In February of 2015 I was introduced to a professional development opportunity called “The Future of Learning,” an annual conference developed by and held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Boston. The Future of Learning conference came out of Harvard’s Project Zero, an endeavor, according to the Project Zero website, “founded by the philosopher Nelson Goodman at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967 to study and improve education in the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that ‘zero’ had yet been firmly established about the field; hence, the project was given its name. Over the years, Project Zero has maintained a strong research agenda in the arts while gradually expanding to include investigations into the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, and ethics.” I was fortunate to attend this week-long conference in July 2015.
At this conference I met my first hero in the education world, Howard Gardner, who explained his Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind. In his book, Gardner describes different intelligence modalities including logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, verbal- linguistic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and musical-rhythmic and harmonic, stressing the importance of including all of these modalities in everyday education. At the time, this was ground-breaking research in education, acknowledging that intelligence comes in many different forms and it is important to offer children educational opportunities in all of these areas. Gardner’s work has been referenced innumerable times to promote the inclusion of programs such as art, physical education, music, and character education.
Participation in this conference afforded me the opportunity to see education across the world through the different lenses of elementary teachers, special education aides, school counselors, heads of school, and a variety of other school staff professionals from both the public and private sectors. Through a variety of opening plenary sessions, to in-depth focus groups on specific topics, to learning groups, educators from all backgrounds were given the opportunity to share their opinions and unique perspectives of how the education landscape is evolving right before our eyes. What struck me as most significant was the affirmation that we are doing so many things right at Morgan Park Academy! Gardner strongly believes that no person can be characterized by just one of the intelligence modalities; rather he views each person’s intelligence as a unique blend of all of these intelligences. I see this every day at Morgan Park Academy. Our students demonstrate their multiple intelligences from the athletic fields, to the theater stage, and of course, to the classroom. Our community embraces and supports students pursuing different skills throughout their education and we encourage the continuance of this throughout their life.
Today it is widely acknowledged that students should be exposed to the different intelligence modalities in schools and the benefits of providing students with a variety of opportunities have been widely researched and encouraged. In Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of all Learners, she explains the necessity of differentiated instruction along with providing teachers tools for implementation. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has acknowledged the relevance of her research by stating:
“Although much has changed in schools in recent years, the power of differentiated instruction remains the same—and the need for it has only increased. Today’s classroom is more diverse, more inclusive, and more plugged into technology than ever before.”
When I began my teaching career 15 years ago, I set out to teach in the same fashion as I had been taught, which was mostly through textbook readings and lectures. I quickly recognized that there was a lot more that our students had to offer than memorization of facts. Throughout the years, I have continuously tailored and redesigned my units to allow for students to demonstrate mastery of the material in a variety of ways. Some of the favorite activities that have come out of this are the cell diagrams where students have created everything from Disney movies, like Lion King and Frozen, to Santa’s workshop, to making leaf imprints to visualize and draw the stomata of plants. I see one of my biggest challenges and also most exciting opportunities in the teaching career as never getting content with teaching a unit as I have taught it in the past. Each class presents a unique blend of learners and it is my job as an educator to reach every student. Using Gardner’s work, I have been able to continuously revisit what and how I am teaching to be most effective for each class.
By Emily Drown
Mrs. Drown is an Upper School science teacher and the Curriculum Leader for our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Department.