Thursday, February 18, 2010

What are learning styles and multiple intelligences?

Every February, our school conducts parent-teacher conferences. Every year, in addition to my school's required paperwork, there is one handout I photocopy and individualize for each child, to help parents understand how their child learns: Jacky Howell's and Lynn Scullen's "Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences." I received this invaluable handout during my teaching certification at Montgomery Child Care Association's Training Institute back in 2001.

The article notes that there are three different learning styles (how people take information in): Visual, primarily through their eyes, Auditory, primarily through their ears, or Tactile/Kinesthetic, primarily with their hands. People often favor one of these styles or they may have some combination of the styles.

The article also briefly describes Howard Gardner's eight different intelligences (Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal), followed by a brief description of how you might motivate a child who has a proclivity in one or another intelligence.

Knowing this, my teaching has improved. Every time that I plan curriculum, I recognize these differences in learning styles and intelligences and I make sure there is plenty of learning that is provided in different flavors: songs to sing, movements to pose, pictures to consider. Not only do children need repetition in order to learn (that's why you will find yourself reading the same book over and over), but I believe you have to repeat it in different ways - provide "adaptations of the original score."

Let's take my favorite theme of helping children get along with one another...I'm know I'm not going to get very far with some children if I simply read over and over When Sophie Gets Angry, although I like that book very much. I need to role-model conflict resolution, I need to sing jingles, I need to use a calm voice, I need to dance and move and act out emotions, I need to have pictures of children getting along, I need to let them see me get (appropriately) frustrated,...I need to, I need to, I need to, on and on. (I am so lucky to plan curriculum with three other teachers - we scaffold off each other's ideas, embellish, stretch, and come up with a whole range of fun learning opportunities each time we plan together, making it a lot easier to reflect these different intelligences and learning styles, no matter what theme we are teaching.)

At my parent-teacher conferences, I give each parent a copy of the handout, highlighted with what I believe is their child's obvious strengths. I always joke with them that I'd like to hear in the years to come what their child decides to study in college - was I right on, quite off-base, or somewhere in-between? I don't want parents to use this information as a limitation on their child's learning - we each possess all these intelligences, in varying degrees. I hope that this information about learning styles and multiple intelligences becomes another reference for how to help their child succeed.

I'm sorry that I am unable to provide a link to the paper itself - or even a PDF for you to download - I simply don't know how to do this. Let me give you a synopsis, so that you might have some fun with the article, too - consider how your child learns, consider how you like to learn, and reflect on what that means. (Ralph and Paul, I know you are horrified that I am typing this in here!)

Howell, Jacky and Lynn Scullen, "Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences," (Copyright 1996, Montgomery Child Care Institute, Inc. Training Institute, Wheaton, Maryland)]

The eight intelligences as described in the article:

Linguistic Intelligence: Verbally gifted, they demonstrate highly developed auditory skills and enjoy playing with sounds and words. They like to read and write, tell stories, play word games, and can remember facts and trivia. "Children strong in this area learn best by saying, hearing and seeing words," says [Thomas] Armstrong. Motivate them by talking with them, providing them with books, recordings and opportunities to use their writing abilities.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: Conceptual thinkers who explore patterns and relationships, experimenting with things in an orderly and controlled manner. They question natural events: "where does the universe end?" or "When did time begin?". They typically compute arithemetic in their heads and reason out other problems. They learn by forming concepts and distinguishing patterns, so provide them with time and conrete materials for their experiments - like science kits, games such as chess, Clue, and brain teasers, a computer and collecting materials (stamps, coins, insects) they can classify and categorize.

Spatial Intelligence: They think in mental pictures and images. Rearrange the furniture and they'll either love or hate - nothing in-between. Drawing and artwork, designing things, building blocks and simple daydreaming all comes naturally. The key is learning visually. Teach these children with images, picture and color. Films, videos, diagrams, maps and charts motivate them. Provide them with cameras, telescopes, three-dimensional building supplies and art supplies.

Musical Intelligence. They often sing, hum or whistle melodies to themselves. Some react outwardly to music, singing along and moving to the beat. Others show appreciation and voice strong opinions about different kinds of music. They may play musical instruments or want to. They are also sensitive to nonverbal sounds that others overlook - crickets chirping, a bird singing, distant bells. This group of youngsters learns through rhythm and melody. Memorization comes easier when sung out. Study is often more effective with music in the background. Records, tapes, musical instruments motivate them.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Breakfast table squirmers and the first on the playground, they pick up knowledge through bodily sensations. Athletically gifted, they show interest in sports, dance, acting - anything physical. They communicate using gestures and body language, like to act out their thoughts and are clever mimics. Occasionally they express their skills in crafts like woodworking or sewing. Without appropriate outlets, they may be labeled hyperactive. Learning comes with touching and moving. Motivate them through "role play, dramatic improvisation, creative movement and all kinds of physical activity," says Armstrong. Hands-on activities are their learning opportunities.

Naturalist. The ability to recognize species of plants or animals in one's environment. Children seem to be fascinated with nature, both outside and inside the classroom. Those children often want to bring what they find outside to the inside. They want to know the names and/or characteristics of birds, for example. Often children who are fascinated with and know every name of dinosaurs have this intelligence strongly. Play games in which children recognize the fine distinctions among members of a plant or animal groups. Be willing to explore the outdoors regularly with these children AND be willing to bring the outdoors in. Children will appreciate ample books, visuals and props related to the natural world.

Interpersonal Intelligence. These are "people-people" who frequently become leaders of the classroom. They know how to organize, communicate, mediate, and manipulate. With an ability to tune in to other people, they have a lot of friends. Learning comes through relating, cooperating and interacting with others. Provide them with opportunities to peer group dynamics. School and community activities open learning doors for them.

Intrapersonal Intelligence. Another strong personality group, but these independent kids with a powerful sense of self, shy away from groups and prefer to work alone, even isolated. Their inner life is rich - dreams, intuition, feelings and ideas. They are the diary writers, self-confident kinds who always seem to have something semi-secretive going on. These self-motivating children learn best by themselves. "It's very important for them to have their own private space where they can work on their hobbies and interests undisturbed and spend time in quiet introspection," says Armstrong. Respect their privacy and acknowledge to them that it is all right to be independent.


  1. I just got totally lost in your Molly Bang link, thanks! Time to get this blog out to the public, it's wonderful. Have no fear.

  2. It's ok Maureen ;) It's refreshing to see a non-techy blog! Check out, you can store/share files for free there... I'm sure there are others as well... sounds like I have another blog topic ;) (and feel free to delete this comment)

  3. Thanks for the info, maureen. Your writing is natural... I am looking forward to more such blogs.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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