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Your Students: No Two Are Alike

Voice of ExperienceEach week, an educator shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in Education Worlds Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on how she focuses the first two weeks of instruction on helping students become familiar with their learning strengths. Surveys and activities help students learn which intelligences they favor. These beginning-of-the-year activities will be revisited throughout the school year. Included: Links to multiple intelligences survey tools, more!

When you watch Michael Jordan perform unforgettable maneuvers on the basketball court or listen to Celine Dion belt out one of her moving ballads, do you ever wonder how they did in school? I do. I wonder if they ever failed a math test or struggled to make sense of a Shakespearean sonnet. I wonder if their peers looked up to them. I wonder if their teachers had any idea of the world-class talents they would become.

I also wonder if I am too focused on meeting curriculum standards to notice in my own classroom a budding George Lucas, Maya Angelou, or Bill Gates. Would I recognize their talents if they showed up in ways other than what education theorist Howard Gardner calls schoolhouse giftedness, or the more traditional linguistic and logical thinking?

Celebrate Students' Abilities!

In Little Geniuses, psychologist Thomas Armstrong celebrates more than three dozen unconventional talents that are worth developing and celebrating in children. Those talents include:

* Adventuresomeness
* Common sense
* Compassion
* Inquiring mind
* Leadership abilities
* Manual dexterity
* Moral character
* Patience
* Persistence
* Self-discipline
* Sense of humor
* Social savvy

To learn more, see Little Geniuses.


Those questions have led me to take a different approach during the first weeks of school. Others might condemn my approach as a frivolous use of precious class time, but I persist in putting aside the seemingly pressing issues of curriculum for a while. Instead, my students concentrate on creating their own learning profiles. The learning profile document (more specifics about this later) identifies and celebrates the eight intelligences identified by Howard Gardner. The function of the learning profile is twofold: to give me a birds-eye view of the strengths and weaknesses of my new students, and to provide my students with some self-knowledge that will help them meet their learning potential.

Each year I am amazed at the wealth of unconventional information I gain from this activity. I encounter students who appear to live dual lives -- they struggle during school hours, but excel outside of school; demonstrating remarkable abilities in tap dancing, computer programming, hockey, or choral speech.

Knowing that students who are labeled learning disabled are often very creative in other ways, better than average at visual-spatial tasks, or talented in mechanical, musical, or athletic pursuits motivates me to seek out alternative ways of delivering my curriculum. I am often able to figure out approaches to my curriculum that will take advantage of their many and varied strengths.


During the beginning days of school, I introduce two learning inventories to my students:

Multiple Intelligences Survey. First, I have them complete the Mutliple Intelligences Inventory. This survey identifies which of the eight intelligences -- math-logic, verbal-linguistic, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and naturalistic -- have the strongest influence on each students ability to learn. Although learners demonstrate elements of each of the eight intelligences, the survey helps identify several intelligences as dominant.

More Voices of Experience!

Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks?

Learning-Style Preference Questionnaire. Are students orderly, reserved, cautious, or good at on-the-spot problem solving? Do they thrive when they can work with things that can be handled, taken apart, and put together again, or do they prefer working with things that directly and practically help people's lives? The Learning-Style Preference Questionnaire (seems to now be called the Paragon Learning Style Inventory) sheds light on many less conventional characteristics that contribute to an individuals success in learning.

After administering those two inventories, I introduce activities to help students internalize what they have learned about how they learn. For example:

  • Students use data collected from the learning-style questionnaire to create a learning styles pie chart.
  • Arrange students into eight groups. Assign a different intelligence to each group. Students in each group research the assigned intelligence and create a poster or mural to help explain it to their classmates.
  • Provide each student with a legal-size file folder. Have students create on the cover of the folder a collage comprised of pictures from magazines and other sources as well as their own art; each image should represent something the student discovered about himself or herself from the MI activities/questionnaires. We file those activities, students goal sheets, and examples of student work in the folders. All this work can be used as a reference point during parent conferences.
  • Provide students with a drawing of a large head. Have students divide the skull area into approximate areas represented by different intelligences. Label each section and add pictures, illustrations, or key words to represent each intelligence.
  • Challenge students to strategize ways in which they can stretch beyond their natural talents and interests; have them use one of their lowest multiple intelligences to complete a project.

During the balance of the school year, I remind myself from time to time of the activities we did in the first two weeks of school. Letting those learning profiles sit on a shelf was never my intent. The power of those tools is only unleashed when their contents are pondered, referred to, and applied to the curriculum throughout the year in the form of lessons.


Brenda Dyck teaches at Masters Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth-grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.


Article by Brenda Dyck
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Updated 07/14/2014