In preparation for teaching english
as a foreign language (tefl
) two articles were recommended to me: first was "Learning Differences -- NOT Learning Disabilities" by Thomas Armstrong; and second was "Reforming the Educational System to Enable All Students to Succeed" by Dr. Sue Teele. Both articles introduce multiple learning intelligences, or "MI." This framework analyzes how humans learn and is gaining influence in progressive schools worldwide. Here I will give an overview of MI then suggest ideas for using it in tefl
MI was theorized by Howard Gardener, a psychologist who studied victims of brain trauma. He examined a number of unusual cases where victims exhibited strange behaviors within particular circumstances, but behaved normally in others. His book Frames of Mind shared the case of a man who had had a traumatic brain injury: afterwards he was completely unable to recognize his parents. He would sit in a room and yell at them, calling them "impostors." Yet he'd take a phone call from them and recognize them instantly, treating them normally. Intrigued, Gardener studied such cases and learned that our perception is divided into different types of data and processed in different areas of the brain. Thus, damage to a particular area of the brain would compromise a particular type of processing or "intelligence." For the unfortunate man above, his connection to his parents through his visual system was broken, but it still existed through his auditory channel. This was a significant breakthrough in understanding learning: the brain breaks down experiences, then processes and recombines these into knowledge. More importantly, these intelligences work together synergistically to create understanding. His initial research identified seven intelligences; and later added an eighth. The intelligences Gardener has identified are:
? Spatial Our ability to navigate and identify shapes; includes visual perception.
? Linguistic Processing and using language.
? Logical-Mathematical Reasoning and using quantitative skills.
? Musical This sound-component of knowledge includes identifying and reproducing melody, rhythm, and timbre.
? Body-Kinesthetic Knowledge through movement. As with other intelligences it is linked to other activities, for example learning to spell includes learning to write letters and words.
? Intrapersonal This and the following intelligence are closely linked, although they are distinct. This one is concerned with emotions and reflection.
? Interpersonal The other "Personal" intelligence, it's learning and processing through interacting with others.
? Naturalistic This is the most recent addition: basically it is our ability to understand and engage with living things. This contains our ability to recognize patterns, so while helping our ancestors distinguish cows from bulls (important for getting milk!) and edible berries from poisonous ones, today it also helps us differentiate between a toaster-oven and a computer.
In identifying these Gardener pointed out several key facts: first, that all humanity across cultures has these hard-wired into our brains. Also, that the intelligences work together to help us learn and create knowledge. Third, that all of us use all the intelligences all the time: they are integral to living and working.
An example from my own work: sound editing draws on spatial and musical (matching speech movements on camera to the words spoken in the audio track), naturalistic (patterns of sounds in the background; the flow of the story line), and interpersonal intelligences (matching all of this to a larger story envisioned by the editor and director). I also remember growing up watching a TV series called "Schoolhouse Rock." They were cartoons that used songs and visuals to teach multiplication, American history, and english
grammar. Even today I still hear some songs when doing multiplication! MI is a powerful concept and I immediately began thinking of how to use it in class.
As to tefl
if we reflect, we all learn on our own native language through the various intelligences: intrapersonal (hunger, happiness, comfort) and interpersonal (love, practicing speaking with others and being understood), spatial (seeing and identifying "mom", "apple"), kinesthetic ("play", "go", "eat"), etc. Our native language will always be our best, yet that doesn't preclude becoming skilled in other languages. Many people have more than one 'native' language, having grown up in multi-lingual environments where all of these factors shaped all of their languages. So I've started to think about how I can use MI to teach english
I do not know yet the backgrounds of my students: still, I've thought of some ways MI could be helpful. Reflecting on how to connect what students are learning to why, I can have students share their past experiences with english
along with their present and intended uses for english
going forward. They could share stories of meeting english
speakers at work or while traveling (interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial); listen to and learn songs (musical); as well as the traditional approaches of identifying objects by their english
names (spatial, naturalistic) and learning lists of vocabulary (linguistic).
So far MI has helped me design activities. In Unit 20, I outlined activities I think bridge several intelligences while also being fun. Designed for intermediate learners the activities involve writing on their own (linguistic, intrapersonal); reviewing other people's writing (linguistic, naturalistic, interpersonal); working with others and presenting (interpersonal, kinesthetic). I'm looking forward to also creating activities using drawing or music.
Many exercises that already use MI well are standard in teaching english
: boarding, handwriting assignments, memorizing vocabulary, listening, reading stories and articles. Yet MI offers
an expanded way of viewing learning, and I am hopeful that I can create activities that mirror the students' lives outside of class while at the same time build their capacity to master english