An Overview of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, Kagan's Structures and Tomlinson's Differentiated Instruction and their Correlation to Nunley's Layered Curriculum.

Pat Daniels

Gilbert, Arizona

June, 2004

The philosophies and basic tenets of these methodologies are without question in support of student-centered learning. Though each of these has its differences and specific characteristics, in reality they can be intertwined to best meet the needs of the widely diverse student population of the 21st century. The following is an overview of four of the most popular instructional methods to date.

Dr. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner first published his theory in the early 80's in his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. He pointed out that "intelligence isn't a single phenomenon, but rather a plurality of capacities". Therefore, "the essence of the theory is to respect the many differences among people, the multiple variations in the ways they learn, the several modes by which they can be assessed and the almost infinite number of ways in which they can leave a mark on the world." There is ample evidence that individuals have many combinations of intelligences available through the complexity of the brain that alone or blended together are used to process information that is to be learned.

The eight intelligences Gardner addresses are: linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and naturalist. He believes that though there are eight common intelligences that humans share, the fact that we don't have the same strength in each one makes life so very interesting.

Multiple Intelligences provide a framework for enhancing instruction and a language to describe one's efforts. It looks at education from a broad view and is not prescriptive nor does it dictate how or what to teach. Gardner believes that "both direct and indirect teaching have their place." Since each person is so differently organized neurologically, this method focuses on conveying learning experiences with understanding of the many different ways individuals gain mastery in their learning processes.

From Gardner's work, It is clear that we must pay more attention to the non-linguistic intelligences particularly the naturalist, spatial, musical, and bodily-kinesthetic ones. More common than not, as children progress through the organized levels of education, the latter three are seen occurring frequently in the early grades in our elementary schools but sadly disappear as children begin the climb toward higher education.

"The theory of multiple intelligences, in and of itself, is not going to solve anything in our society, but linking it with curriculum focused on understanding (taking ideas that are learned and applying them appropriately in new situations) is an extremely powerful intellectual undertaking."

Dr. Kagan Structures Theory

Dr. Spencer Kagan provided the educational arena with a new method of teaching skills to children through an approach that provides bridges for teachers to pass easily from principles to practices. This guide focuses not on how to change what is taught but to transform how the content is taught. The benefits of his structures spring from a major change in the way teachers teach with interaction being one of the dominant keys to success. "The Kagan structures have a profound impact on what is learned because their positive educational outcomes are a function of changing not what we teach but how we teach."

His brain based structures provide opportunities for activating the social brain, engaging emotions to boost attention and retention, using novelty to wake up the brain and maximizing higher-level thinking. Since students are unique and smart in different ways, multiple windows need to be created onto the curriculum so that all students may succeed. Kagan's Structures provides strategies that are designed to reach students with all patterns of intelligences and provide opportunities to match teaching to how students learn best.

This approach to instruction results in a change of positive educational outcomes. Not only do the structures align instruction with what is known about how students best learn and retain information, but does so by correlating how the brain best learns with the philosophies and methods of cooperative learning and multiple intelligences. Because many of the activities in the various structures are designed around the format of cooperative learning/cooperative interaction, positive outcomes for students can be seen in the areas of social interchange such as opportunities for student exposure to the skills of leadership, teamwork, conflict resolution, and listening to and expressing various points of view all of which have been shown to be valuable and necessary preparation for success in the workplace of the future.

Structures empower teachers to dramatically increase student achievement, improve social skills while reducing discipline problems. Therefore, no matter what grade level is taught, the biggest difference for students is to be exposed to instructional strategies that produce active engagement. New brain studies have made it clear that how you teach, the strategies you use on a moment-to-moment basis, more than anything else will determine how much will be learned and more importantly retained.

Tomlinson's Differentiated Instruction

One of education's greatest challenges is summed up in this statement from the ASCD's study guide for Carol Ann Tomlinson's book, The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, " How can teachers divide their time, resources, and efforts to effectively instruct so many students of diverse background, readiness levels, skill levels, interests, and ways of learning?" Carol Ann Tomlinson describes a powerful response to this challenge in her book by stating that it is feasible to develop classrooms where curriculum can be addressed to meet the variance of students.

Teachers in differentiated classrooms use time flexibly, call upon a range of instructional strategies, and become partners with their students to see that both what is learned and the learning environment are shaped to the learner. This occurs according to student's readiness, interests, and learning profile, and is matched to the content of curriculum material, the process or activities used to provide students the learning experience and the products or ways in which students demonstrate what they have learned. This process is guided by general principles such as respectful tasks, flexible grouping and ongoing assessment and adjustment.

In her book, The Differentiated Classroom Responding to the Needs of All Learners, she outlines many instructional and management strategies with which to develop good instruction through various processes. In addition she provides multiple descriptions and examples of teachers at work building differentiated classrooms. She also stresses the importance of the teacher as a guide and facilitator who fully addresses student differences, believes that assessment and instruction are inseparable and is clear about what matters in subject matter.

Dr. Nunley's Layered Curriculum

The core of Layered Curriculum focuses on these three keys: choice, accountability, and higher level thinking. Through Dr. Nunley's personal experience with various special education programs and student IEPs (individual educational plan), it became apparent to her that, as she says, "all children deserve a special education". The result of that experience and eventual research took the form of a method of instruction which is now available to those who have been looking for "the practical solution for teachers with more than one student on their classroom"; Layered Curriculum.

Layered Curriculum was based on a triangular shaped learning model, but has since been modified into a diamond shape with the emphasis on the center, or B level of study. The bottom layer called the C layer still covers general content and is easily designed around state core curriculum and mandated tests. The middle layer, or B layer, asks students to apply those concepts learned in the C layer and the top layer, or A layer, requires higher thinking skills through assignments often linking the subject matter to today's' controversial issues. This layering coincides with Bloom's taxonomy and promotes a movement from thinking at the knowledge and comprehension level (C layer) through the application, analysis and synthesis levels (B layer) toward the evaluation level (A layer).

Layered curriculum provides opportunities for students to become engaged with their education since they have an opportunity to choose how they learn the prescribed material. This occurs through activities designed to satisfy various learning styles: visual, auditory and tactile as well as abilities and disability accommodations. Choice leads to involvement and ownership and is powerful enough to spark the interest of the most unwilling student. The teacher controls the curriculum and direction of the course as well as the activities available at the three levels presented to the students. Assignments vary in length and difficulty and students work their way through increasingly complex layers with oral defense most often used as a form of assessment.

Accountability for learning moves from the teacher to the student and as students realize that "learning the material", not just "completing the tasks" is the only way that credit is given. This becomes a shock for most students and forces them to take on the responsibility for their learning, thereby changing the role of the teacher from stand and deliver to coach/facilitator. As a result, the classroom becomes completely student-centered. To quote Dr. Nunley, "eventually your students will actually come to appreciate the fact that you care enough about them to value the time they've spent on learning."

The correlation and design of Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, Kagan's Structure strategies for changing how content is taught and Tomlinson's concentration of differentiated instruction to meet the many variances of students, are all fundamental forerunners to Dr. Nunley's practical approach to Layered Curriculum. It is easy to recognize that Layered Curriculum uses all of these teaching methods and supports student-centered classrooms, recognizes the diversity of today's students, supports brain based theories of learning and promotes partnership between students and teachers. Layered Curriculum is a way of thinking about teaching. It is a way of thinking about learning. It is a way of beginning where students are. And most of all, it is a way to maximize student capacity and recognize the diversity among learners.

My personal feeling is that from the standpoint of ease of lesson design, consistent expectations for students and real teamwork in the classroom, Layered Curriculum provides the best of all for the good of all and to quote Dr. Nunley once again, "It puts the students in the drivers seat of their learning."


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