Teach English in Nongye Jingji KAifAqu - Yancheng Shi

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For almost four decades, teachers of English as a foreign or additional language have had in their arsenal a learning theory of multiple intelligences. This essay will explore how the nine intelligences have been taken up among teachers generally and in the English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) field. Importantly, it will answer the question, what do multiple intelligences offer to boost our students’ learning outcomes? A US developmental psychology, Howard Gardner, coined the theory of ‘multiple intelligences’ in his book, Frames of Mind(1), published in 1983. He contested the idea that there was a single human intelligence that standard psychometric tests (such as IQ test) could pinpoint. He sought to delineate intellectual abilities, not learning styles. To his seven original ‘intelligences’ (not in priority order), he added two more in 1999: 1. verbal-linguistic, 2. logical-mathematical, 3. visual-spatial, 4. musical, 5. bodily-kinesthetic, 6. interpersonal and 7. intrapersonal. 8. naturalistic 9. existential. Gardner, in a 1995 interview(2) said it was time to “broaden the notion of the spectrum of talents”. “We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them to identify their natural competencies and gifts, and cultivate those. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to succeed, and many, many different abilities that will help us get there,” he told the interviewer. In short, Gardner shook up educators’ views of a pedagogy that just focused on a fixed, absolute intelligence based on the IQ score. He may well have been ahead of his time for encouraging educators to better cater to the diversity of student talents in their classrooms. This underscores inclusion, rather than one-size-fits-all teaching practice and philosophy. While there appears to be a consensus about multiple forms of intelligence, there’s debate on the labels and even the fluidity of the context in which those talents appear. What was so controversial about his theory was equating musical and athletic talents, for example, with the SAT, the US test for verbal and mathematics skills that colleges use for admission. Some experts argue that Gardner’s intelligences are too vague. An education professor at the University of Delaware, USA, Daniel Willingham(3), for example, suggests they “open the way” for nonsensical offshoots, such as memory intelligence . Meanwhile, English author and futurist, Richard Watson(4), points to other intelligences he regards as important: social, personal, moral and spiritual intelligence. As well, Watson also questions the relevance of Gardner’s intelligences as we move into the fourth industrial era. That’s where human intelligence is expected to be augmented, matched and possibly eventually overtaken by artificial intelligence (AI). Robots and AI may become more proficient than humans in verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical and visual-spatial skills for instance. Another problem is that the language around catering for multiple intelligences centres on adaptations to students’ learning styles. That’s how they focus on, process and remember new and tricky information. However, learning styles as an educational theory has been debunked across the globe. There may be other ways of apart from learning styles to match students to their particular intelligences - relying on student choice may not always create the best learning outcomes. For example, if children pigeonhole themselves into a particular way of learning, will they move out of their comfort zone to achieve much? So, what impact does Gardners’ theory have in today’s classrooms? Generalizing, only two types of intelligence - logical and linguistic - predominate. Occasionally, physical and creative intelligences are celebrated. When teachers do address their students’ multiple intelligences, they can tend to use only “low-level and superficial activities”(5), in other words, it doesn’t engage higher-order thinking to bed in the knowledge. Let’s posit what might be the issue here. Educators are under pressure to differentiate and personalize instruction, content and assessments for their students. The author of this essay has taught as a relief teacher for eight years and is well aware of the crowded curriculum at least in her home state (NSW) in Australia. Teachers’ increasing workloads may be why Gardners’ theory isn’t adopted more widely, uniformly and to a reasonable depth. What role then, can and do multiple intelligences play in the English as an Additional Language/Dialect classroom play? There have been few studies on how to meld the theory into these type of lessons. Morgan and Fonesca say it offers promise, but needs to be “handled appropriately in the classroom”(6). That’s because it offers teachers diverse teaching strategies and approaches while students have a variety of ways to build vocabulary meaning. One study(7) looked at a sample of 80 Kindergarten students and eight teachers in Lebanon using observations, videos, teacher surveys and student interviews. It found catering to multiple intelligences saw students retain vocabulary more effectively than when taught traditionally. Here’s a description of that looked like those classrooms: “…students would give sentences using certain keywords, order amounts using photos, draw their predictions relating to a given theme, pantomime a song, work in groups to accomplish a task, hunt for objects in the classroom whose names begin with sounds similar to given ones, touch items hidden in a box or a bag to identify their textures, makeup tunes, create or add events to stories, solve problems using logical reasoning, model letters via one’s body, carry out role-playing, express personal interests via free drawing, make connections to students’ faith, and many others.”(8) Therefore, multiple intelligences may inspire teachers to differentiate lessons and achieve better knowledge retention among students. But perhaps the jury is out on how to do this consistently well. 1. https://howardgardner.com/papers/ 2. https://hechingerreport.org/redefining-intelligence/ 3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1337-2004Sep6.html 4. Watson, R. (2017), On Education in the 21st Century (Chapter) in Future Frontiers for Education For an AI world, Loble, L., Creenaunce, T., & Hayes, J. (Editors) NSW Government, Melbourne University 5. Kornhaber, M., Fierros, E., & Veenema, S. (2004). Multiple intelligences: Best ideas from research and practice. Boston, MA: Pearson Education 6. Morgan, J. A., & Fonesca, C. (2004). Multiple intelligences theory and foreign language learning: A brain-based perspective. International Journal of English Studies, 4, 119-136. 7. DOI: 10.1177/1932202X13513021 8. Ibid.