Accessing the Musical Intelligence in Early Childhood Education

By Singer, Miriam J. | Australian Journal of Early Childhood, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Accessing the Musical Intelligence in Early Childhood Education


Singer, Miriam J., Australian Journal of Early Childhood


Introduction

EVERY STUDENT LEARNS in a different manner. Just as a student's learning style may differ, so must the teaching style differ to allow the student to capitalise on the teachable moment. Students may hear the same information from a teacher or read the same information in a text, yet they process that information in unique ways. Teachers are faced with the age-old problem of how to reach a final destination, an outcome, with a class of 20-30 students so that each individual student has essentially learned the same material at some 'benchmark' level. At best this is a challenge. In today's schools, with inclusion being the norm, the challenge is even greater. Inclusion students, those with learning disabilities who are placed in regular education classrooms, frequently have processing problems which may add to their learning difficulties and cause additional stress for both teacher and student.

It is widely known that most learning environments are geared towards the verbal/linguistic and mathematical intelligences of our students. This is how students are tested and evaluated, particularly once they progress beyond preschool. Teachers may prepare students for the test, but have students really internalised the material? Teachers who were taught through the verbal/linguistic and mathematical intelligences tend to perpetuate this style--perhaps because it requires less effort and preparation, or perhaps because those teachers with strong verbal skills teach in the style which emulates their strengths rather than move to a less personally comfortable style which uses their other, perhaps dormant, intelligences. As more and more schools in the United States, and world-wide as well, are moving towards outcomes-based assessments with full accountability, it may be more difficult to define the dispositions we wish our students to exhibit and to devise appropriate measurements for them, particularly for those skills outside the standard repertoire of verbal/linguistic and mathematical proficiency. Howard Gardner, a researcher at Harvard University, sums up the dilemma:

   Lest one think behaviorist ideas are dead, consider such current
   practices as standardised national tests and outcomes-based
   education. Proponents as well as opponents of both focus entirely
   on the test score achieved by a student or on the specific outcomes
   mandated by a jurisdiction. Rarely is attention paid to the means
   by which these behaviors are achieved, let alone to the specific or
   general patterns of thought that might give rise to, or thwart, the
   emission of the desired behaviors (Gardner, 2000, p. 65).

Educators are becoming better attuned to what Gardner (1983) refers to as the Multiple Intelligences Theory as a means to improve student learning. 'Gardner points out that intelligence isn't a singular phenomenon, but rather a plurality of capacities' (Armstrong, 2003, p. 12). He also refers to each person as having a spectrum of intelligences, varying levels of each of the identified intelligences. These other, multiple capacities can provide a point of entry for students with certain learning disabilities as well as for the 'average' students. Further, these intelligences are cross-culture, cross-race, cross-gender. Specific to this paper is the musical intelligence. For current purposes, it may be defined as the ability to appreciate and use rhythm, pitch and timbre and to compose tunes. As an aside for those interested in Gardner's views on music, Chapter 8 of his book The Disciplined Mind (2000) gives a unique approach to music in education.

It is often noted that one can remember songs of childhood, even in a foreign language, but may have difficulty remembering other specific material. This author frequently challenges her graduate education students by asking how many of them can look up a name in a phone book, or file documents in alphabetical order, without singing their ABCs. …

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