2011: The year of the thesis.
I was at Pitzer College, living in a house off-campus with five of my friends and most of us had elected to write a senior thesis to fulfill our graduation requirement. A house of six people with six distinct majors meant that hypothesizing and philosophizing abounded in our living room. It would have been hard to not learn from each other in this setting.
My thesis was about the role of women in bicycle cooperatives and I like to think that all of my housemates developed a love for bikes because of my influence, but this post isn’t about that. This is about the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the subject of my housemate Bennett’s thesis.
Seven years after completing college, my thesis has informed my work, but Bennett’s thesis has informed my personal growth and lead to self-reflection that has changed my understanding of learning.
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is the foundation of the women+ bike maintenance workshops that I teach. I’ll explain what it is and how I use it. My hope is that you’ll learn something about yourself in the process.
WHAT IS THE THEORY OF MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE?
Forget IQ tests. Too many smart people have doubted their wit because of them.
In the early 1980s, rather than accepting that intelligence can be measured in mathematic and linguistic ability, Howard Gardner explored the valued skills of cultures around the world and came up with another theory. He said that there are at least eight distinct types of intelligence. In order to teach to students so that they learn effectively, we need to pluralize how we teach, meaning we should teach to a variety of intelligences.
Take a moment and consider how you understand the world. Are you a visual person? Do you like to make things? Do you associate stories with songs, or colors, or numbers? Do you have a keen ability to remember dates? Do you have an innate understanding of the natural world? Are you great at cooperating and relating to others? Do you really know yourself and recognize your strengths and weaknesses?
Those skills that you take for granted or just associate with your personality are actually types of intelligence. And like your DNA, you’ve got a unique assortment of intelligences which interact to make you you! And over time, you can alter it, but it takes work!
The Eight Intelligences that Howard Gardner identified in his early research were:
He has since added two more intelligences:
It is worth noting that many creatures on this planet exhibit the intelligences listed above. Some dogs are particularly good at interacting with other animals, some birds are able to imitate sounds and songs, some dolphins are able to balance beach balls and bounce them off their body. If you haven’t considered the intelligence of other animals, you’re welcome, now you’ve elevated your own interpersonal intelligence just a bit.
HOW I USE MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES IN MY WORKSHOPS:
We all learn and understand differently. As an educator it’s hard to satisfy everyone’s needs, even in a group of just 10 people. Imagine what it is like for teachers with a class of 50 or more students? The thing is, I think we’re doing a disservice to students if we aren’t identifying their strengths and supporting their learning by teaching in a way they will understand. The more I share Multiple Intelligences with people, the more deep sighs I hear in response to wasted years. Years of academic schooling in which someone thought they were dumb, or a bad student, only because no one had helped them identify their intelligences.
I fell asleep in class plenty of times. I got bored during lessons and skipped school. I accepted that I was bad at math, and stopping trying to learn. But I also had moments of clarity that I’ve only understand later in life.
Of the eight schools that I have attended in my thirty years of living, two of those schools taught to the students, not to tests, and not by the books. The first was a Waldorf school, where we learned all the core subjects, but they were taught with multiple intelligences in mind. I took a science class where we painted what we learned. We were welcome to take notes, but encouraged to interact with lessons in other ways. We’d study flora and paint leaves to understand the structure more fully. We’d learn about poetry and combine it with music and movement, connecting with more than just ink on paper. Some teachers at my university taught in this same, pluralized way. There was a math class called, “Math in Many Cultures.” It was thought of as math for non-math people. Mathematical concepts was taught in tandem with sociology, anthropology and history. We had the opportunity to fulfill graduation requirements with non-traditional classes so I was able to take computer science for a math credit as well. Computer science is perfect for a visual learner with an ability for understanding foreign languages. I consider myself very lucky to have been exposed to this other way of learning, even though at the time I didn’t know how unique it was.
Now when I teach, I try to include as many mediums as I can in every lesson. It’s an absolute pleasure to force myself to think the way other people think and design lessons that will work for different types of learners.
Visual-spatial: I use paintings and demonstrations to explain how bikes work and what each system is made of.
Verbal-linguistic: I use written lists to reiterate repair techniques and processes.
Logical-Mathematical: It’s easy to sprinkle in math and science as we think about bike fit, gear ratios and how to loosen stuck or rusted parts.
Music-rythmic: Whenever possible I play music during workshops so that people create associations between songs and skills. We listen to the noises that our bikes make to identify problems and troubleshoot.
Bodily-kinesthetic: I have tactile tools they can fiddle with and hands-on practice time for them to connect with what they are learning.
Intrapersonal: There’s time for discussions and reflection.
Interpersonal: There’s also time to interact with peers, teach each other and share our experiences in the classroom and in life.
Naturalistic: We talk about weather, riding surfaces and how all of this can affect a bike and a cyclist.
Not every technique works for everyone, but ideally everyone finds out what helps them learn. After class I send people more resources in the form of diagrams, videos, articles, just to give them more ways to digest information. Learning is supposed to be a life long journey. If we all understand ourselves better, we can squeeze a lot more juice out of every experience. If we know how we learn, we can alter those experiences to increase our understanding. And once you know a little about how you learn, you can work with others to help them learn in a way that suits them too.
Stories from the road and bike shops en route.
Author: Sylvie Froncek
I've ridden thousands of miles, led group bike tours, taught maintenance classes and started bike collectives, all in an attempt to share what I love with great people. Read about my adventures and tell me about yours!