In a rapidly changing world, where schools are expected to serve the multiple needs of every learner, the limitations of educational institutions are quite overwhelming. Children come to school fragmented and we unconsciously continue this fragmentation. But if our vision is one of a whole child, our mission is to embrace a holistic approach that fully involves students. In other words, we need to create “smart schools”, in which a variety of skills and abilities can be used to learn and solve problems.
In this concern, there have been numerous attempts to apply the theory of multiple intelligences (first presented by Howard Gardner in 1993) to educational environments, particularly in the USA and Australia. At Harvard University there is a long-term project called “Project Zero” or “Project Spectrum”, an interactive approach to curriculum and assessment for preschool children that gives teachers tools for identifying and providing evidence for children’s strengths in different areas. Other relevant examples are “Key School” in Indianapolis and “New City School” in St. Louis, Missouri, where the theory of multiple intelligences has already become a philosophy of education. This integrated type of learning seems to have a positive effect on students due to the fact that it develops and celebrates a unique pattern of intelligence for each student. The good news is that being smart is no longer determined by a score on a test; being smart is determined by how well students learn in a variety of ways. Next, we are going to look at some basic principles and characteristics which reveal the vision of the so-called ‘smart schools’:
- One size does not fit all
Taking into account that learning is essentially personal, students learn best when educators adapt their teaching to the students’ levels, interests and learning profiles. To Howard Gardner and his team from Harvard University, a skilled teacher is a person who can adopt multiple perspectives on the same concept. Our mistake as educators is that we treat students as if they learned in the same way. And using a singular instructional approach disregards the different learning styles and interests in our classrooms and therefore we should rethink the way we set our educational goals. As with clothing, one size does not fit all, so one way is not the only way.
- Mind, body and spirit in the classroom
Holistic educators are convinced of the basic principle that the human being is a complex reality, with lots of creative energies. Their view is that we can no longer limit the learning environment to sitting still, being quiet and memorising stuff. It is time for a more holistic view of each learner, for more experiential, hands-on instruction, movement and personal expression through arts, sports and music. The body and the senses need to be engaged in the learning of all subjects. ‘Smart schools’ focus on the hidden internal experiences of their students and emphasize the great role of feelings in the learning experience.
- The integrated curriculum
The theory of multiple intelligences is a holistic interdisciplinary and cross-curricular educational approach in which the curriculum is integrated so that it fits the students’ needs and allows for the coordination of intelligences. Connections are best made when the material is presented in an integrated disciplinary way, linking subjects like Art, Science, PE, History, Geography and Music. By eliminating boundaries between disciplines, children in ‘smart schools’ can see the world in whole as much as possible and not in fragmented parts. Interdisciplinary and cross-curricular activities help students relate facts and increase meaningful learning.
- Creativity, wisdom and responsibility
‘Smart’ classes are inclusive environments where students have more opportunities to use their creativity and critical thinking, explore, imagine and play. In many ‘smart schools’, teachers turn to the arts and art-based activities as a way to implement the theory of multiple intelligences in significant learning experiences. Another important goal is to convert students from passive learners into independent and autonomous learners. Unless learners take a very active role in what they are studying, unless they ask questions and recreate things in their own minds, their learning is not efficient.
- Authentic assessment
In a ‘smart school’, teachers create opportunities for all students by assessing the class through multiple techniques and evaluation forms. In their vision, educators should always personalise assessment by using alternative assessment methods (portfolios of students’ work, peer or self-assessment, projects, journal editing) which provide useful insight into the strength and weaknesses of each student. Moreover, these assessment tools provide rich opportunities for students to engage in reflective thinking.
- The ‘caring’ classroom
In a holistic school, the holistic learning experience is social and collaborative; the classroom is often seen as a community directed by acceptance, mutual respect and honesty. Differences between students are appreciated and interaction is based on mutual support and not on competition and hierarchy.
Setting up a positive, non-defensive environment is indispensable to facilitating the process of learning and teaching. Thousands of ‘smart schools’ throughout the world currently include social and emotional learning (SEL) in their curricula. Bullying, disciplinary problems and violence can be reduced, while academic performance improves.
- Building bridges between the school and the community
‘Smart schools’ take students into the community and bring the community to its students. Following the principle of apprenticeship, community members volunteer to share their skills in some craft or occupation by working with a small group of students who have expressed interest in it.
On the whole, the holistic perspective on education offers an important philosophical and pedagogical approach that can serve as an alternative to contemporary educational research. The multiple intelligences paradigm puts forth as a solution a new vision of what school can do to educate the whole students, going well beyond academic learning into the fields of social and emotional wellbeing, in other words, bringing together mind and heart in the classroom.
Fogarty, R., Stoehr, J., Integrating Curricula with Multiple Intelligences, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008
Gardner, H., Multiple Intelligences – The Theory in Practice, New York: Basic Books, 1993
Hoerr, T.R., Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School, Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2000
Perkins, D., Smart Schools (Better Thinking and Learning for Every Child), New York: The Free Press, 1992
Tomlinson, C.A., How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classroom, Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001