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Teachers Should Diversify Approaches to Teaching

Teachers must diversify their approaches to education if they are to successfully reach the many different personalities in a classroom, Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner told participants at the 1997 WEAC Convention in Milwaukee Thursday (October 30).

"I am 100% convinced that if I were to come back to Earth in 50 years, people would laugh at the idea of uniform education," said Gardner, who has popularized the theory that everyone has multiple intelligences, not just a single level of intelligence measured by IQ tests.

Gardner said schools too often take a single approach to educating children, usually geared to successful completion of uniform tests. Those tests seldom measure the many different types of intelligences of students. Typically, he said, they measure students' linguistic and mathematical intelligences at the exclusion of others such as musical, bodily/kinesthetic, inter-personal, and intra-personal intelligences.

People who excel in the linguistic and mathematical intelligences will do very well in life -- as long they stay in school, Gardner said.

Gardner criticized what he called the "E.D. Hirsch" approach to education. Hirsch's book "Cultural Literacy" lists thousands of facts which he states everyone in America should know.

Gardner said memorizing all those facts may be useful if you plan to compete on Jeopardy but will not necessarily help you lead a productive life.

"Maybe you'll win a prize, but it's got nothing to do with understanding," he said.

He also criticizes the book "Bell Curve," by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which supports the notion that there is a single type of intelligence that can be measured and can't be changed.

Gardner has identified at least eight types of intelligences: linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, spatial (visual), interpersonal (the ability to understand others), intrapersonal (the ability to understand oneself), and naturalist (the ability to recognize fine distinctions and patterns in the natural world). And he said he is considering a ninth - existential.

"You have to take individual differences seriously," he said.

Gardner promotes the concept of "education for understanding," which means students are able to apply knowledge to new situations, not just memorize facts.

"We should strive for a better understanding of truth, beauty and goodness," he said.

He defines intelligence as the ability to solve problems or the ability to make things that are valued in at least one culture.

Successful education, he said, does not require covering everything "from Plato to NATO." In fact, he said, "The greatest enemy of understanding is coverage. If we try to cover everything, by the end of the day people will have learned very little and will have understood nothing."

As a teacher, Gardner said, ask yourself, "If I had one hour (per semester) to teach students, what would I teach them?"

Reminding teachers that "school doesn't have to be the way we remember it," Gardner encouraged them to consider a variety of approaches to education.

By using storytelling, for example, teachers reach students who are strong in linguistics; by using numerical approaches they reach students who are quantitatively oriented; by using hands-on approaches, they reach students are kinesthetic oriented, he said. Two common forms of "education for understanding," he said, are apprenticeship programs and children's museums.

"You reach more kids when you show them many representations of every topic," he said.


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