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Bringing Out the Best in Kids

Author and teacher Dr. Thomas Armstrong helps teachers apply multiple intelligences in their teaching, so they can tap into students' traditional and non-traditional talents and styles of learning. Included: Ideas for teaching to different learning styles.


An advocate of Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, Dr. Thomas Armstrong uses workshops and presentations to help teachers apply the multiple intelligences in their classes.

Drawing on Gardner's theories, Dr. Armstrong encourages teachers and parents to look beyond the traditional concepts of giftedness, and be on the lookout for talents in children such as adventuresomeness, aesthetic perceptiveness, common sense, compassion, courage, manual dexterity, and emotional maturity, and to see how they can nurture those talents.

Dr. Armstrong has written numerous books and articles and appeared on national television shows. He talked with Education World about his work promoting application of multiple intelligences' theory.


Dr. Thomas Armstrong

Education World: On what research are your theories about intelligence based?


Dr. Thomas Armstrong: The theory of multiple intelligences, which I have championed over the past 18 years, is Howard Gardner's model, not my own. I have served as a kind of middleman between the theory and the classroom, looking at a diversity of ways in which the model might be applied in different instructional contexts. With that in mind, Gardner's model is based upon research related to eight or nine criteria, covering neurological, evolutionary, cognitive, psychometric, developmental, and psychological factors related to intelligence. This is the most fascinating part of the model, and the one people who work with multiple intelligences theory seem to know the least about.


EW: Lately, Howard Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences have come under some criticism. What is your response to that?

Armstrong: Yes, I'm familiar with some of them. [I responded to] one critical article published in the Wilson Quarterly (Summer, 2004). She had some ludicrous schema, unsupported, that suggested what was appropriate instruction for children at different IQ score levels. Other criticisms have involved attacking the model for not being supported by tests. What tests? The old tired tests? Yes, it seems so. Gardner's model is a paradigm change -- requiring a different approach to thinking about assessment, instruction, and what it means to "think" in the first place. As long as people continue to try to think of this model in terms of the old models of the past, of course they will want to turn the clock back.

"I believe that a teacher can use all eight intelligences in the most time-limited, under-funded program around, simply by tapping into their students' cognitive faculties while they're sitting there in front of those dead textbooks," says Dr. Thomas Armstrong.

EW: What types of services do you provide when you work with school systems?

Armstrong: Right now I primarily work with groups of teachers at conferences (through keynotes and breakout sessions), or with whole schools or school districts, in half-day or full-day workshops, getting them to think about diversifying the ways in which they teach, and also getting them to think about kids, especially those with negative school labels like learning disabled or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in terms of their strengths, their most developed intelligences, so that they won't give up on these kids.

EW: In an era of limited time and resources, what are some things teachers can do to tap into more kids' talents?

Armstrong: I believe that a teacher can use all eight intelligences in the most time-limited, under-funded program around, simply by tapping into their students' cognitive faculties while they're sitting there in front of those dead textbooks Have students visualize, dramatize, verbalize, socialize, and naturalize the material. Once you start to do this, you start to see students' intelligences emerge (e.g. if kids have to draw their concepts as well as write about them, then kids who draw well will have the opportunity to shine). Also, if teachers themselves used their instrument, that is, their teaching style, as a multiple intelligences' vehicle, this would help a lot. [This could involve] drawing on the board, using storytelling skills, using their body and voice tone to emphasize material, and referring to nature). Teachers have been trained as engineers more than artists, and this has resulted in a lot of bo-ring time for students who have to endure it for hours on end.

EW: How could teachers, for example, help a child capitalize on a talent such as common sense?

Armstrong: Well, common sense per se is not an intelligence according to Dr. Gardner's criteria -- but if you said "street smarts" this might come close to the intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. In this case, a teacher needs to connect what he or she is teaching to the personal life of the student -- one way to do this is with a phrase that begins: "think of a time in your life when you ______" and then fill the blank with whatever you're teaching. If you're teaching algebra and x is an unknown, then "think of a time in your life when you confronted something that was unknown to you."

If you're teaching history and the American Revolution, then "think of a time in your life when you went through a revolution of your own, or felt like rebelling against someone or something (like parents!)" Or if you're teaching a science concept like Boyle's law, then "think of a time in your life when you were under a lot of pressure." (Boyle's law: "For a fixed mass and temperature of gas, the pressure is inversely proportional to the volume."). You get the idea.

This e-interview with Dr. Thomas Armstrong is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 11/04/2004; updated 05/01/2006