Instructions and multiple intelligences

Instructions and multiple intelligences

Many educators tend to think that they should match each student’s learning style with a respective teaching style. When asked to elaborate upon teaching styles, one often hears a description of teaching strategies or methods. Teaching strategies and teaching styles are not the same. Anthony F Grasha’s work Teaching With Style has illuminated the concept of teaching styles from his research on college teaching.

Readers should not to get mixed up with Grasha’s classification of learning styles as he has contributed his scholarship to this area too. Grasha defines teaching styles as “a pattern of needs, beliefs, and behaviours that faculty displayed in their classroom. Style also was multidimensional and affected how people presented information, interacted with students, managed classroom tasks, supervised coursework, socialised students to the field, and mentored students.”

One can observe from this definition that teaching strategies is but one determinant of teaching styles. According to Margaret E Gredler (author of Learning And Instruction), “Strategies are a set of actions over and above the processes involved in a task.” Anthony Grasha classified teaching styles as Expert, Formal Authority, Personal Model, Facilitator and Delegator.

Teachers with Expert teaching style are transmitters of information. Those teachers with the teaching style of Formal Authority are wary of acceptable standards. They set expectations, learning goals, rules of conduct, and provide feedback to students. As the name suggests, teachers with the teaching style of Personal Model, model themselves for students to behave. Facilitators support students without “pouring” knowledge to students. Delegators let students work independently and serve as resource persons. Teaching styles are thus, not teaching strategies.

There have been efforts in the past to correlate teaching strategies and learning styles. But, recent research has questioned the very concept of learning styles. As a result of the research, eminent educator Carol Tomlinson suggests that teachers use different teaching methods (without seeking to know the learning styles of their pupils).

Some educators seem to equate the eight kinds of identified intelligences identified by American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in his Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory, namely, linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences with the sensory modalities of learning styles, viz., visual, auditory, tactual, or kinesthetic learning styles.

Gardner, the influential scholar himself, clarifies: “Educators are prone to collapse the terms intelligence and style. For informal matters, that is no great sin though — to be frank — it grates on me. In actuality, style and intelligence are fundamentally different psychological constructs. Style refers to the customary way in which an individual approaches a range of materials — for example, a playful or a planful style. Intelligence refers to the computational power of a mental system: for example, a person whose linguistic intelligence is strong is able readily to compute information that involves Language. Whether a person likes to use a certain intelligence is not the same as strength in an intelligence: I might love music but have only mediocre musical intelligence.” Learning Styles and MI are therefore, not synonymous.

The proponent of Differentiated Instruction (DI), Carol Tomlinson states that DI involves teachers differentiating instruction based on students’ readiness, interests and learning profile. Learning Profile is “related to how we take in and process information.” It is an umbrella term that includes four components, learning style, intelligence, culture, and gender. Tomlinson alerts educators that Learning Styles and Learning Profiles are not the same. She adds that learning style is merely one-quarter of learning profile. On the other hand, learning profile is not a fixed, non-singular, but, a fluid concept.

Teachers are advised to remember that teaching strategies are not teaching styles; and learning styles are not MI or learning profile or DI.

(The author is a Bengaluru-based educator)

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