A wiser way to learn

Schools are taking a smart approach to education, recognising multiple intelligences and tailoring teaching to fit individual pupils

In 1983, the Harvard-based educational psychologist Howard Gardner published a book called Frames Of Mind in which he suggested that human intelligence is not a single entity but an assembly of separate powers.

Initially, he cited seven intelligences - linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal - that develop independently and combine in many ways.

While Gardner was by no means the first to reject the notion of a single intelligence, his "MI" theory struck a chord with many teachers.

It was a summer school organised with the University of the First Age that gave the staff and children of Wharrier Street primary their first taste of what Howard Gardner was driving at. "We had been given an extra two and a half hours a week of literacy above the literacy hour, and the impact was minimal in terms of standards," says headteacher Bernie Doherty. "So we thought we'd dare to be different and look at the curriculum as a whole."

One of the first changes was to introduce more PE. "In any group," says Mrs Doherty, "up to a third can be kinaesthetic learners, and you are doing them a disservice by not making the curriculum accessible to them."

With bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence taken care of, it was time to address other abilities. So Friday afternoons were set aside for creative work, and children were given options ranging from drama, orienteering and crafts to rugby, cooking and digital photography.

"It's about being aware of how children learn and realising some need to develop other areas," says Mrs Doherty. "To see children, who can be challenging, engrossed in fabulous work has brought tears to my eyes."

Being free to move between small, safe groups (the average size is around 10), many children are trying things they thought they couldn't do, says Mrs Doherty. The school's ethos is: "You are smart - let's find out how."

Staff at Wharrier Street try to think of activities that will address the children's multiple intelligences, and have fitted out a "speaking and listening room", divided into seven areas. Moving from stage to puppet area to creative space, children can apply each of their abilities, and work in a stimulating environment.

"It's looking for subtle ways to make the curriculum memorable," says Mrs Doherty. To this end, staff now use music, drama, dance and role-play in literacy hour. Mrs Doherty says: "It must be depressing for some children who come in thinking, 'Oh God, I've got literacy hour'. It's a big turn-off, and that's one reason why you get disaffection."

Staff now have the freedom to break lessons down into half-hour sessions, and if children get bored, they simply take a brain break.

"The best part of using multiple intelligences and a multi-sensory approach is that you're helping children to work with their strengths. Now we've started, it's something that will grow."

Ones to watch

Key school, Indiana First in the world to adopt whole-school MI techniques

Warwickshire Runs MI-centred summer schools

Southampton Home of regional and national "emotional literacy" networks

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