`Intelligences' Theory Applied in Local Schools Researchers, and Teachers, Say People Learn in Different Ways

Article excerpt

In the not-so-good-old days, if students didn't learn like everybody else, they might have spent the rest of their school lives labeled as slow.

Now some teachers are getting behind a theory that says people learn in at least seven different ways, and they are tailoring lessons to their students.

At New City School, sixth-graders in small groups use multicolored blocks to build a design. The group then writes four clues to help other classmates figure out and re-create the design.

The exercise requires students to use at least three of the seven ways of learning, says their teacher, Jean Blockhus Grover.

By working with blocks, they use spatial or visual skills; by writing clues, they employ linguistic ability, and working in groups draws on interpersonal skills.

The four other learning styles are:

- Logical/mathematical.

- Musical.

- Bodily/kinesthetic.

- Intrapersonal.

The seven ways of learning, also known as "multiple intelligences," form a theory proposed in 1983 by Harvard professor Howard Gardner. Gardner bases his theory on brain research and says there may be even more ways that people learn.

Two of the learning styles - linguistic and logical/mathematical - have driven traditional education and are the focus of almost all standardized achievement tests, Gardner says.

But the other five are just as important in helping children learn, he says.

Students - and everyone else - differ in their strengths and how they learn about the world, according to Gardner's theory.

Teachers therefore not only need to build on students' strengths but help them where they may be weak.

***** School At The Helm

Locally, New City School is in the vanguard of putting Gardner's theory into practice. The school, at 5209 Waterman Avenue in the Central West End, held a two-day conference recently. It was attended by 250 educators from Missouri and 23 other states.

New City School got interested in the theory about six years ago when Director Tom Hoerr read Gardner's book, "Frames of Mind."

Staff members at the progressive elementary school had long believed that it was important to focus on what kind of person a child was becoming, not just how much the child knew.

Although teachers at many schools in the St. Louis area have begun to use the theory in their classrooms, New City School is unique in incorporating it schoolwide, Hoerr said.

A variety of sculptures by sixth-graders about "The Cay," a book about the Caribbean, line up on cafeteria tables on the second floor at New City. Students have chosen materials from plaster of Paris and cookie dough to Styrofoam to create island scenes.

Students are encouraged to be creative, but they also must use facts from the book to show they understand it, said Grover, their teacher.

Stacey Carman said another example of a spatial skill would be teachers asking third-grade students to draw three pictures of what happens to a character in "Sign of the Beaver" as he tries to get honey from a beehive.

Carman and two other third-grade teachers, Julie Stevens and Suzy Schweig, work cooperatively on an overall theme for the school year. The idea is to weave this year's theme, North American Indians, as much as possible into class work.

That's why Julie Stevens' classroom features a life-sized teepee, arrowheads and other Indian artifacts, including ceremonial rattles, a drum and a gourd.

In addition to reading books about American Indians, the class does projects on aspects of Indian life, such as the buffalo. They may develop math skills by having students calculate the weight of a cow buffalo vs. a bull buffalo.

Incorporating musical skills into the theme has proved to be the hardest - and most chaotic - the three teachers say. But as Stevens says with a smile, if you encourage students to beat a drum to develop their musical intelligence, "you can't complain about the noise. …