How moving past I.Q. can boost learning

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Any Guesses?It was the end of the first quarter and Travis was sitting on the floor with three other students. A large sheet of white roll paper spread out between them. Markers of various colors littered their work space, but nothing had yet been put upon paper.

“How’s it going guys?” I asked as I approached, kneeling down to their level.

Travis spoke for the group. “We don’t get it, ” he said. Frustration wrinkled his brow. The class had been working for ten minutes, and already many other groups were well on their way.

The assignment required students to look back at a quarter’s worth of instruction and then visually re-create that learning by drawing a large poster or mural. The activity gave students a chance to share their experience of learning (what they remembered) and then create a product that helped them to cement this new information by attaching it to a metaphor.

After explaining how metaphors can be used to create or expand understanding, I asked students to develop their own metaphors to represent what they learned during the first nine weeks of class.

Howard Gardner, professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University, might say the activity I had assigned encourages “deep learning,” by using four different intelligences–interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial and visual–to reflect on what we had covered in class.

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences–well known among educators and scientists alike–argues that there are actually eight ways to be “smart,” as opposed to the two that most IQ and standardized tests generally measure.

I can’t explain all eight intelligences here. But I can list them:

  • linguistic,
  • logic-mathematical (the two most tested in school),
  • musical,
  • spatial,
  • bodily/kinesthetic,
  • interpersonal,
  • intrapersonal,
  • and naturalistic.

Still, Travis and his group were struggling, so I chunked it up for them.

“Well, what does each of you remember learning in here so far? What does language arts in the eighth grade look like?”

“Um. Well, we do planning pages every day,” Travis said.

“Great! What else?”

“We have vocabulary,” Sara said.

“Now you’re getting the hang of it. Alex, start a list.”

“Okay. What about mind-maps? Does that count? And the SAINTS writing pattern? And Chapter Club?”

“Awesome! Now, I want you to keep brainstorming. Then, once you get your list, see if, together, you can come up with an image that all of these ideas can be a part of.” I then gave them another example and let them have at it.

About a week later, each group having had the opportunity to share and explain their metaphors to the class, all the posters hung around the room. There were pictures of landscapes with paths and roads representing journeys, a tree with branches and fruit showing growth, a staircase, a house, rockets in space, a meal on a plate. Attached and embedded within these images were the concepts we had studied for the past nine weeks.

It was quite a sight and a fun way for parents, who were coming and going for conferences, to see what we’d been working on.

I didn’t fully realize, however, the impact this activity had had until I met Travis’s mom and she asked if she could have the poster when it was done hanging in the room. Travis had been so proud of what his group had created that he’d talked about the mural at home and wanted to keep it and hang it up in his room.

Real and true learning (learning that sticks) is a deeply personal (and often exciting) experience. Meeting learners where they are, allowing them to access information through their own unique combinations of intelligences, and then honoring those aptitudes, is a great way to create an effective (if not powerful) learning experience.

Image Credit: Raymond Larose via Compfight

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