Thursday, January 20, 2011

Concerning multiple intelligences

There is not an instructional method I know of that’s a bigger scam. When the psychologist Howard Gardner came up with the theory of multiple intelligences he never meant to suggest that students could learn math, literature, or social studies by physical actions or listening to music. He has been appalled that it has been used that way and that it’s become a multi-million dollar industry with no scientific support. He simply meant the theory as a way to explain why some people are highly adept in some areas but not in others- why someone could be very gifted at music but not read well, or why another person could have immense athletic ability but poor math skills. He never meant that students should be taught to read by manipulating paper objects with words on them.

Recently a meta-analysis was conducted by real psychologists and scientific researchers (not educators with EdDs whose idea of research is reading polemic works on educational philosophy). The study examined whether there was scientific evidence for the efficacy of using learning styles within the classroom to stimulate achievement. The only way to provide this evidence was to use a very specific research design—a randomized sample had to be used, and those students whose preferred mode of learning matched the type of instruction being applied, whether it be visual, audible, tangible, etc., had to perform better in that condition than students with learning styles that contrasted the type of instruction.

The researchers combed through every piece of published work on learning styles and multiple intelligence and found less than five studies that used a design capable of validly testing the question. And here’s the kicker: out of those very few studies with a quality research design, all of them either showed inconclusive results or found evidence AGAINST the learning styles approach. There is no evidence for it. Period. Yet we are forcing teachers to teach using this method that does not work and are spending millions on training and teacher development tools for it. There is evidence that if given a survey, students will happily indicate what they prefer, but no evidence that tailoring instruction to those styles assists their learning.

As a psychologist (and certified teacher), my view is that we are actually handicapping students with this approach. Humans have to learn in many different ways. When they become adults their occupations will not tailor the training or the job to their whims. If we only teach students using the particular learning style they prefer, it may cause the other pathways for learning to atrophy. We are essentially making sure they can only learn in one way. This could have devastating long term consequences for them.

The research on many of the other “research-based methods” being pushed in our public schools is similarly dubious. This is because most educators don’t understand research and read secondary (and subjective) sources for their information. Teachers have expertise in their subject matter but often don’t have the time, or the means, to immerse themselves in statistics or psychology in order to gain the prerequisite knowledge necessary to understand what “research-based” really means and how to critically review it. And the administration generally doesn’t even have subject matter expertise, nor do they have an understanding of research because they received degrees in ridiculous fields like leadership. But they’re the ones making the decisions and pushing the agenda. And here we are…

Originally posted by Progressive Humanist
on the Get Schooled blog at the AJC


Anonymous said...

Have you ever wondered why all the DCSS administrators with Dr. before their name, e.g., Dr. Morcease Jamar Beasley, have EdD degrees and not PhDs. What is a EdD degree?

1. "The school of education has a history of marginalization within academia. Not long after the creation of doctorates in education, the legitimacy of the degrees were questioned. … In the 1950s, the criticism by scholars in the colleges of arts and sciences of doctoral degrees in education increased. In light of the controversy, many institutions opted to offer the Ed.D. as the exclusive doctorate within their schools of education." Wikipedia

2. … The EdD degree was invented years ago to give school principals a raise. After a couple years of taking some night and weekend classes, they got to tack "Dr." in front of their name and, voila, they got a raise. This degree was not meant to be a bona fide doctorate. Now, Colleges of Education are churning out legions of lazy, slack-jawed idiots who have taken a host of meaningless, vacuous courses. …

… Keep in mind, a typical education thesis has 10 pages of literature review, the 100 surveys administered to 12th graders about their feelings on each other, 10 pages of number crunching, and a one-page conclusion. The end result is a 121-page thesis. ...

Dr. Beasley's Samford University thesis was 127 pages. This man always exceeds expectations.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Blackwood nailed that one too. Put him in charge.

Private School Guy said...

Brain basted teaching and learning is also based on unfounded principles. When I first started working with the primary grades everyone was sold on this. I didn't trust it because it had too much of a touchy feeling new age spin to it. When I looked into to it I found a lot of criticism of it's precepts. It has since been thrown into the storage bin of failed educational concepts.

Claudia Keenan said...

PhD’s have generally looked down their noses at EdD’s because the former involves intensive research and scholarship to support a thesis. The EdD, however, is pursued largely by professional educators for career development and does not require the same intellectual rigor.

The first PhD program in education was established at Teachers College of Columbia University in 1893 and the first EdD program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1920.

Since 1920 EdD programs have proliferated. Why do we get the feeling that there are dozens of second-rate administrators running around with EdD’s? Probably two reasons – diminished quality of the candidates and lower standards within the programs.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you have posted this article. I wish more people understood the research behind this. I am a teacher who has taught in both private and public schools, and I can safely say, one of the big differences is the freedom given to private school teachers. If your students learn and achieve you are given the respect of the administration who allows you to teach the way you feel works best for your class. In the public schools, not so much. Ideas such as are mentioned here in this article and differentiated instruction are passed down as law that must be followed. Treat the teachers as the professionals they are and let them do their job. Teachers, if we don't do our job, we must accept the consequences, firing.

Anonymous said...

Changing topic...does anyone know if/how dekalb is making up snow days? Seems like other districts are already making it clear....i've not seen a peep from dekalb on the news. Have they even talked about it?

Anonymous said...


Yes---Students and teachers will take an online course about multiple intelligences and receive a crayola certificate.

The 3 hour-certificate will equal the 30 hours of missed instruction.

Anonymous said...

3 hours? Sort of like 3 years as a PE teacher is enough for one to become an Assistant Principal in charge of veteran teachers!

Anonymous said...

No, really, I'm being serious. Someone referred me to the DCSS website, which indicates they are currently considering four separate options. Why can't they just make a decision and go with it???? Isn't that what they are paid for?

(Of course, they'll probably petition to have the one day waivered. They'll argue our student accomplishments are so high overall that our district can really do just fine without more instruction.)

Seriously, inquiring parents want to know. Why hasn't this decision already been made?

Anonymous said...

Actually, from everything I'm reading about SACS and APS, the BOE has nothing to do with decisions like should be a decision made by the superintendent and administration.

So, Tyson's making the big bucks, let's see her make this decision, preferably with more than a week's notice to parents.


M G said...

I think the question of make-up days is being held for a week or so since there is the possibility of more winter weather.

Personally, I would prefer that we make-up all 5 days at the end of the year. My students need every day they can get.

Anonymous said...

Its a standard assignment in educational graduate school - design a lesson in your discipline based on multiple intelligences. Carry out the lesson, assess your student's knowledge using the intelligence.

You get into a weird argument here. You do the assignment, and you have a group that learn verbally, so they read, take notes, and write an essay. What we all call work. Then you take another musical group, and they create a song. Which in our society some call play. Well, what happens? If you grade the song and the essay equally, sure, you won't find much difference. But now give them an exam... The essay writers do better. And the proponents of MI theory will say its because you didn't test them the same. Well, here's the problem, they are going to be taking exams like the CRCT, EOCT, GHSGT, AP, etc. Those don't have an audition portion, they are geared for verbal learners.

In the real world, science and a few other disciplines are geared towards verbal/visual learners. Other disciplines value people who are interested in music or the other "intelligences" that Gardner wrote about - spiritual, natural, etc.

Now, there is a value in music education. One could even argue, given the recording, movie, and other industries, that you have a better shot at a good career in music than you would in science (in this country). And that a person interested in music doesn't need to be forced to learn 90% of what we force kids to learn in 9th grade biology - as much as the biologist might enjoy music, but most don't need music theory to be successful biologists or have a fulfilling life.
So that's whats broken - we aren't aligning our curriculum to the real world...we aren't helping our kids figure out what they want to be and what they are good at early enough and nurturing them in those directions. We are, for the most part, forcing them to take the same curriculum until they are almost done and out the door. And then we wonder why they don't like school.

Progressive Humanist said...


Thank you for posting this here. While the information in my comment is by no means a secret, it amazes me that so many people in public education continue to push the learning styles approach instead of doing the actual research necessary to validate it first (It does provide an excellent research opportunity for graduate students because the results would be publishable no matter what they were). I recommend interested readers examine the Pashler, et al. 2009 article in the Wiki link you provided above (“There is no evidence…”). The Pashler article (a quick 15 page read) is the one I was referring to in my comment and it is very recent and very strong. It essentially reveals that no research prior to 2009 provided even marginal evidence for the efficacy of tailoring instruction to learning styles, so unless a great deal of evidence is uncovered quickly, the scam will continue.

By the way, I’m a Shamrock graduate. I went there right after Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls and just before Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts.

Progressive Humanist said...

A couple of other comments based on some of the responses:

I would not write off all EdD degrees or educators who hold them. There was a professor emeritus on my dissertation committee who was an excellent teacher and researcher. But he got his EdD from Penn State many years ago before the advent of diploma mills and online degrees. While a PhD is generally considered more rigorous and a better measure of depth of knowledge, there are certainly educators who hold EdDs who know their stuff, but they’re normally at the college level. As one poster noted, EdD candidates tend to be lower quality students (lower GRE scores) and the degree standards are generally lower (EdDs can be earned in 2 years or less of marginal work; my PhD took 4 ½ at a national research university). Even though administrators with EdDs generally are less well educated than they should be, a better question is how administrators who went the easiest route possible, earning a questionable degree from a questionable institution in the shortest amount of time possible, can expect students to pursue maximum rigor when they didn’t.

Also, the length of the dissertation or thesis doesn’t tell the whole story. It depends whether it’s qualitative or quantitative. A qualitative dissertation from a reputable university will often run 300-500 pages. A quantitative one is often done in 100-200 pages, but of course then you have to have had training in statistics and have to have completed an experimental study. With statistical analysis, you can explain in numbers in ten pages what would take 100 pages to explain in words. My own dissertation was 124 pages- 50 pages of literature review and another 50+ to detail the scientific study I did. These days in my particular department at Georgia State they suggest a two part dissertation- a lit review plus a research study that would be immediately publishable, and most research studies are limited to 20-30 pages.

Finally, while I value music education (I’ve played guitar for 20+ years and feel the creativity exercised can translate to other fields), I would have to disagree that it is better suited for today’s employment market. Too many students have misplaced priorities and ignore academic work because they think they’re going to be music stars (about the same chances of them winning a $100 million lottery). Yes, there are many positions in the record and entertainment industry, but most of those jobs don’t go to people with musical talent; they go to people with verbal skills (speaking, writing, negotiating), math skills (finance), and technical skills (recording and software). Research has shown that the factor that most highly correlates with student achievement and student engagement is how much students write in a course. When students write they process and examine all the information they’ve taken in, essentially solidifying it in their long term memory. There is no substitute for that verbal development.

It may be the case that there aren’t as many jobs out there for people who have a bachelor’s in science, but if you get a higher degree, a master’s, PhD, or MD, then the jobs are virtually unlimited. We don’t have enough people with high levels of education in science to fill the jobs. Even in this recession, there are many jobs in science and medicine that go unfilled because too few Americans have the qualifications for them. This may be the single biggest problem concerning the practical link between education and the country’s ability to sustain itself- the market needs people with expertise in math and science and we are not producing them.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the New York Times article talking about learning research that is counter to Dekalb's approach.

This is the abstract of the actual research paper that supports traditional learning as more effective when it involves "retrieving" information.