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  • Putting MI Theory to Work: Keystones of MI Theory and Practice

    May 16, 2011

     

    Putting MI Theory to Work:
    Keystones of MI Theory and MI Practice
    Julie Viens, MI Institute (2011)
     
    What does it mean to "apply MI theory"?  An "MI School" is one whose mission and practices reflect an “MI” understanding of intelligence.  In other words, the approaches and practices used in an MI school or program are aligned with MI theory's understanding of intelligence.  So, what does authentic application of MI look like? In large part, the guiding principles for applying MI are drawn from the theory itself, in response to the questions:
    -     What are the different forms intelligence takes in the real world?
    -     How do we use our intelligences in the real world?
    -     How do we choose to use our intelligences in the real world?
     
    Giving children opportunities to use their minds as their minds are built to be used and as they use them in the real world, should be a central goal in any MI classroom and of any MI program. From MI theory we draw three fundamental implications of MI theory; three features of teaching and learning, which we call “Keystones of MI Practice,” that are aligned with and draw from MI theory: Pluralization, Mobilization, and Personalization. Below the Keystone Practices are introduced in relation to their emergence as logical implications of MI theory for educational practices. The Keystones further inform the goal and process of putting MI theory to work authentically in formal learning settings.
     
    Intelligence is pluralistic. There are many, at least eight, ways to be intelligent. This suggests that a classroom in the spirit of MI theory values and invites multiple ways for children to explore a topic, deepen their understanding of it, and build related skills. It also suggests that valued content should move well beyond language and math skills. "Pluralization" of the curriculum, offering multiple means for all students to access a topic or address classroom learning goals, means students experience and explore the topic from multiple perspectives, through different symbol systems, and are thus more apt to understand the topic more deeply. Moreover, offering more ways to engage in the ideas of the topic increases the chances that more students will find at least one meaningful, comfortable way to engage in topic-related learning experiences. Pluralization represents one key feature, a cornerstone, of MI practice, according to Howard Gardner, who introduced MI theory in 1983.
     
    Pluralizing practices according to MI theory is a common starting point for educators who are planning or beginning to "apply" MI in their classrooms. Educators know from daily observation that their students all possess different kinds of intelligence, interests, preferences, and areas that are more challenging to them. MI theory provides the theoretical justification and a framework to pluralize practice.
     
    Intelligences work together. Practices that invite a greater diversity of intelligences and authentic combinations of intelligences into the classroom should still integrate other elements of MI theory and real-world intelligence. Of particular importance is that, in practice, combinations of our intelligences come together to solve meaningful problems and make meaningful products. That suggests setting up learning experiences and environments that invite students to use their intelligences authentically, in combination. In action, our relatively separate intelligences combine and work together to support working in a particular role or domain. 
     
    With worthy goals, many educators have pluralized their practices by offering their students activities based on each separate intelligence. Although well-intentioned, this practice is contrary to how we use our intelligences and how they function in our everyday lives. We often see that the focus shifts from using MI to pluralize curriculum that addresses learning goals to ensuring that there are eight different, activities, one for each intelligence, to explore the topic or theme. Less consideration is given to whether and how each activity will address learning goals. Accounting for all eight individual intelligences becomes the goal; the ends rather than the means. 
     
    In any application of MI theory, one starts with how you wish to use the theory. What are the goals you want to address through your MI practices? You need first ask, "What do I want children to explore, to learn, to understand through this unit, topic, theme, etc.?" By identifying learning goals you'll better shape MI-enhanced experiences to address those goals through pluralization. Then MI is used to consider the nature of the activities you develop to pluralize the curriculum and address learning goals. MI is also used as a reflective tool during and near the end of a unit -- Intelligences that you note have made less of an appearance in this unit may be emphasized in the next. Pluralization is one purpose to which MI is put to work. Pluralization with multiple intelligences is a means to address unit learning goals; addressing all the intelligences should not be the goal of a unit.
     
    Pluralization has been approached in a number of ways: by adding new discrete activities to existing ones; by developing meaningful projects and putting children in diverse, real world roles, using "tools of the trade."  Implementing learning centers that are organized by interests or theme/unit learning goals, or using the (junior versions of) real tools, materials, and processes of real world roles or domains invites children to use their relevant and preferred combinations of intelligences. For example, instead of a linguistic learning center, imagine a storytelling center. In it are many ways to tell a story: writing and drawing tools, 3D representations of book characters, figures and other props to make up stories; storyboards to plan out stories, a computer where a story can be dictated, published. Within this one center, students draw upon different combinations of intelligences organically in order to participate in the center activities.
     
    Intelligence involves problem-solving and product-making. Whatever the means and purposes for applying an MI perspective to classroom practice, no intelligence is truly engaged without "doing" or "making" in contextually meaningful ways. For example stroking a classroom pet is not substantive engagement of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Kicking a ball past the opposing goalie to score; holding the bow of an instrument to get a particular effect; or using your hand to figure out how to get a lid back on a jar -- these all involve some degree of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to do successfully.   When reflecting on existing learning experiences or creating them anew to it is important to ask, "Are children involved in problem-solving or product-making? Do the experiences and/or tools actively engage children in meaningful activity?
     
    This performance view of intelligence also implies that intelligences in action are observed, not measured. Children's preferences, interests, and strengths are described, not tallied and compared with others. If intelligence resides in the solving of problems and the making of products, then it is through mobilization that, the observation and documentation of students' problem-solving and
    creation and examination of the products they make that result in better understanding of students' strengths, interests, and preferences. Mobilizing children's preferences and abilities systematically, finding and recording when they are at their best and most engaged, is an important goal for many MI-informed settings. Mobilization is also the second key feature of MI in practice.  Visual and narrative descriptions of children inform parent reports and conferences, inform teacher-child interactions. Mobilizing and recording students’ areas of strength, interest, and preference happens alongside academic assessment and identification of any areas of challenge for students. What we learn and document about our students informs our third key feature of MI theory at work in the classroom, personalization.  
     
    Features of MI Theory
    Selected Implications
    Bridging to Practice (Examples)
    Plurality of intelligences
    Pluralization: Institute practices that invite students to discover and use a range and diversity of intelligences in “real world” ways.
    *Integrate new types of activities.
    *Develop or adapt existing areas/centers.
    *Develop/enhance projects in which students undertake real world roles.
    Intelligences work in combination
    Integrate learning experiences that invite natural combinations of intelligences, as they do in everyday life.
    *Organize learning experiences to simulate or include real world problem-solving or to otherwise address several meaningful combinations of intelligences.
    Defines intelligence as "solving a problem, creating a product"
    Infuse active problem-solving and product making throughout student learning.
     
    Mobilization: Emphasis documentation of problem-solving and product making.
    *Use in analysis and development of new MI practices: "Are the children solving a problem? Making a product? Surfacing new questions?
    *Conduct regular, ongoing observations and collect documentation of real problem solving and product making activities; collect and document products.
    Everyone has his/her own unique profile of intelligences.
    Personalization: Integrate what you know about students’ strengths, interests, and preferences into their learning experiences.
    * Give students choices in what and how they learn.
    *Bridge students' strengths and interests to support learning in challenging areas.
    *Make room for students to pursue their own interests within learning context.
    *Strengths-based learning and interventions (IEPs).
     
    Every individual possesses a unique profile of intelligences. In a perhaps familiar refrain, "It's not (IQ's) 'How smart are you?', but rather, (MI's) 'How are you smart?'" We all have a combination of strengths and weaknesses, preferences and interests that we bring to bear in different ways to do our jobs or parent our children, engage in pastimes… or engage in classroom activities. The implication of this feature is to personalize practices. Personalization refers to the practice of creating opportunities for students to learn through their preferred means or areas of strength; to pursue and nurture their interests and strengths. Personalization allows more students to feel and be competent, successful; to feel powerful. Personalization also leverages special interests and abilities to invite and support the child in areas that are more difficult and often less engaging to him/her. The understanding that we each possess a unique profile of intelligences promotes a strengths-based approach to children's learning experiences, especially in their areas of challenge.
     
    In Summary
    As a definition and description of intelligence, MI does not prescribe any particular educational practices, although it clearly suggests certain types of practices and argues against others. Gardner himself notes that pluralization and personalization practices are necessary elements of a program that operates in the spirit of MI theory. Mobilization practices frame the observation and documentation of students' meaningful activity in the classroom as well as the collection of student products. Mobilization allows organized and systematic understanding of each child’s abilities, interests and preferences. Together, these three features are the Keystones to educational practices that are fundamentally in the spirit of MI theory.
     
    MI theory can support and enrich any child-focused program, classroom or school. As a theory of intelligence, it is neither a set of activities, an approach, nor a learning theory. It is an understanding of intelligence that can be brought to bear in any number of classroom approaches and contexts.  What, then, does an MI lens add to existing practices? It resides in this idea of ensuring and creating meaningful activity -authentic to the real world use of intelligences; and meaningful to the learner. By using MI explicitly in reflecting on existing practices and in developing new ones, we can create a powerful resonance with how children choose and do use their intelligences outside of school, in their “real world”. In the school context it is more than simply re-creating thinking and learning in the real world. We create environments and experiences that nurture and leverage students' preferences and strengths in order to advance purposefully their development and learning.