(Multiple) intelligent design

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has great influence on teacher practice. After all, shouldn't teachers be conscious of whether Johnny is spatially, musically, or linguistically intelligent and tailor their instruction accordingly? Well, not quite, according to Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia. "Cognitive science has taught us that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities," such as spatial or linguistic, he writes, "but teaching the child in his best modality doesn't affect the educational achievement." (Italics in original.) The reason, he explains, is that our minds store information in terms of its meaning, for the most part, not as a visual or auditory representation. And because it is meaning that teachers generally aim to impart, teachers need to focus on the modality that best conveys the meaning of a lesson, rather than attempt to tailor their teaching to each student's learning strength. For example, the shape and grandeur of pyramids can best be explained visually, while one might read a sonnet to convey its rhythm, or lift a Civil War pack to understand its weight. But it's pointless for teachers to tailor a single lesson so that Billy learns about these visually, Janet musically, and Tammy kinesthetically. One hopes that teachers are among those who take in the lesson, best learned in this case by reading this short article. (Setting it to music loses something in the translation.)

"Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Do Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Instruction?" by Daniel T. Willingham, American Educator, Summer 2005.