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Using the theory of multiple intelligences in a PYP classroom

Niru Raghuram, homeroom teacher, EtonHouse International School, Singapore

This article demonstrates the use of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences by H. Gardner in a year 4 PYP classroom through ‘How the world works’ inquiry into energy.

The eight ways in which people can be intelligent are: logical, linguistic, visual, bodily, musical, interpersonal, naturalist and intrapersonal. Howard Gardner identified and nested these intelligences (and he is working on revealing more such as moral and existential) under his Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983. The theory of multiple intelligences segregates intelligence into precise ‘modalities’, rather than seeing intelligence as dominated by a single general capability.

Schools today integrate different teaching approaches to cater to the different ways students learn, but when it comes to the measuring and grading of students, some still revert to conventional systems, no matter how rich, differentiated and diverse classroom inquires may be. The concept-driven, transdisciplinary approach of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) focuses on authentic assessments which require a focus on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both within and beyond the classroom.

Inquiries into the transdisciplinary theme How the world works with the central idea Energy exists in different forms and is changed, stored and used to support human progress saw our year 4 students make connections and establish relevance to the real world through discovery and explorations. The various inquiry-engagements and assessments mirrored practical tasks and were inclusive of diverse ability, intelligences and interests.

Musical – Music Smart 
Students worked in small groups to develop their understanding of what sound energy is, where and how it exists around us in everyday life. Some students created games, and others, musical performances. They also watched how the Wintergatan – Marble Machine (music instrument using 2000 marbles) that uses multiple sources of energy to create sounds was created. Inspired by this creation, students then used different types of balls to invent new ways of playing instruments.

Visual/Spatial – Picture Smart 
The year 4s were asked the question ‘Can we use art materials to show energy?’. They used different materials such as paint, loose parts, wire, recycled boxes, clay, water, oil etc to explore this concept and came up with exhibition-worthy models.

Kinaesthetic – Body Smart
Students had the opportunity to inquire into the relationship between energy, effort and distance using a variety of striking tools and different sized balls of varying styles. They narrowed it down to which striking tool and which ball is best used to hit for power and distance and which striking tool and ball is best used for accuracy. Differentiated assessment tasks allowed students to explain their understanding of how the body works together producing this transfer of energy. They could also explain the improvements that they made in either skills development or knowledge gained related to how energy is transferred.

Linguistic – Word Smart 
Students attended a presentation followed by some Q&A interactions with a veteran in the field of sustainable energy. The talk covered sustainable organizations/cities and their initiatives. Students used the opportunity to recap/rephrase information and knowledge they gained from this talk and reported it to the class parents on the class online portal.

Logical – Number/ Problem-solving Smart 
To understand the use and transformation of energy students engaged in hands-on electric circuitry, paper card circuits and solar car-making projects. They investigated electrical circuits to find out which materials make good insulators or conductors of electricity by using different materials to complete it. They used this knowledge to make LED light cards and solar-powered cars.

Interpersonal – People Smart 
Students went into groups to research and present their understanding of the use and transformation of energy from renewable energy sources. They had the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of new words like ‘photovoltaic cells’ seen on solar panels, ‘turbines and generators’ in hydropower dams, ‘rotors, motors and shafts’ on wind farms through their presentations to the class.

Naturalistic – Experience & Exploration Smart  
Using simple recycled materials students had the opportunity to put together their personal project that represented a renewable energy source. They researched, planned, produced, presented and reflected on how their model represents the form and change in energy.

Intrapersonal – Myself Smart 
Right through their inquiries into the transdisciplinary theme How the world works, students wrote independent reflections in their online blogs which are shared with their teachers, friends and parents. They did so using knowledge gained from their ICT integrated inquiries for this unit. The blog turned out to be an excellent independent journal-evidence of their inquiry journey.

The above engagements highlight the fact that for some of us it is comparatively easy to understand the life cycle of a butterfly but it can be extremely difficult for us to understand and use a musical instrument! For others music might be easy but playing rugby is difficult. Given this diversity, it seems fair to accept that students and teachers will need a wide range of strategies, and flexibility of timing and approach if students are to achieve common goals during inquires. Encouraging students to create a diorama, contribute in a debate, interview an expert, write a song or design a poster not only demonstrates inclusion of diverse intelligences, ability levels and interests, but also resonates the IB mission statement to “encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right”.

Niru Raghuram is a PYP educator with teaching experience in international schools in Singapore. Her teaching is based on the inquiry approach pedagogy – the core philosophy of the Primary Years Programme. Niru is a classroom teacher and level coordinator for the year 4 team of teachers at EtonHouse International School, Singapore. As classroom teacher, her focus is on language, social studies and STEM. Her passion for science and technology extend her commitment for teaching and learning in the school’s science and makerspace arena. You can follow her on Twitter @NiruRaghuram.


9 Responses to Using the theory of multiple intelligences in a PYP classroom

  1. Shyamala 29 September 2017 at 8:57 am #

    Love the inquiry-engagement process you have taken! Identifying a process that helps children discover these answers in ways that work best for them is amazing! Proud of your work and commitment to teaching.

  2. naini singh 29 September 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    Interesting…may educators do not accept this theory any more…
    Here is a link to David Didau’s blog

  3. Niru 2 October 2017 at 11:17 am #

    You’ve repeated the same thing on Twitter and I’ve replied there too. Pasting here again – “The article highlights creative inquiry engagements our teachers and specialists set out for our children. What you claim is debatable both ways – there is no right or wrong”

  4. Naini Singh 10 October 2017 at 10:46 pm #

    Maybe I missed it because your tweets are private now…
    I think this is a great place for academic discussions. I am particularly interested in learning theories( my thesis for my masters) and am happy to provide links ( found many in Cristina milo’s amazing blog) that talk about the theories in learning that have been Debunked. I’d be really interested in any current paper that proposes the use of multiple intelligences to promote inquiry.

    Retweeted some links on the IB hashtag.

  5. Paul 25 October 2017 at 3:57 am #

    Giving any credence or acknowledgment to falsehoods is as an educator quite scary.
    You mention in your article ‘Howard Gardner identified and nested these intelligences ” – well actually he identified nothing. He actually made it up. ‘Identifying’ and making something up are two completely different things. One exists the other is a figment of his imagination. You later go on to reply to someone that “What you claim is debatable both ways – there is no right or wrong” – well actually there is – believing or giving credence to Gardner’s Theory is akin to believing the earth is flat or evolution did not happen or in today’s world global warming is not happening. As a TOK teacher my students over the years have delivered presentations and essays on just this subject and how incredible it is that teachers still fall for this despite there being no actual evidence to support any of Gardner’s claims. Your piece is well written of that there is no doubt but whether the IB should have included it here is truly debatable. Giving any credence to ‘false facts’ in this day and age ………… (not debatable facts – false facts)

  6. Michelle Houghton 1 November 2017 at 3:07 am #

    The Theory of Multiple Intelligence has been debunked many times. It sounds like it should be true, but the human brain just doesn’t work like that. Of course it’s a good idea to plan activities and learning engagements that have different elements of movement, visuals, sound and interaction with peers, but the actual theory doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The many online resources and quizzes available to work out whether you’re a ‘visual learner, auditory learner’ etc. have also been criticised for being invalid tools. There are publications that summarise these myths (e.g. Multiple intellingences, the misconception that we only use a certain percentage of our brain and the use of ‘brain-based’ programmes in the classroom) – a good one to read is ‘Neuromythologies in education’ by John Geake, if you can find it online. Agree with the poster, above, I’m not sure why the IB would publish this and further reinforce a falsehood that was eagerly embraced by many schools.

  7. Walter Underwood 2 November 2017 at 1:12 am #

    The theory of multiple intelligences has indeed been debunked, but as long as teachers are not overly relying on it, then there is no harm in creating visual activities, inter-personal activities, etc. to explore different concepts. The problem comes when teachers label students as ‘kinesthetic’ learners, for example, and disproportionately plan for these learners to have kinesthetic experiences at the cost of visual, auditory and intra/inter-personal experiences. More harm can be done when students convince themselves (or are convinced by their teachers) that they are ‘intrapersonal’ learners and, when given choices for activities, choose the intrapersonal or ‘myself smart’ (what an awful term to use!) activity. There is evidence that visuals and AV, when presented with text and concepts can enhance learning – all students should be given opportunities to learn through these modalities.

    I always find it interesting when people jump from one extreme to another. MI theory was hugely popular until recently. Now it seems the pendulum has swung and people are quick to jump in to discredit the methods and thinking behind the theory. Throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I wonder if the commenter, above (Naini Singh) is also now not using inquiry methodologies in his class since research seems to have overwhelmingly discredited these. Or is he selecting inquiry methods that work for his students and monitoring the use of them to guide students towards understanding concepts? I’d be interested in reading any research paper the commenter can provide that promotes the use of inquiry in the classroom and then I’d be happy to provide him with research articles that suggest it is an inefficient waste of time (or, at least ‘free’ inquiry beyond the early years).

  8. Walter Underwood 2 November 2017 at 1:31 am #

    I also wanted to add to my previous comment:

    The inquiry described in the blog sounds like a rich, engaging inquiry – I’d be happy with my daughter being a student in that classroom as long as she was given the chance to receive feedback and reflect on her learning. I’d be satisfied that she was learning age-appropriate science concepts and doing so in a transdisciplinary approach.

    I wouldn’t be happy if she was only given the opportunities to participate in the activity that matched ‘her intelligence’ – as that’s nonsense, as other comments have pointed out. But it doesn’t sound like that was what happened – it sounds like all students were given opportunities to learn energy concepts through the lens of different ‘intelligences’. Actually, it sounds more like they were experiencing energy concepts through different ‘subjects’ or ‘disciplines’ – art, literacy, PE/movement, ICT – collaboratively (a better term to use than interpersonal!) and individually (a better term to use than intrapersonal!).

    Good on the poster for creating such a rich inquiry. But maybe she should lose the MI labels!

  9. PYP development team 2 November 2017 at 9:07 am #

    Thank you to everyone for expressing your opinions, and for sharing resources and research to further the author’s thinking on multiple intelligences.

    This blog is a global platform for ideas, innovations and experiences with the purpose of deepening understanding and furthering the development of the PYP.

    We appreciate the points raised by all!

    PYP development team

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