This post is part of a mini-series introduction to Individual Differences in Instruction and Storytelling. I lay the groundwork for deeper adventures in Differentiated Instruction, Learning Styles, Personalized Stories, and the like.
Check out the rest of the series.
The next stop on our journey through core concepts of Individual Differences in Education and Storytelling is an introduction to theories of intelligence, multiple intelligence, and learning styles.
For our purposes, we will build on a simplified version of Jean Piaget’s concept of Assimilation and Accommodation. In essence, Piaget noted that when individuals encounter and process new information, they must square that information with pre-existing information in their schema (stuff they already know). They can either adapt the incoming information or adapt what they know to absorb the new information.
A basic example:
A child sees a green firetruck. They know (their schema dictates) that fire trucks are red. This firetruck is green. Faced with this new, contradicting information, the child may assimilate the information by adapting the incoming knowledge. “This is a new kind of firetruck that is green. It is different than red firetrucks.”
Or the child can accommodate the information by changing what he/she already knows. “Firetrucks can be green or red.”
Intelligence: the ability to learn new things. An intelligence quotient (IQ) measures how quickly an individual can learn (assimilate or accommodate) new information. The IQ doesn’t necessarily dictate what a person can learn, but how easily a person may learn. A person with an average IQ must encounter some bit of information about 7 times before it is considered “learned.” Those with higher IQs may encounter it less.
Note: IQ is a term and idea that has been stretched to a breaking point. What’s more, IQ tests may not do a great job in actually quantifying intelligence. This is mostly because they only measure certain kinds of intelligence and rely on methods (tests) that some individuals have a hard time with. I may discuss IQ tests later, but for now, just know that I do not entirely condone IQ testing in its current state.
Instead, I advocate a broader understanding of IQ and personal differences.
The trick with IQ and intelligence is that we can encounter new information in different ways. You have five senses after all. You can hear a song, see a video, touch a plant, smell a flower, and taste a cake — each encounter telling you something new. Beyond this, you can process information in different ways. Everyone has different strengths. We all know that math wiz or the friend who can catch any ball ever thrown.
This seems like common sense. People are intelligent in different ways.
Howard Gardner introduced his theory of multiple intelligences in the 1980s, later reforming his theory to include eight forms of intelligence. He proposed that a person has dominant intelligences and subordinate intelligences. Performing above and below average in different tasks. This idea drives home the idea that each individual learns best when they encounter information presented in tune with a dominant intelligence. The key point is that (virtually) anything can be taught through any form of intelligence.
His eight intelligences are:
- Linguistic Intelligence: a sensitivity to language including the ability to learn language and use language to achieve their goals.
- Mathematical/Logical: ability to solve problems logically, complete math problems quickly and conduct scientific inquiry.
- Bodily/Kinesthetic: ability to expertly control one’s body movements either/both fine or gross motor.
- Interpersonal: ability to accurately evaluate the moods, intentions and feelings of others.
- Intrapersonal: ability to access and understands one’s own experiences and to draw on internal experiences. Accurate understanding of how they fit in relation to other people.
- Naturalistic: ability to recognize and classify different species of plant and animal.
- Musical: ability to mentally hear notes and cadences, recognize and manipulate music.
- Spatial: ability to recognize and manipulate areas of space.
Others have added a variety of intelligence to this list including social, emotional, and abstract. When dealing with multiple intelligence in instructional settings, both formal and informal, the goal is not to present every bit of learning through every form of intelligence. Indeed, that would be counter productive. After all, we all live in a world where we must interact with people who do not think as we do. Exposing students to different intelligences is important. However, a teacher using DI will strive to present different lessons in different ways to reach the maximum number of students.
Learning styles and profiles build upon the idea of multiple intelligences. Think about it. Do you learn a better if you see it or write it down? You may be a visual learner. Do you learn by hearing the name? You may be an auditory learner. These learning styles are closely related to the multiple intelligences idea above.
There is more to it, though, than how a person likes to digest information. A students socio-economic background, gender, religious experience, and educational background may also play a big part. Let’s not forget about personality (shy, quick, etc) and even interests (sports, music, animals). All of these things work together to make a person unique. A Learning Profile that includes these differences: a student’s dominant intelligence(s), learning style, interests, current level of complexity/mastery, and other factors such as disabilities.
We will talk more about these next.