Nov. 20, 2023
Getting Started with MI Despite the Challenges
Welcome to the 12th Issue!
We are nearing the end of the year of commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Frames of Mind, where MI theory was introduced by Howard Gardner in 1983. This may the next to the last issue of the year because I will be on the road for most of the month of December. Of note, I will join Howard and colleagues in Hong Kong for the 3rd International MI Education Forum sponsored by Rex Li and his team at G.T. College. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org . I hope to publish at least a couple more MI@40 Newsletters in January to sum up and wonder about the future.
Getting Up and Running with MI
Are you curious or enthusiastic about the idea that there are multiple intelligences? Perhaps you’ve read an article or a paragraph in your Ed. Psych or teaching methods texts. Maybe an older teacher discussed it in the teacher’s lounge, and it piqued your interest. It makes sense to you, so you look into it more. You heard there used to be many (public!) schools with their entire curriculum wrapped around the eight intelligences. Even today there are private schools that have MI written into their mission statements. You might wonder, Does MI thinking still play a meaningful role in their instruction and priorities as a school? You’ve heard that many educational fads swept through the world became buzzwords with little action behind the rhetoric. Has this happened to MI?
This issue’s essay is an open invitation to readers to contribute their advice to teachers who are inspired by MI theory but are stuck about what to actually do. They may be in a classroom, school or district that discourages any deviation from the standardized curriculum with the singular focus on improving students’ scores on achievement tests. Oh, and, yes, what the heck does MI have to say about those annoying yet vital test scores that are posted in the local newspaper and determine eligibility for promotion? If I dare “do MI” (whatever that means . . .), will I risk lowering class scores? That would be bad.
This essay offers a handful of “quick start” tips to prime the pump for the novice MI teacher. I hope experienced teachers will expand on or deepen these starter points. We can all benefit from reflecting on research evidence as well as hearing tales from the front lines by seasoned professionals. It takes a certain amount of confidence to dare to deviate from conventional practices. Standing in your classroom is a staged performance and nobody wants to fall flat on their face when so much is at stake. These five principles extrapolated from neuroscience are aimed to help you Get a Grip on MI. You can choose the starting point that works best for you. MI is a “tool kit” and not a prescriptive plan. Select a strategy that will serve you and your students the best. You’re probably already doing many of these things so tune up and enhance your work with MI in mind!
Get a Grip on MI – Five Keys
I look at my open hands whenever I want inspiration for MI thinking. I recall the old adage advising “hands on” learning to enhance long term memory. Two fingers represent my traditional ways of teaching a topic with the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences: lectures, books, writing papers and essays, verbal explanations, oral responses, class discussions, etc. These all make sense, but I know they’re not enough to reach the whole class. I need to use both hands to open minds and doors to lifelong learning. Below are five key ideas to bring the power of MI into your life.
- Five Keys
Key Idea 1. Culture Matters
The brain does not operate at peak performance independently from its cultural environment. Your classroom is its own unique “culture:” beliefs, values, rituals, rewards, etc. Two quick-start tips are suggested. First, listen to your words and look around your classroom for elements of each of the eight multiple intelligences. Do this even if you are in a math classroom where numbers and logic are king. The easiest way to get started is to immerse yourself in and use the MI language to describe thinking and activities in your instruction. This might mean to forget the Harvard terms in favor of kid friendly words- Word Smart, People Smart, Self Smart, Logic Smart, etc. As one teacher described it to me, I pull back the black curtain and reveal that invisible force of thinking with these words. They give students metacognitive power and this can make a big difference as the Intrapersonal intelligence is activated. Second, use the MI language to spotlight the thinking strengths of students who struggle with academic skills. When you value the eight MI in words and actions your classroom culture will energize all their brains to be attentive and engaged. Engagement and attention are the deep roots of memory and understanding.
Key Idea 2. Every Brain is Unique—Activate Strengths
When you use the multiple intelligences terms to value a student’s unique strengths who is not an academic star you can make a dramatic impact on their self-efficacy and social status. “Jo, you can use your special visual intelligence to help you to memorize the steps for multiplying fractions. Try this three-color pen to rewrite those steps. Let me know if it helps.” The simple fact is that no two brains are wired the same and we each have our own unique strengths. Exploiting these strengths can be a key to success. First, directly develop that strength. Second, use that strength to bolster a limitation or and leverage learning. Of course, in order to do this effectively it helps to have an accurate self-understanding of your own MI profile—strengths and limitations.
Key Idea 3. Know Thyself
This is not an empty platitude. Learning begins with the self: how you think and feel about the topic matters. This applies to you as teacher as well as for each student. First, being clear on how the topic fits with your MI profile will help you to understand the students’ responses. Parents are the child’s first teacher of “self”. Siblings and other family members are next in line, but then school, teachers and classmates make significant impacts. We can all recall a teacher whose words changed our self-concept (for better or worse!) and the direction of our life. It is too easy to forget the power our words have on each student. Who am I? Where am I going? These are profound questions impacted by our relationship with teachers. I still have the report card where my sixth grade teacher wrote, Branton has leadership potential. I went from a shy kid in the back of the room to someone with “potential”.
Key Idea 4. Emotional Rudder and Embodied Cognition
There is no separation between how we feel and how we think about a topic especially while “doing it”. Feelings are the thinking gateway that can open or close the doors for understanding. The same holds true for “doing”. The line between thinking and doing is permeable. It is a two-way street. When a new topic or skill is embodied in an activity or project then how we feel about it changes (for the better or sometimes the worse). Acknowledging negative feelings can be a first step in allowing for their transformation via “doing”. This process facilitates “deep learning” for understanding and not merely information recall. A quick task of having students reflect or (or write or discuss) their feelings and past experiences with the new topic can set the stage for more engaged learning. This prepares the way for the new learning to have direct personal meaning.
Key Idea 5. Make It Mean Something!
When I asked Howard Gardner how teachers stuck in anti-MI environments can implement MI he responded, “…talk about broader educational goals, and about finding topics and pursuits that engage young people and motivate them to continue their studies and to have a meaningful life.”
It is important to guide students to make new skills and information meaningful to them. An easy starter activity is the standard metacognitive K-W-L activity. What do I already Know about this? What do I Want to know (or Wonder) about this? And then, what have I Learned? This can be a powerful tool when used in the context of an MI inspired lesson or project. A fourth element to add is, What does this Mean to me now or in the future? Linking the topic or skill to a student’s personal life brings the content to life in a way that can enhance long term memory. Of course, this might evoke negative as well as positive feelings, but keep in mind that even negative feelings can enhance long term memory. An important life activity is sorting out what is and is not of importance to you. Avoiding negative thoughts, feelings or experiences can thwart this process of self-discovery.
FINALLY- What about those pesky test scores?
Of course, they are important, but they need to be viewed within the larger context of full MI inspired curriculum. Test taking skills can be taught so that a student can use their MI strengths to prepare, memorize and translate content into verbal test responses. No, this may not be easy, and it will take extra motivation to bridge the gap. This leap will come more easily when a student feels recognized, valued and engaged. The power of your MI inspired guidance can spark students to think outside the IQ box that limits their possibilities. It is also important to enlist the support of parents in practicing the MI skills that can facilitate learning and improve test taking. There simply aren’t enough hours in a school day to do it all efficiently. Good stuff takes time and practice. Parents can be key players in this. Fathers can play an important role in bridging between real life thinking and the classroom
This is a brief version of my presentation for the 3rd International MI Education Forum in Hong Kong. The full article is slated to be published with conference proceedings.