How MI Informs Teaching at New City School
by Thomas Hoerr - 2004
This paper captures the use of the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) at the New City School. The implementation began in 1988 and has been characterized by a focus on student assessment and the personal intelligences. Enhanced faculty collegiality has been a product of the MI journey.
The title of this article, How MI Informs Teaching At New City School, is relevant, but it is far too limiting. Schools are about, after all, teaching and learning. Yes, MI has surely affected how we teach, of that there can be no question. Yet looking at MI only through a lens of teaching, of pedagogy, ignores the larger contribution that it has had at New City School. Our pursuit of MI has changed how we teach, but it has also changed how we assess, how we work as colleagues, and how we communicate with our students parents. For us, MI is more than a theory of intelligence. It has become a philosophy of education with implications for teachers, administrators, students, and parents.
The New City School is an independent, private school in the City of St. Louis that was founded in 1969. We enroll 385 students, ages 3 through 12 years. Although we are known in some circles because of our implementation of MI, prior to our work with MI we were (and still are) known for our valuing of human diversity. We are more diverse than most private and many public schools: 3235% of our students are students of color and 2830% of students, students of all colors, receive need-based financial aid. Diversity-helping students learn to respect, appreciate, and work with one another-is an integral part of our curriculum. One of best compliments we receive from our visitors is that our school doesnt feel like a private school. To be fair, however, New City is a private school. We are mission based. We have the advantage of flexibility with our curriculum and with our faculty. We certainly have an advantage in that our families, regardless of economic circumstance or any other variable, value education; by and large, their children come to us prepared to learn. All of these factors make it easier to implement MI. Indeed, they would make it easier to implement just about anything.
However, in being fair, it should be noted that because we are an independent school, we face the ultimate in accountability: Each year our families vote whether or not to pay thousands of dollars to send their children to New City School. We enroll students from 50 zip codes, and many of those are located within very fine public school districts. When parents who already live in areas with good schools pay this much money for private school tuition, it invariably ratchets up their expectations. Further, when they graduate at the end of the sixth grade, our students must apply to secondary schools (none of which believe in MI). To determine whether or not they will be accepted at these schools, they are required to take competitive, standardized exams and submit to interviews. Today, MI is in evidence in every one of our classrooms-more on that later-as well as in how our faculty works together and how we communicate with our students parents. Our faculty has written two books, Celebrating Multiple Intelligences and Succeeding With Multiple Intelligences, and we have hosted four MI Conferences. For the past 78 years, more than 700 educators have visited us each year. (A book that I wrote, Becoming A Multiple Intelligences School, has been translated into French and Chinese, and I am currently writing a book, Developing Multiple Intelligences, targeted to parents in China.)
Our pursuit of MI-and I use that word to capture our ongoing journey
(after 15 years, we arent there yet)-began in 1988. At that time, I read Howard Gardners book Frames of Mind, and, like Pat Bolanos of the Key School, was immediately captivated by the implications that this theory might have for my school, the New City School. I remember that as I read Frames of Mind it was clear to me that Gardner was showing that there are many different ways to learn (see Figure 1). Of course, this belief appeals to any educator who is concerned with student growth. In fact, as I thought more about the implications for MI, I was struck by three implications that seemed to emanate from Gardners thinking:
1. There are many different ways to learn.
2. The arts are important.
3. Who you are is more important than what you know.
I shared my enthusiasm with my faculty and asked if any teachers would volunteer to meet after school or over the summer to read Frames of Mind. I have worked in education long enough to know that meaningful change is
Figure 1. Gardners Multiple Intelligences
not mandated from administration; successful change comes about because those who are implementing are also part of the design. This approach is time-consuming, messy, inefficient, and often frustrating. It is also effective.
Approximately one third of my faculty, 13 teachers, opted to be part of a group called the Talent Committee, which would work chapter-by-chapter reading through Frames of Mind. Teams of teachers, two to a team, taught the content in each of the chapters to the rest of the group. We began in April of 1988, and I expected we would be finished in late June. The Talent Committee existed for 2 years. It led to the Parent Communications Committee, the Assessment Committee, the Portfolio Committee, the MI- Push and MI-Pull Committees, a Naturalist Committee, and now to a Space Committee, a group of parents and teachers responsible for planning the design and the creation of a two-story MI library for our school.
MI AT NEW CITY SCHOOL
In essence, recognizing MI means realizing that children learn in different ways. Teachers who understand this try to provide opportunities for students to learn using a range of intelligences. These teachers work to develop curriculum with their students strengths in mind. Using MI does not mean lowering expectations, vitiating curriculum, or allowing students to pass through school without learning how to read, write, and compute. The scholastic skills are important and we have a responsibility to help every child master them, but the scholastic skills are not the sum and total of what we should teach or how students can learn.
That said, MI is about different intelligences, different ways to solve problems. Good teachers have always worked from their students needs, have always sought ways to tailor curriculum and help students learn. Part of the dilemma faced by traditional educators is captured in Figure 2.
The problems in the second set are real-world problems. That is, the quality of life can be greatly affected by how well one solves these problems. Being able to solve these kinds of problems will go a long way in determining an individuals success. Yet too often these kinds of problems are not addressed at all in school. Too often, educators focus is limited to the scholastic intelligences, those highly reliable, if less valid, measures that are easily assessed and counted and comprise most of what appears on standardized tests.
Two points about these problems deserve noting. First, as Gardner points out in Frames of Mind, the solution to most real-world problems requires a combination of intelligences (indeed, deciding which intelligence to use is, in itself, a form of problem solving). Second, the problems that are the most significant in determining the quality of our lives are those that require skill in the personal intelligences for their solution.
Some problems lend themselves to solution using the scholastic intelligences. These are the kinds of problems typically found in school:
32 × 8 = ____
The capital of North Dakota is ____________.
arrow: quiver = ____ : holster
Seven men are shoveling dirt at a rate of 3 cubic feet per hour, how long will it take them to dig a hole that is 100 cubic feet deep?
Write a paragraph that argues against mandatory helmets for bicycle riders.
Other problems lend themselves to solutions that do not use the scholastic intelligences.
Mary and John are vying for power in a group and their conflict is impairing the groups productivity. How can this problem be solved?
How can you use a pound of clay to portray motion?
How can movement demonstrate passion or fear?
How can we honor those who died in a war in a very personal, dignified way?
How can you survive outdoors without modern conveniences?
How can you organize yourself so that you are successful at work and have time for play?
How can you find your way around in a strange city?
How can you develop a meaningful relationship with someone else? How can you use oils and a canvas or crayons and papers to show emotion?
How can you use music to relax? To be more productive?
How can you get the lawnmower to work or program your VCR?
How can you get along with a boss who has many characteristics that are troubling?
How can you work with others of different racial, religious, or ethnic backgrounds?
Figure 2. What Is a Problem?
MI IN THE CLASSROOM
MI is used in our classrooms in three primary ways: through instruction, in centers (curriculum based and intelligence based), and in our assessment mechanisms.
MI is used in instruction as teachers use various intelligences in presenting information. The operative word is various; that is, skills and information are approached from different perspectives, using different intelligences. In addition to the traditional reading and writing, students studying the Civil War, for example, might examine Matthew Brady photographs or portraits of that period to understand what life was like and what was valued. Similarly, students learning the components of plants might create them from clay or become plants, themselves, by being wrapped in paper by classmates. Studies of westward expansion can be enhanced by singing the songs of that era. And students studying ratio put their bodies in life-size shapes of buffalo, made from masking tape and adhered to the floor, to compare the ratio of human arms to buffalo legs. The list is endless, and in every case using nonscholastic intelligences offers students different ways to learn and show what they know. We allow some choice, enabling students to use their dominant intelligences, but we also require students to branch out and use intelligences with which they are less comfortable. When writing research reports, students are often required to use at least four intelligences. And, again, using other intelligences to learn does not imply that students can get by without learning to read and write.
Centers enable teachers to divide the curriculum into smaller units, allowing students to work at their own level and pace. Curriculum-based learning centers use a specific intelligence to address a skill or understanding. They are generally short term and address a particular aspect of the curriculum by offering opportunities for student reinforcement, extension, and assessment. Intelligence-based learning centers are designed to enable a student to pursue some of the skills related to a particular intelligence. Different from the centers described earlier because they are not tied to a specific curriculum focus or goal, intelligence-based learning centers help students develop a particular intelligence. When these centers are used, teachers design centers for all of the intelligences, each containing many different activities. Although centers are used throughout our school,they are more prevalent in the younger grades.
A different kind of center, if you will, is our Centennial Garden. Occupying an acre of our playground, the garden includes a dry creek bed, planting boxes, trees, a variety of plants and buffalo grass, large rocks designed for seating, benches, and a pavilion. For some of our urban students, natural settings are something seen on television or at the movies. As a result, their naturalist intelligence is not likely to be developed. By creating a garden and by incorporating aspects of the naturalist intelligence within our curriculum, we hope to change that. In this space, children not only use their naturalist intelligence to dig, observe, and explore plants and planting, but they also use other intelligences, often sketching, reading, pretending, or reflecting while in the Centennial Garden. (We find that some students do better at almost any task in a natural setting.)
The use of projects, exhibitions, and presentations (PEPs) applies a performance perspective to MI. Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, the reality is that assessment drives curriculum (i.e., how we measure determines what we measure, and what we measure determines what we value). This means that thinking about the assessment tools is critical in ensuring that MI is supported. At every grade, studies culminate in a PEP. Our kindergartners create life-size bodies (complete with their juice-box heart, which when squeezed will generate air to inflate their plastic bag lungs) to demonstrate their understanding of the systems of the body. Our third graders build dioramas to show the lives of the Native American tribes that they studied. Our fourth graders exhibit their knowledge of the genre of biography as they become the famous people they studied in our Living Museum.
Students use their intelligences in sharing what they know with a wider and sometimes unknown audience. Preparing for an unknown audience, whether students from other grades or adults, raises the stakes a bit and encourages students to be clear in both their understanding and presentation. Our spring Portfolio Night is a time when students and parents come together to reflect on the childs progress throughout the year. In addition to these classroom uses, MI is found in our Extended Day (after-school) program and in our Summer, Spring, and Winter Break camps as well.
OUR TEACHERS GROW WITH MI, TOO
Our work with MI has benefited everyone. The initial gains resulted from the dialogue that took place among our faculty. Reading Frames of Mind and then talking about how MI might be used in classrooms was an invigorating experience. Over the years, the discussions have been rich in both topic and implication. These conversations and collaboration-teachers learning with and from one another-are what Roland Barth (1990) envisioned when he talked about faculty collegiality in his book Improving Schools From Within. Our teachers find that using MI expands their role: They become far more than simply teachers who deliver content. They become instructional specialists, creating curriculum units and designing assessment tools. These kinds of behaviors, in contrast to traditional teaching roles, are shown in
Our New City School students succeed on tests, as they should. They average many years above grade level on standardized tests, as they should. But that is only the beginning. The feedback we receive from the secondary schools to which our students matriculate is remarkably positive. From every source, we hear that our graduates enjoy school, they take leadership positions within their school communities, they seek complex problems and extra credit options, they know themselves as learners. This is not all due to
Figure 3. MI Is About Optimism and Professionalism
MI, of course. But the role of MI in our students success cannot be overlooked. Our students see themselves as learners. For them, learning isnt simply something they do-they are learners.
Our students parents recognize this (as do prospective parents). Our school has a reputation as a school in which students not only learn a great deal but also enjoy learning-a powerful combination. When our focus on the personal intelligences is added to this formula, I feel very confident that we are preparing our students for an uncertain world in which the only constant will be change.
THE FUTURE OF MI AT NEW CITY SCHOOL
Our MI journey is not over. We still, after 15 years, struggle with balancing the scholastic skills with MI experiences. We know the value of PEPs, yet we know we also must administer standardized tests to help prepare our students for life after New City School. Although MI is a powerful tool for teachers, it is a tool that requires significant creativity and effort on their part. Fifteen years of experience has not diminished the challenge that this creates for teachers.
One thing which sets New City apart from most of the other schools implementing MI is our focus on the personal intelligences. In our initial discussions about MI, we quickly came to the understanding that the personal intelligences are the most important. Subsequently, this belief has gained support from the writings of Daniel Goleman (1995), among others. Today, our belief has not changed. We embed the personal intelligences in everything we do. Student reflections are an integral part of our lessons, collaboration and team building are both implicit and explicit in how students work and learn. If anything, I see this focus becoming even more important.
Looking ahead, I believe that we need to give more thought to the notion of distributed intelligence. Although conceptually different from the eight intelligences, the term connotes problem solving that stems from using ones resources. While this has always been important, from reading symbols on a cave wall to inferring future weather from the clouds, technological advances mean that the distributed intelligence will be even more valuable in the future. We need to consciously think about how we can help our students take advantage of what is in their environment. This includes, of course, teaching them how to work with and learn from their peers.
Barth, R. (1990). Improving Schools From Within. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Hoerr, T. (2001). Becoming a multiple intelligences school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD Press.
Hoerr, T. (2003). Developing multiple intelligences. Taiwan: Ladder International Press.
New City School. (1994). Celebrating multiple intelligences: Teaching for success. St. Louis, MO: Author.
New City School. (1996). Succeeding with multiple intelligences: Teaching through the personal intelligences. St Louis, MO: Author.