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:
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
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
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. …