Multiple Intelligences Newsletter, Vol 31, No 5
May 9, 2022
Greetings MI Fans,
Spring has finally sprung in this section of the Northern Hemisphere (MO) and it feels good to be able to use the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence outside. It’s not nearly as much fun to walk on a treadmill as to be outside. That said, years ago Howard Gardner convened the group of us who had written for his book, MI Around the World, and an educator from Norway talked about how they valued the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence so much that they went outside for more than an hour each day.
“Your students spend an hour outside in Norway each day? What about the weather?” I asked naively. She smiled and said, “In Norway, there is no such thing as bad weather, simply inappropriate clothing.” Point well taken!
This newsletter features an article about The Howard Gardner School in Virginia. As you’ll see, the school uses MI to create an educational approach that works for students. This segment is possible thanks to their head of school, Erick Johnson, who spoke with me and send me some information.
Students often look eagerly to summer vacation because this is a time when they can use their non-scholastic intelligences – musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, and the personals. But with the right motivation and a little creativity, students could use those intelligences to learn in school! I know because this happened at my school, the New City School in St. Louis, MO. In fact, we all worked, students and adults, but we enjoyed what we were doing and, ready, we often smiled! That says a lot, check it out here!
The Howard Gardner School (VA)
The theory of multiple intelligences is a statement about human potential because it recognizes that each of us has a profile of many different intelligences.
But unfortunately, that isn’t the reality is how most schools operate. Too often educators limit their efforts to preparing students to succeed on the next test, to do well in a particular course, or to be accepted at the next school, and the focus becomes the scholastic intelligences, the 3 R’s. Teachers teach through the scholastic intelligences and they require students to indicate their knowledge and skills through those same 3 R’s. That narrow view of problem-solving creates a hierarchy of intelligences, with the 3 R’s at the top, while problem-solving using the other intelligences – musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, naturalist, and the personal intelligences – is relegated to after-school clubs, teams, or recess.
Certainly we want children to perform well in school, but how might education differ if the focus was on preparing students to succeed in life, not just to do well in school? It might look like what happens every day at The Howard Gardner School (HGS) in Alexandria, VA, founded by Katherine Keith and Emily Pavot in 2004.
I was particularly interested in talking with Erick Johnson, their Head of School, because the HGS is a middle- and a high school, for students in grades 6-12. I have met many educators who were implementing MI in their schools or classrooms, and in most cases, this was happening at the elementary level. That was my experience at the New City School, a preschool through elementary school in St. Louis, MO. In large part, this is because high school teachers tend to be subject matter specialists so it is more difficult for them to leave their comfort zone and use a range of intelligences in teaching. (Also, the rigid schedule of high schools makes it more difficult to create extended times so that students can use their range of intelligences.)
The faculty at HGS (students chose the school’s name) recognizes that each person possesses an array of different – multiple – intelligences, and their curriculum is designed to tap into each child’s potential. The pragmatic and inclusive educational approach at The HGS is reflected in its mission statement:
It is the mission of The Howard Gardner School to help bright, creative, non-traditional learners use their unique strengths to thrive academically, intellectually, and emotionally.
Erick Johnson has a non-traditional background for an educator, i.e., he was trained as a litigation consultant and then became an Academic Success Coordinator for a school in Michigan. When we spoke, he shared his experiences as a football coach, and described a “diversity of athletes” as a way of capturing the range of ways players solve problems. While their strength, speed, and coordination (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) were key, their ability to see situations and identify opportunities (spatial intelligence) and know how to follow, lead, and push themselves (personal intelligences) were also integral. His comment “Not everyone’s brain is the same” is true on playing fields and in the classroom.
The HGS is intentionally small, with 42 students in the high school and 13 in the middle school (the schools are two separate entities). This enables them to create non-traditional learning experiences that tap into and develop students’ many intelligences. The first week of every school year is a bonding time, an opportunity for students to learn about MI. Teachers present the theory and students engage in using all of their intelligences. Approximately forty percent of students’ time is spent outside classrooms, away from the school. Tuesdays are field trip days, and students will go on 36 trips during the school year, visiting power plants, national parks, national forests, and museums, for example. In almost every venue, he notes, docents and guides willingly share – teach – the students.
The pragmatic focus on what works for students is apparent in the non-traditional schedule at HGS. Students in grades 10 & 11 spend six to eight hours each Friday engaged in a professional internship. The entire school comes together for Community Fridays, times when students share what they have learned about themselves as learners. Erick says:
“Monday, Wednesday, Thursday morning are ‘standard’ days; Tuesdays are Field Studies; and Thursday afternoon is community meeting. The activities on Friday vary, based on students’ age/maturity.
“Community Fridays are for younger students to learn about themselves; Professional Internships are for older students ready to be in the adult world a bit more; Senior Fridays are about learning to be an elder in a community, tactical leadership/followership training, and schedule support for all the challenges that Seniors face (what’s next? for instance), as well as “Packing the Suitcase” which is when students are helped to actively recognize what has helped them succeed to this point, and what they need to take with them wherever they go. Community Meetings are held on Thursday afternoon, they are student-run and handle community issues and community building.”
As a way to enable students to use MI to solve problems and show what they have learned, students create a symposium in the fall. (“Right before Thanksgiving break,” Erick says, “so folks have time to recover from the effort.”) Examples he offers:
- Renewable Energy Demonstration Conference
- Play-in-a-Week: Three Original One-Act Plays (including having to turn the school into a theatre, because we don’t have one – this was the year the marketing team sold out a matinee that we didn’t know existed)
- A Charity Bike Race (in fact, two races, one for speed, one for style – there’s an “elephant” bike on top of the tech shed from that)
- Turned our Campus into a Nature Center
- Pop-Up Restaurant (complete with a Maître d’etre and his assistant, both in tuxedos, thus fulfilling my promise to the faculty of getting our smallest student into a top hat and tails)
- Single Shot, no Edit Action Movie
- Time Bureau: An Interactive Multi-Escape Room Adventure
The faculty always gives special attention to how are students feeling and thinking. An example of this awareness is that classes begin at 10am each day. The goal is to help students become partners in the learning process, and that requires attention to their SEL as well as academic growth. He shares that the HGS graduates attend a diverse array of universities and programs and boast a 99% first-choice acceptance rate.
Erick says that human diversity in an organization enables progress from good to great, and MI is a positive example, recognizing students’ neuro-diversity. He likens this diversity to cogs in a wheel, latching together and creating some tension in order to gain movement. Students’ experience at the HGS have been so positive that a second campus will be opening in the fall for students in grades 9-12. It will be on the border of Fairfax County, VA and Loudoun County, VA, named, “HGS: Fairfax-Loudoun” with the current campus being “HGS: Alexandria.” Readers who would like to learn more about the school can contact Erick Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Sometimes when I talk about MI (something I do quite often), people ask me if Gardner has identified a new intelligence. Often that is because they have heard about an “Existential Intelligence.” I reply, no, that is not the case. In this blog, Howard Gardner specifically addresses this question:
A Resurgence of Interest in Existential Intelligence: Why Now? — Howard Gardner
This Professional Interest Community (PIC) is sponsored by ASCD as part of their effort to improve the quality of education for all children.
ASCD PICs (Professional Interest Communities) are member-initiated groups designed to unite people around a common area of interest in the field of education. PICs allow participants to exchange ideas, share information, identify and solve problems, grow professionally, and establish collegial relationships.
You can learn about ASCD’s networks, publications, conferences, workshops, and the dialogues sponsored by ASCD at www.ascd.org. You can also register for the free, daily ASCD SmartBrief.