about a topic of study
Field Trips -- arranging trips to gain firsthand knowledge away from the classroom
Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence
Music/Song Listening -- listening to rhythmic patterns, recorded music, or songs
Singing/Humming -- creating songs for a class, a team, a topic of study or finding existing songs that complement a topic
Musical Instruments Playing -- employing musical instruments to produce sounds for a lesson (e.g., background accompaniment, enhancement for the teaching)
Music Composition/Creation -- composing and creating music for the sound effect of a play performance or for the enhancement of teaching
Jazz Chants/Rapping -- producing or using rhythmic patterns, such as jazz chants, or raps to help communicate, or to remember certain words, sentence structures, concepts, ideas, or processes
Vocal Sounds/Tones -- producing sounds with one's vocal cords to illustrate the meaning of a word, or a concept (e.g., hiccup, gasp, etc.)
Interpersonal Intelligence
Person to Person Communication -- focusing on how teachers and students relate to each other and how to improve their relating
Giving and Receiving Feedback -- offering input on one's performance or about one's opinions; and accepting another's input or reaction to one's performance/ opinions
Cooperative Learning Strategies -- using structured teamworks for topic learning and/or practicing peer learning
Pair Works and Group Projects -- investigating and discussing a topic problem with a partner or with others in teams
Jigsaw Puzzle/Strip Story -- dividing a picture or a story into distinct segments so that students can learn from each other on the process of putting it back to its original form
Intrapersonal Intelligence
Independent Studies/Projects -- encouraging students to work independently for goal-setting, process-planning, self-assessing, and homework choosing
Journals/Logs/Diaries keeping -- working with reflection tools, such as reflective journals, thinking logs, learning diaries, etc.
Focusing/Concentration Skills -- learning the ability to focus one's mind on a single idea or task
Thinking strategies -- learning what thinking patterns to use for what task
Naturalist Intelligence
Nature Encounters/Field Trips -- going outside for firsthand experiences in nature and/or bringing nature in the classroom via videos, objects, animals, plants, etc.
Species Classification -- working with classification matrices to understand characteristics of natural objects
Sensory Stimulation Exercises -- exposing the senses to nature's sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and sights
Hands-On Labs -- performing experiments or activities that use objects from the natural world
Nature World Simulations -- re-creating or representing nature in some form (e.g. photographs, drawings, etc.)
After the suggested "menus" (as Campbell, 1997 named it) for each category have been worked out, the next step is how to choose "appropriate dishes" for each "meal."  Step two is, therefore, to make plans by selecting appropriate classroom activities/tasks, taking the following factors into consideration: students' needs, strengths, levels, learning styles, learning strategies, learning potentials, the nature of the subject matter, the teacher's personal teaching rationales, his/her multiple intelligence profile, and teaching styles, etc.  Step three is to use ELT Multiple Intelligences weekly/monthly checklist (Appendix A) to keep track of different activities/tasks conducted in the class.  We, of course, need not to include activities for developing all the eight multiple intelligences within each lesson; we may, however, follow the step four: to expand our classroom activities for the neglected intelligences by way of examining and analyzing our checklists for a period of time.
IV.       A Referential Lesson Plan
In order to help the English language teachers gain a better understanding about how MI theory applies to classroom teaching, I sketched a lesson plan on the topic titled "Customs Vary with Culture" selected from Mosaic One: A Content-Based Reading, a textbook used in my Freshman English Course, for reference.
Time Limitation:        3 consecutive periods
Student Level:            Freshmen from the Dept. of Public Finance, NCCU
Class Size:                  35 students
Teaching Method(s): Whole language learning & task-based learning
1st period:

Classroom Activities
Approximate Time
    1.     Giving background knowledge about the article and its author.
5 mins.
(through lecture)
    2.     Brainstorming on the priming questions, e.g., What purpose do you think the author had for writing this article? And/or, what does the title imply to you?
10 mins.
(through informal speaking)
Intrapersonal, and Interpersonal
    3.     Listening to the taped article to grasp the main ideas.
5 mins.
(through listening)
    4.     Silent reading and oral reading for comprehension through the strategy of "topic sentence" detecting from each paragraph.
20 mins.
(through reading and reading strategies)
    5.     Vocabulary learning through the strategy of guessing meaning from context or form.
10 mins.
(through vocabulary and vocabulary learning strategies)

2nd period:

Classroom Activities
Approximate Time
    1.     Group discussing on the organization of each paragraph (e.g., by deductively expanding, inductively generalizing, etc.) and reviewing its main idea(s), too.
15 mins.
(through discussion)
Interpersonal, and
    2.     Doing exercises listed at the back of the article either orally or in writing by working in groups and/or individually.
25 mins.
(through speaking & writing) and Interpersonal
    3.     Commenting on the concepts/ideas one agrees or disagrees in the article, and giving his/her reasons.
10 mins.
(through oral presentation) and

3rd period:
            With the reference of activities listed at the back of the article, I design five different tasks to be completed, (10 minutes for the performance/presentation of each task).  Students can choose which task to work on either by joining a group or working independently.
Task-1 (work in group)
            Look at the two drawings, concerning the customs of hand-shaking and social distance.  Discuss in group and report the similarities and differences that may exist between the East and the West, or make a verbal debate against each other. (Visual/Spatial, Interpersonal, Logical, and Verbal/Linguistic Intelligences.)
Task-2 (work in group or individually)
            Find a song concerning cultural differences or a folk song from a particular culture and enjoy listening and singing it with necessary explanation of its lyrics. (Musical/Rhythmic and Verbal/Linguistic Intelligences.)
Task-3 (work in group)
            Write a skit based on a culture shock anecdote and performing it. (Verbal/Linguistic, Bodily/Kinesthetic and/or Visual/spatial, and/or Musical/Rhythmic Intelligences.)
Task-4 (work in group)
            Discuss in small group a problem or an embarrassing situation you may confront with due to cultural conflicts, and come up a solution by drawing a flowchart to show its procedure.  (Logical/Mathematics & Visual/Spatial Intelligences.)
Task-5 (work in group or individually)
            Search for some unique words, or body language developed in a culture due to its particular natural environment, e.g., geographic location, climate, etc.  (Verbal/Linguistic and Naturalist Intelligences.)
V.        The Assessment of MI-Inspired Teaching
Testing represents a singular act that is characteristic of teacher-centered classrooms.  Assessment, on the other hand, is a complex process distinctive of student-centered classrooms.  Testing is intended to determine what students have learned though it generally fails the job.  Assessment is integrated with learning and instruction and is intended to stimulate further learning.
The core spirit of MI theory is opposed to the uniform view of schooling and the formal testing (standardized tests).  Gardner (1993) holds the view that assessment is an essential component of an MI education.  It is particularly important to use multiple modes of assessment that will allow students to show their strengths and perform optimally.  Many testing professionals nowadays share the belief that authentic assessment, which emphasizes assessing what students know (knowledge) and what students do (performance) from different perspectives so as to provide a complete picture of students' abilities, efforts and progress during the learning process.
In short, we need diverse forms of product and/or process-based, individualized-based, contextualized-based, performance-based and ongoing-based assessment which include paper-and-pencil tests, portfolios, journals/logs, projects, exhibits, performances, and displays, etc.(Lazear, 1999) with feedback gained not only from teachers and parents but also from students themselves and their peers, to reflect and reinforce MI-inspired instruction. A copy of Multiple Intelligence Assessment Menu (Lazear, 1999: 105) is attached in Appendix D for reference.
VI.       Conclusion
MI theory offers us, English language teachers, a richly diversified way of understanding and categorizing human cognitive abilities, and combinations of abilities, heightening our awareness of what makes learning possible and effective for individual students.  There are several ways which may facilitate the implementation of MI-inspired teaching in our classroom:
1.   Examine our intellectual profiles and find out our own teaching styles through a multiple intelligence inventory (Appendix B).
2.   Understand the intellectual profiles of our students through students-generated inventory (Appendix C).
3.   Consider specific teaching approaches and methods that appeal to particular intelligences or combinations of intelligences.
4.   Plan a variety of activities from different resources (including the use of internet, too) for specific lessons or classes with multiple intelligence theory in mind (e.g. focus on diversity, learning process, and the transferring of learning to life beyond the classroom, etc.).
5.   Provide students with different learning strategies necessary for lifelong learners.
6.   Put emphasis on multiple forms of assessment rather than traditional standardized testing only.
Following the above-mentioned ways, we can achieve, for sure, a better effect in our MI-inspired ELT classrooms.


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Campbell, L. (1997). "How Teachers Interpret MI Theory." Educational Leadership, 55(1): 15-19.
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Chao, T.C.  (2000). "Authentic Assessment in the EFL School Context: An MI-Based Model." The Proceedings of the Seventeenth Conference on English Teaching and Learning. 486-496. Taipei: The Crane Publishing Co.
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Gardner, H. (1995). "Are There Additional Intelligences?  The Case for the Naturalist Intelligence." Howard Project Zero. Cambridge, MA: President and Fellows of Howard College.
Haggerty, Brian A. (1995). Nurturing Intelligences: A Guide to Multiple Intelligences Theory and Teaching. Addison-Wesley Publishing company.
Larsen-Freeman, Diane (2000). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press.
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1 comment:

  1. Hi! This is an excellent article on ELT which helps many Professors and new teachers to adopt Multiple Intelligences in the the process of teaching English. It is really thoght provoking article.