Differentiation, Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

‘Living with Covid’ Back-to-School! Forums Discussion Forum Pedagogy, Teaching, and Classroom Differentiation, Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences

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  • #2674
    • Total Posts: 493

    I recently did my re-contracting Open Class, and for the first time ever had a “pre-meeting”. The head teacher (Principal and VP were no-shows) went through the lesson plan I had prepared and asked some questions. Nothing really out of the ordinary until he got to this one: In what ways will you use differentiation in this lesson?

    I was surprised. Usually all anyone seems to want is How many games are you going to play? Well, I assume that’s what they’d want to know, but as I noted, I’ve never had a pre-meeting before. In case you’re unfamiliar with this particular artifact of educational theory, here’s a fair definition from an Australian teacher’s resource called The Conversation:

    …differentiation is about teachers providing choice to avoid discriminating against students who may be disadvantaged by “one size fits all” approaches. This does not mean creating different lessons for, or “simultaneously individually” instructing, every student.
    It does mean that students with expressive language difficulties or dyspraxia, for example, who experience difficulties with writing are given the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in other ways.
    This was famously demonstrated in the movie The Blind Side where Michael Oher’s teachers conducted oral assessments, enabling him to successfully demonstrate his learning.

    I don’t like this concept much, as it seems to me that having students with difficulty in writing actually write less seems counterproductive. Also, when I was coming through the Education Dept. thirty-odd years ago, it meant almost exactly what that statement says about instructing every student (look up IEPs). It may be lovely in theory, but it is impossible in practice.

    Still, in my “teaching philosophy” statement that I have to provide each year, I include a line something like -activities allow students of different levels to experience success. Which sounds a lot like differentiation, I’ll grant you.

    Side-by-side with differentiation, a theory called Learning Styles came along, many teachers having correctly observed that a classroom experience that “works” for one student may be ineffective for another student. A lot of effort was put into delineating these different styles, resulting in terminology like visual or auditory learners, kinesthetic learners and so on, and having students do worksheets and such to help understand their own “learning style”.

    While no one would argue that such learning differences don’t exist, the question for us as teachers is more about how we can use this information in the classroom: what is the evidence that providing instruction that meshes with a student’s learning style improves her educational outcome? Turns out, not much. The key graf:

    Our review of the learning-styles literature led us to define a particular type of evidence that we see as a minimum precondition for validating the use of a learning-style assessment in an instructional setting. As described earlier, we have been unable to find any evidence that clearly meets this standard. Moreover, several studies that used the appropriate type of research design found results that contradict the most widely held version of the learning-styles hypothesis, namely, what we have referred to as the meshing hypothesis (Constantinidou & Baker, 2002; Massa & Mayer, 2006). The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing. If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.

    While I was doing a look-up on good ol’ Google, I noticed that some of these Learning Style types (it’s a pretty major industry in the education biz these days) have started to use Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences terminology. MI seems similar to learning styles theory, but it is something different.

    While using MI the same way the Education Dept. wants us to use learning styles would create the same problems, Gardner himself would eschew designing curricula tailored to specific “intelligences”. A more useful way of thinking about MI in the classroom is two-fold: 1) in the long-term, we want students to exercise their brains in a multi-faceted learning environment; but, more tangibly for teachers, even ESL teachers 2) try to design and implement the variety of activities that spark the interest of learners of all intelligences. The idea there is not to focus on, say, logical/mathematical learning, but to use activities that (even if brief) will draw in the student who is strong on that particular intelligence.

    It’s a tall order. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to adequately cover the pillars of ESL–listen, speak, read and write. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, though, and there are many ways to draw in learners of all intelligences. I came away from an MI conference I attended once with lots of materials, but my favorite, and one that numerous teachers loved when I shared it in future presentations I made, was a chart with specific activities that appeal to the different intelligences. Of course, that and a lot of other stuff is packed up back home, but the internet is our friend, and I found a similar page online that I’m attaching below.

    Here’s a roughly analogous example: I have a sixth-grader who just cannot be bothered. You know the type, I’m sure–sullen, distracted, textbook opened only with a world-weary sigh, and then only occasionally. He likes to read, though, and loves everything Harry Potter. So I’ve made sure to include something from Potter world as regularly as I can: in the lesson on appearance, I had students make sentences describing Ron, Hermione, etc. In the lesson on invitations, I have a reading activity wherein Harry is trying to get others to join him in battling Voldemort. For “What grade are you in?” we met the kids from Hogwarts. And so on. It hasn’t changed his whole relationship to English, but he participates pretty well in those classes.

    So, back to my pre-meeting. I explained that I differentiate mainly through Gardner’s MI matrix (being aware that Gardner is well-known in Korea). The lesson in question included a variety of activities which could appeal to different intelligences: logical by a “name the food from the ingredients” PPT; linguistic by an unscramble game (though my pedagogic justification is really about spelling and syntax); interpersonal, visual and kinesthetic through the “Circle Game” in which students pair off and compete to circle the correct item on a worksheet (though I threw in “auditory learner” as it’s really a listening activity). He seemed happy. And the lesson went quite well “during the instructional implementation stage itself” (that’s some double-speak I learned from the Education Dept. back in the day, which just means in class).

    As I said, I’m attaching the MI activities sheet below. If you have a better one, why not comment and share the one you like? For that matter, I’d love to hear your opinions on differentiation, LS, MI or anything pedagogical. BTW, is the “pre-meeting” something I’ve lucked out on in the past, or is it something new? Let’s get a dialogue going…

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  • #3079
    • Total Posts: 12

    Great read! And the graph is quite handy too. More uploads like these please 😀

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