October 4, 2011

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

by Lara Groetzinger, PharmD, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

The theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) was introduced by Dr. Howard Gardner in 1983.  In his book Frames of Mind, he proposes a novel view of what the concept of “intelligence” entails.1 This broadened perspective consists of eight different intelligences that humans are capable of possessing. These include: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and the naturalist intelligence. Dr. Thomas Armstrong takes this concept a step farther and applies it to teaching. In his book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, he describes how Gardner’s theory can be applied to education.2

Armstrong explores each type of intelligence in depth, and offers different ways to approach each intellect. He proposes forty teaching strategies, five for each of the eight intelligences. For example, a student who possesses linguistic intelligence has the capacity to use words effectively, whether orally or written. Armstrong recommends a different way to bring out the linguistic learner in every student. These techniques include storytelling, brainstorming, tape recording, journal writing, and publishing.  The student who has logical-mathematical intelligence holds the ability to use numbers and reasoning with sensitivity to logical patterns and relationships. For this type of learner, Armstrong offers approaches beyond the traditional use of calculations and numbers. These include classifications, Socratic questioning, heuristics, and science thinking. For those learners who are spatial or picture smart, Armstrong suggests visualization, color cues, picture metaphors, idea sketching, and graphic symbols as ways of teaching toward this particular intelligence.

If someone possesses interpersonal intelligence, he or she has the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, and feelings of other people. For this, the five strategies Armstrong promotes include peer sharing, people sculptures, cooperative groups, board games, and simulations. For the learner who is music smart, tactics such as rhythms/ songs/ raps/ chants, discographies, supermemory music, musical concepts, and mood music are proposed. Intrapersonal intelligence is seen in someone who has self-knowledge and can adapt on the basis of that knowledge. For this student, Armstrong suggests methods such as one minute reflection periods, personal connections, ‘choice time’, feeling-toned movements, and goal-setting movements.

The use of the MI-direct teaching strategies in the classroom is relevant to the Educational Theory and Practice course because it provides another approach to the education of adult learners, including pharmacy students. Some pharmacy educators written about their experiences incorporating multiple intelligences theory into their courses.3 An article entitled Effective Teaching and Learning Strategies emphasizes that there is a difference between learning styles and MI, but stresses that implications for teaching are the same. The author further highlights the importance of teaching in a variety ways including laboratories, simulations, and games, in addition to didactic lectures and problem sets.

As adult educators, we can incorporate the theory of MI into how we teach by using Armstrong's innovative methods in our classroom.  For example, many pharmacy students possess linguistic intelligence. For those that are not as strong in this area, one way to teach to them would be using Armstrong's strategy of journal writing. This could be done by suggesting that every student keep an ongoing record of one thing new they learn each day. This also incorporates intrapersonal intelligence because the students are encouraged to reflect.  The teaching of students with spatial intellect can be accomplished by using colors, symbols, and drawings in a lecture.  Examples include categorizing different classes of drugs by colors, or perhaps showing a picture to depict a mechanism of action for an antagonist using an "X" symbol to represent the receptors that it inhibits. Another example is to have the students draw the steps of how and where the drug works. The possibilities are numerous.

For the music smart student, one could incorporate a rhyme or song with a mnemonic for remembering all the drugs in a therapeutic class or the steps of the Krebs Cycle. This goes beyond pure memorization and allows for a different approach to learning material often perceived as dry or boring. Since students with interpersonal intelligence are smart around other people, small group sessions are a great way to teach to this strength, as well as bring out the interpersonal intelligence in every student. These are just a few examples of how Armstrong’s suggested teaching methods can be applied to pharmacy education.  While it is not feasible to incorporate all strategies to reach all types of intelligences into a lecture, employing a few of these approaches throughout a course may be advantageous.

The conventional teaching ways have traditionally been highly weighted toward the linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. Even though textbooks and lectures are important, broadening these instructional methods in order to appeal to other intelligences is ultimately the best strategy. We all possess the eight intelligences – but we each have strengths in some intelligences more than others.  This should be considered when preparing a lecture, topic discussion, or any learning activity. Armstrong proposes multiple ways of teaching to each of the eight intelligences. As educators, we should adopt these strategies, and use them in our own classrooms.

1.  Gardner, H. Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Basic Books; 2011.
2.  Armstrong, T. Multiple intelligences in the classroom. 3rd ed. Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; 2009.
3.  Brandt ,B. Effective teaching and learning strategies. Pharmacotherapy. 2000; 20: 307S–316S.

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