Thursday, February 18, 2016

Understanding How Your Children Learn - Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

I spent a week taking care of five very different children and learned a lot of things in practice that I only learned in theory during my education classes in college. It was particularly interesting watching my two oldest nephews throughout the week. They were raised in the same home by the same parents, but have completely different personalities and ways of communicating and expressing themselves. It was interesting for me to interact with them individually and collectively and try to help them with the problems and stressful situations that naturally occur in a busy household. I realized very quickly that the way I encouraged and helped one of them did not yield the same results with the other.

Take this experience and then imagine the dilemma of an educator in a typical classroom trying to teach the same information to 30 different students who come from very different backgrounds and who learn and communicate in different ways. Crazy.

One of the greatest and most useful tools I learned in my education classes is Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basically, Gardner's research showed that we all have different gifts or "intelligences". He identified several intelligences initially and added others as his study continued. I like the graphic below that shows several of the common intelligences. If you read through the summary of Gardner's research in the link above, you will probably identify pretty quickly which intelligences you possess. And you could probably likewise identify what types of teaching styles and learning activities best facilitate your learning and ability to apply new information.
Image from
The idea, then, is that someone with visual/spatial intelligence will probably be able to learn a new concept better if it is presented visually. As teachers, we are encouraged to incorporate all of the learning styles into our lesson plans to try and ensure that each child has a chance to learn the material in ways that make sense to them. Hopefully, gone are the days when lessons were only read or recited or written down.

Perusing the many blogs and education websites dedicated to learning and lesson plans, I think that there are a lot of pre-k and elementary-age parents and educators that do a really good job of this-- but they don't necessarily take the time to explain why their lesson for the letter S involves sensory bins, do-a-dot paints, a craft, a nature walk, a game that requires standing up and sitting down, and music time. It may seem like overkill, but the more ways you can find to present a concept, the better. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. It can be as simple as this: when you are teaching your little girl about the letter Q, don't just give her a Q to glue on a piece of paper. Give her the oval part of the Q and then the tail part and talk about the shapes and what they look like.Say the sounds that Q make out loud and have them say the sounds too. Then sing a little song about how the letter Q says what it says. That covers tactile, visual, music, auditory, etc.

More than anything, take the time to interact with your child in learning situations and figure out how they learn best. For me, somehow I retain information better when I write it down. One of my nephews responded really well when things were communicated verbally. The other nephew responded much better when some type of kinesthetic or tactile activity was involved. Understanding your "intelligences" and your children's "intelligences" and the different ways you and your children learn and communicate best will change your life.

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