I have long been interested in Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and over the years as a teacher I have shared this interest with my students. A unit that I used to take on with my grade 7 and 8 students (back when I was in the classroom) called Learning to Learn, had the students exploring and reflecting about themselves as learners, part of which included looking at Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and how these related to them. I would have them create a learner profile of sorts, in order for them to gain a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as learners. The students loved learning about themselves and multiple intelligences, but I now realize that I was missing out on an important and valuable opportunity during this unit, and that I could have extended this learning beyond the students exploring only about themselves as learners.
Through studying Winnipegger Jennifer Katz’ Three Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, I am realizing that another important extension of this unit, and one that would have helped to build more classroom community and more respect for diversity, would have been to look at the classroom’s learner profile as a whole as well, and not just at the individual profiles of each student. Block 1 (and the foundation of Katz’ model for UDL) focuses on “social and emotional learning, and on developing a compassionate learning community,” which is what I like most about her model! Let’s just say she had me hooked, when she started talking about the importance of “teaching to the heart as well as to the mind!” She speaks my language! One way that she works to build this sense of community is through her Respecting Diversity or RD program, which focuses on multiple intelligences.
Jennifer’s RD program has students learning about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, much like my 7s and 8s did during our Learning to Learn unit. Her program includes 8-9 lessons and can be adapted for any age. The students, through a survey (there are many out there) and through reflection, explore their learner profile and identify their “intelligences” or “smarts.” This helps them to understand how they learn best and where they need to develop more as learners. The next step is perhaps the most important, and the one that I was missing in my unit.
Once the students have identified their strengths as learners, they then look at the classroom’s collective learner profile. They create what she calls a community brain (the details of which are outlined in chapter 3 of her book, as are all of the other lessons). This process allows the students to gain perspective on the diverse learning styles and strengths that exist within their classroom. This particular lesson is followed up by other activities which have the students working in homogeneous groups (according to MI strengths) and then in heterogeneous groups (mixed intelligences). After both of these activities, the students reflect on the advantages and disadvantages to the two different types of groupings. Students also reflect on what the world would look like if we all had the same strengths as learners, for example, a world where everyone was a verbal-linguistic learner. What would this look like? We would be without music, architecture would not exist (or would all look the same), and there would be little interaction between people, just to give a bit of perspective.
These activities are meant to help the students build a better understanding of the importance and benefits of diversity. While many students, before these activities, likely chose “smart” kids to pair up with during group work, these activities help them to realize that all of their peers have different “smarts” and something to contribute to the team.
The hope of the program, is for students to develop self-awareness, self-respect and acceptance. It should create a sense of belonging for each learner. The classroom becomes a place where each student feels valued and respected and the class as a whole should work better together. As the title of the program suggests, the students should gain more respect for diversity.
I look forward to learning more about the RD program, as well as the rest of her model for UDL and how it can support my students’ social and emotional learning. Stay tuned for more on UDL in the weeks to come, as I get started with my students.