Multiple Intelligences, Blooms’ Taxonomy,
Brain Based Education and how it applies to
Constructivist Learning Theory
Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live. Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). But how do we learn? In the interesting and exciting field of educational research there are “experts” from all disciplines who espouse that they have “the method” that works for teaching our students. The “one size fits all” idea doesn’t work with something as trivial as T-shirts, so why would one advocate that mentality with our most precious resources our children? Research in brain-based learning suggests that emotional health is fundamental to effective learning. According to a report from the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs, the most critical element for a student’s success in school is an understanding of how to learn. (Emotional Intelligence, p. 193.)
The three instructional techniques associated with brain-based learning are:
Orchestrated immersion-Creating learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience;
Relaxed alertness-Trying to eliminate fear in learners, while maintaining a highly challenging environment;
Active processing-Allowing the learner to consolidate and internalize information by actively processing it (Sylwester, 1999).
This researcher has found that if all students are to be reached, then the teacher who is eclectic, that is, incorporates the best of’ from a variety of methods is sure to reach all students. Brain based research has confirmed that learning is based on the structure and function of the brain. Since learning is a search for meaning, learning must start with the issues around which students are actively trying to construct meaning. Meaning requires understanding wholes as well as parts. And parts must be understood in the context of wholes. Therefore, the learning process focuses on primary concepts, not isolated facts (Brooks & Brooks, pg 46).
If the purpose of learning is to construct meaning from abstract or concrete ideas, then wouldn’t it make sense to know how a person learns so that teachers can adequately assess what has and has not been previously learned -or that learning is, in fact, taking place? Some pressing questions would include: How is intelligence defined? What does the literature say about best practices in pedagogy? Is there a one best method? Does it matter how material is presented or what format is used to disseminate information to the learner as long as they learn? With all the research based information available on the internet, in journals, and books – how does a teacher decide how to teach or assess learning? In order to be able to be effective communicators, should we also need to be aware of our own as well as our students’ emotional intelligence’?
The literature validates this author’s philosophy of education in that one must take into consideration the whole child as a valuable human being who is worthy, capable and lovable before we can teach them anything. The research will reveal that there are several different types of intelligences” or multiple intelligences that are alive and well in all of us. Each one is necessary for us to be a whole’ person who is capable of being a productive and effective human being as well as life long learners. According to Maslow’s theory, needs that are in the lower hierarchy must be at least partially met before a person will try to satisfy higher-level needs. Although ultimately our goal is to aid students in self-actualizing or becoming “all that one can be,” they must first achieve the level of Need to Know and Understand (Maslow n.d.). But what does this mean for teachers and how does it impact student performance and learning in the classroom?
What is Intelligence?
Traditional views of intelligence base human intellect on the results of paper and pencil tests and statistical analysis. If a test is reasonably challenging, some students score better and some worse. Those who perform better than most are said to have a higher amount of something called “intellect,” as expressed in a number or “quotient” – hence the term Intelligence Quotient, or “IQ.” Traditional views assume that intellect is an intrinsic quality, like height or hair color, something we can measure and that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Emotional Intelligence has proven a better predictor of future success than traditional methods like the GPA, IQ, and other standardized test scores (Chipongian, 1997).
The term “Emotional Intelligence” encompasses the following five characteristics and abilities:
1. Self-awareness-knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur, and discriminating between them;
2. Mood management-handling feelings so they’re relevant to the current situation and you react appropriately;
3. Self-motivation-“gathering up” your feelings and directing yourself towards a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia, and impulsiveness;
4. Empathy-recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues; and
5. Managing relationships-handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution.
The idea of Emotional Intelligence has inspired research and curriculum development throughout the disciplines. Researchers have concluded that people who manage their own feelings well and deal effectively with others are more likely to live content lives and that building one’s Emotional Intelligence has a lifelong impact:
Many parents and educators, alarmed by increasing levels of conflict in young schoolchildren-from low self-esteem to early drug and alcohol use to depression, are rushing to teach students the skills necessary for Emotional Intelligence. And in corporations, the inclusion of Emotional Intelligence in training programs has helped employees cooperate better and motivate more, thereby increasing productivity and profits (Emotional Intelligence, p. 193.)
The substance of intelligence will probably always be debated. On a practical level, IQ is defined by the tests employed to measure it. Researchers suggest that intelligence has many components, resulting in one IQ that measures a singular intellect. In the early 1980’s, Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of Education at Harvard University, challenged the view that intelligence is a singular property. In an effort to understand the nature of intelligence, he proposed a theory that based intelligence – not on the results of specific tests – but rather on the individual’s ability to solve problems. In his book Frames of Mind, Gardner defines intelligence as “a psychobiological potential to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in at least one cultural context.” (p 34).
Bloom’s taxonomy is based on the idea that there are six different levels of learning: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The taxonomy provides an excellent structure for planning, designing, assessing and evaluating teaching and learning effectiveness. The model also serves as a quasi checklist that includes action verbs for the different levels of learning which are intended to help teachers plan instruction and teach more effectively.
Professor Daniel Pratt, in his 1998 award winning book Perspectives on Teaching – Variations on a theme stated:
After conducting educational research for ten years, in five different countries, studying literally hundreds of teachers and adults across a wide range of disciplines, contexts, and cultures I found that a plurality of good teaching exists, not all of which rest on constructivist principles of learning. “No single view of learning or teaching dominated what might be called good teaching’.
Pratt says that confusion about perspectives is derived from the fact that the same teaching actions are common across the perspectives: Lecturing, discussion, question, and a host of other methods are common activites within all perspectives. “It is how they are used, and toward what ends, that differentiates between perspectives”.
The following discussion includes a side by side chart that compares the principles of brain based research, multiple intelligence, and learning styles theories, as well as provides information about how each of these theories applies to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Ultimately, the research will conclude that the combination of -or the eclectic approach to -teaching and learning is the realistic way to be an effective educator.
Brain Based Theory
This learning theory is based on the structure and function of the brain. As long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes, learning will occur. The core principles of brain-based learning state that:
The brain is a parallel processor, meaning it can perform several activities at once, like tasting and smelling.
Learning engages the whole physiology.
The search for meaning is innate.
The search for meaning comes through patterning.
Emotions are critical to patterning.
The brain processes wholes and parts simultaneously.
Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.
We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.
Learning involves both conscious and unconscious processes.
We understand best when facts are embedded in natural, spatial memory.
Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.
Each brain is unique
Multiple Intelligences Theory
This theory of human intelligence, developed by psychologist Howard Gardner, suggests there are at least seven ways that people have of perceiving and understanding the world.
The seven identified intelligences are:
Verbal-Linguistic-The ability to use words and language
Logical-Mathematical-The capacity for inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning, as well as the use of numbers and the recognition of abstract patterns
Visual-Spatial-The ability to visualize objects and spatial dimensions, and create internal images and pictures
Body-Kinesthetic-The wisdom of the body and the ability to control physical motion
Musical-Rhythmic-The ability to recognize tonal patterns and sounds, as well as a sensitivity to rhythms and beats
Interpersonal-The capacity for person-to-person communications and relationships
Intrapersonal-The spiritual, inner states of being, self-reflection, and awareness
Learning Styles Theory
The learning styles theory is based on research demonstrating that, as the result of heredity, upbringing, and current environmental demands, different individuals have a tendency to both perceive and process information differently. The four concepts of learning styles theory are that there are concrete and abstract perceivers and active and reflection processors.
Concrete perceivers absorb information through direct experience, by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling.
Abstract perceivers, however, take in information through analysis, observation, and thinking.
Active processors make sense of an experience by immediately using the new information
Reflective processors make sense of an experience by reflecting on and thinking about it.
How the theories impact Curriculum:
Brain Based Theory Teachers must design learning around student interests and make learning contextual.
Multiple Intelligences Theory Traditional schooling heavily favors the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. Gardner suggests a more balanced curriculum that incorporates the arts, self-awareness, communication, and physical education.
Learning Styles Theory
Educators must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination, in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving
How the theories impact Instruction:
Brain Based Theory
Educators let students learn in teams and use peripheral learning. Teachers structure learning around real problems, encouraging students to also learn in settings outside the classroom and the school building.
Multiple Intelligences Theory
Gardner advocates instructional methods that appeal to all the intelligences, including role playing, musical performance, cooperative learning, reflection, visualization, story telling, and so on.
Learning Styles Theory
Teachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Instructors can introduce a wide variety of experiential elements into the classroom, such as sound, music, visuals, movement, experience, and even talking hence the association to multiple intelligence theory.
How the theories impact Assessment:
Brain Based Theory
Since all students are learning, their assessment should allow them to understand their own learning styles and preferences. This way, students monitor and enhance their own learning process.
Multiple Intelligences Theory
This theory calls for assessment methods that take into account the diversity of intelligences, as well as self-assessment tools that help students understand their intelligences.
Learning Styles Theory
Teachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques, focusing on the development of “whole brain” capacity and each of the different learning styles.
Constructivism, which draws on the developmental work of Piaget (1977) and Kelly (1991), is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world in which we live. That is, each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Five major themes can be identified throughout the variety of constructivist theories are:
Human experience involves “continuous active agency.”
Human activity focuses on organizing experience, making meaning, and creating order.
This organizing is fundamentally related to the self. This “makes the body a fulcrum of experiencing, and honors deep phenomenological sense of selfhood or personal identity.”
Although the self is central, social interaction is important. “Persons exist and grow in living webs of relationships” and they cannot be understood “apart from their organic embeddedness in social and symbolic systems.”
Development is lifelong – each person continues to construct new knowledge based on their own experiences. “Order and disorder co-exist in lifelong quests for a dynamic balance that is never quite achieved.” (Mahoney, M. 1999, 2004).
In order to teach well, we must understand the mental models that students use to perceive the world and the assumptions they make to support those models. A productive, constructivist classroom, then, consists of learner-centered, active instruction. In such a classroom, the teacher provides students with experiences that allow them to hypothesize, predict, manipulate objects, pose questions, research, investigate, imagine, and invent. The teacher’s role is to facilitate this process. This type of pedagogy supports brain based research, multiple intelligences, and learning styles theory in that:
Brain-based educators tend to support progressive education reforms. They decry the “factory model of education,” in which experts create knowledge, teachers disseminate it, and students are graded on how much of it they can absorb and retain. Like many other educators, brain- based educators favor a constructivist, active learning model. Students should be actively engaged in learning and in guiding their own instruction. Brain enthusiasts see neuroscience as perhaps the best weapon with which to destroy our outdated factory model. They argue that teachers should teach for meaning and understanding. To do so, they claim, teachers should create learning environments that are low in threat and high in challenge, and students should be actively engaged and immersed in complex experiences. . . Indeed, if more schools taught for understanding and if more teachers had the resources to do so, our schools would be better learning environments (Bruer, 1999).
Neuroscience is the study of the human nervous system, the brain, and the biological basis of consciousness, perception, memory, and learning. The nervous system and the brain are the physical foundation of the human learning process. Neuroscience links our observations about cognitive behavior with the actual physical processes that support such behavior. (Hart, 1983).
How Neuroscience Impacts Education
How the brain works has a significant impact on what kinds of learning activities are most effective. When educators take neuroscience into account, they organize a curriculum around real experiences and integrated, “whole” ideas. Plus, they focus on instruction that promotes complex thinking and the “growth” of the brain. Neuroscience proponents advocate continued learning and intellectual development throughout adulthood.
Some of the key findings of neuroscience are:
The brain has a triad structure. Our brain actually contains three brains: the lower or reptilian brain that controls basic sensory motor functions; the mammalian or limbic brain that controls emotions, memory, and biorhythms; and the neo-cortex or thinking brain that controls cognition, reasoning, language, and higher intelligence. [Or as Freud put it, the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego].
The brain is not a computer. The structure of the brain’s neuron connections is loose, flexible, “webbed,” overlapping, and redundant. It’s impossible for such a system to function like a linear or parallel-processing computer. Instead, the brain is better described as a self-organizing system.
The brain changes with use, throughout our lifetime. Mental concentration and effort alters the physical structure of the brain. Our nerve cells (neurons) are connected by branches called dendrites. There are about 10 billion neurons in the brain and about 1,000 trillion connections. The possible combinations of connections are about ten to the one-millionth power. As we use the brain, we strengthen certain patterns of connection, making each connection easier to create next time. This is how memory develops.
But what about Bloom’s Taxonomy?
Isn’t that an attempt to reach learners on different levels? Surely with modern technology there has to be a way to align brain based, multiple intelligences, and learning styles theories with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Actually, in 1997 after researching ten taxonomies and 53 theories of learning, Ralph Pirozzo created a 42-grid matrix which integrates Bloom’s Taxonomy and Multiple Intelligences. Then, in 2004 the grid, also known as the Pirozzo Matrix, was updated to a 48-grid in order to provide for the needs of the naturalist learner. Mr. Pirozzo offers a template using a 42 grid map (free of charge) as well as many examples of the merging of Bloom’s Taxonomy and multiple intelligences on his website. In conclusion, neuroscience is currently so dynamic that this connection, although secure, will inevitably grow and change and strengthen. The educator’s role will increasingly take on an added and “brain-based” dimension – that of remaining open to and curious about a growing field of information Interpreting information in a way that leads to appropriate and responsible classroom practices is a crucial, and often overlooked, link in building this bridge between education and research on, in Hart’s words, “the most complex apparatus we know of in the universe,” the human brain. (Caine & Caine, 1997).
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