Sunday, January 03, 2016

MI: Abilities, or Talents, not Intelligences

At the end of December 2015, a Washington Post article written in 2013 on Multiple Intelligences (MI) by Howard Gardner resurfaced and received a lot of attention on social media. In the article, Gardner clarified his position Multiple Intelligences vs Learning Styles. The article dates from 2013 and there is a good response to it and an interesting discussion of MI in the book, Urban Myths about Learning & Education, that I've been reading recently.  


It starts by recognising the value that MI has offered teachers and students: "Teachers who follow this theory have done much valuable work, because they recognize the differences in people. We would not dream of criticizing the value of this work, but the foundations on which it is based do seem to be rather shaky."

The authors go on to quote a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia, who believes the problem with MI has partly been because Gardner referred to them as 'intelligences' when they may be better described as 'talents': "Why are we referring to musical, athletic and interpersonal skills as intelligences?Gardner was not the first psychologist to point out that humans have these abilities...The difference was that they called them talents or abilities whereas Gardner has renamed them intelligences."
So why call them intelligences? The authors believe that the theory would never have received so much attention if the name 'intelligences' had not been used. 

The authors point out the oft-cited problems with the MI theory (lack of empirical influence, etc.) but conclude that the main problem is its influence in the educational world because it is being used by some as the basis of school reforms: "multiple intelligences is more a booster of self-esteem than a prescription for teaching and learning" , which is no bad thing, but "there are better ways of improving self-esteem...ones based on fact rather than illusion...and seeing one's intelligence in all of those pigeonholes can be limiting.

Their final words are aimed at teachers: "This does not exempt you from your obligation as a teacher to find out as much as you can about the different talents of your pupils, so that you can make best positive use of these talents. Just remember that they are probably not intelligences..." 

In other words (i.e. mine), let's stop using the pseudo-science to describe what good teachers do in the classroom anyway (i.e. find out what they can about your students and use this to help you to teach and they to learn).

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Learning Styles are dead! Long live Learning Styles!

"The biggest problem with educational myths is that people who believe in them will often be able to find enough evidence in their day-to-day practice to support their beliefs. The reason for this is simple. It is like when you buy a new car: suddenly you see the same make of car everywhere you go, often in the same model and color. But these cars were on the road before you bought yours; it is just that you did not notice them until now. In the same way, we are quick to recognize 'indications' for the ideas we believe in. The experiences that don't support our case we simply ignore, unconsciously or not."
(De Bruyckere, Kirschner & Hulshof (2015) Urban Myths about Learning and Education)

I am enjoying reading this book on Urban myths in education, and see that Learning Styles is one of the first urban myth tackled in the book. As Russell Mayne pointed out in this ELTJam article, there is something about Learning Styles which means it just refuses to die, despite insurmountable evidence that this emperor has no clothes. The section ends with the following conclusion:

"Though appealing, no solid evidence exists showing that there is any benefit in adapting and designing education and instruction to these so-called styles. It may even  be the case that in doing so, administrators, teachers, parents and even learners are negatively influencing the learning process and the products of education and instruction."

Before reaching this conclusion, the authors run through the evidence for and against. Most learning styles classify people into groups, but most people do not fit into one particular style and the information used to assign people to styles is inadequate.




Learning styles are one thing, but what about learner preference? This is often confused with learning styles (see image above), which is part of the problem. I prefer to take notes when I'm listening to a lecture or a conference talk, because I think it helps me underline the main messages and I remember what was said better. Taking notes also helps me concentrate. Does that mean you can categorise me as an auditory/kinaesthetic/visual/other learner? I don't think so. Or if you think you so, I don't see how the label would be useful.  Either way this habit I've developed since I was younger may not be the best way for me to learn. As early as 1982, Clark "found in a meta-analysis of studies...that learner preference was typically uncorrelated or negatively correlated with learning and learning outcomes."


What is supporting the persistence of this myth? Well, Pashler and co. believe it is supported by "a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks" and "professional development workshops for teachers and educators" (p.105) despite their being "no scientific evidence for the different learning style categorizations and no proof for their added value in the classroom" (De Bruyckere, Kirschner & Hulshof, 2015). That does not mean that all learners are the same, however, and "a good teacher, like a good chef, knows how to optimize this by playing to the learner's strong points and compensating for the weak ones."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Digital Game-Based Language Learning

At the recent excellent BRAZ TESOL Technology Seminar, I had two opportunities to give a 2 hour mini-course on digital game-based language learning. The slides I used for the basis of this can be found below.



Remote Teaching - BRAZ TESOL Technology Seminar - July 2015

I was very pleased to be invited to the BRAZ TESOL Technology seminar in Sao Paolo a week or so ago. 
photo taken by BRAZ TESOL photographer
The invitation to give a plenary on the Plan Ceibal English project allowed me to update and expand on what I'd spoken about previously, and having an hour meant I could go into more detail than I have usually done with this type of presentation.

I am convinced that what the British Council have developed in partnership with Plan Ceibal, the remote teaching of English and follow-up facilitation of lessons by classroom teachers, is an interesting offer for organisations in other countries. There does seem to have been an increase in interest recently, especially now that the project is maturing and we have been able to show it is working well. Who knows, perhaps the next country to become involved could be Brazil? 

The slides for this plenary can be found below.



Saturday, May 30, 2015

Gamifying the ELT course book - VenTESOL 2015

Webinar given as part of the VenTESOL conference in Venezuela - 30th May 2015