Monday, 20 January 2014

Intelligence test

Reading the latest issue of ETP this week I came across and article describing how to use multiple intelligences in the classroom. As I read the article two things struck me. The first was the incredible regularity with which ETP runs articles featuring somewhat whacky approaches. There were articles on learning styles (for examples Rosenberg 2011, Rosenberg 2013) Multiple intelligences (Fletcher 1996, Puchta  2005, Puchta 2006, Hoogstad 2008, Berman 2010, Hamilton 2011)  a surprising number related to NLP (see, for example, Revell and Norman 1997, Revell and Norman 1998, Owen 1999, Owen 2000, Owen 2001, Rinvolucri 2002, Fahey 2004, Baker & Rinvolucri 2005, Rosenberg 2008, Zoeftig 2012) and even a four part series on something called "spiral dynamics" by NLP trainer and master practitioner Nick Owen. Now don't get me wrong, ETP publishes some great stuff, like recent articles by Rachel Roberts but considering the, shall we say, credibility problems with many of these approaches, they do seem to be very interested in devoting a lot of space to them.

The second thing was that despite all the talk of catering to students individual needs and so forth the actual activities described so often amount to the relabelling of standard practice as something quite exotic and revolutionary. Take the article I just finished reading for example. It describes activities you can use to cater for your students different intelligences. One such activity is getting students to write an email to their friends or a family member about a trip they took around the US. This may seem like a pretty regular TEFL activity but in fact, as the author points out, this will help students who have strong 'intrapersonal intelligence'. Another has students teaching each other how to dance, which in turn caters to 'bodily kinaesthetic intelligence'.

All of this reminded me of reading Mario Rinvolucri's book on NLP. In it the authors seem to  list altogether mundane teaching activities, like a dictation listening and then under PRS focus (the NLP version of VAK) it would say "auditory". I was quite surprised to learn that quite commonplace TEFL activities were actually NLP techniques!  You can play this game at home if you want, simply think of an activity, any activity in the classroom and apply a woo-woo label to it. 'Grammar auction' -students listen, so it goes under 'auditory' right? Hangman? Well they're looking at the board so, visual it is. 'Find someone who...'? - intrapersonal/linguistic (if you're a fan of MI) or kinesthetic if you're more into learning styles.

Of course someone always has to spoil the fun. In the  ETP article, The author suggests getting students to teach each other dance steps to work on their 'bodily-kinesthetic intelligence'. twenty years earlier, commenting on this kind of classroom application one educator noted that he was "leery of implementations such as ... believing that going through certain motions activates or exercises specific intelligences" (1999:90). And who was this anti-educational party-pooper? Howard Gardner, inventor of MI theory.

For more about MI check the great Kerr article on the 6 things website and the ensuing discussion or check this excellent page.


  1. 'Of course someone always has to spoil the fun.' Or to put it another way there's always a boy who points out that the Emperor has no clothes. :)

    1. Thanks for the comment, it inspired me to add the picture! ;)

  2. Hi Russell,

    First time I've actually commented here, I think.

    I, too, have found it a little problematic when people champion things like a multiple intelligences viewpoint of anything. With MI in particular, I see little value in dedicating vast chunks of time to cater to any particular intelligence 'type', nor do I, like you, see much in recasting standard techniques with their particular learning style approach. There are better uses of time, in my mind, and any decent teacher/tutor/lecturer/other worth their salt will use a variety of techniques, methodologies and approaches to what they do that will allow most, if not all, of their charges to access their teaching.

    I'm wary of anyone or anything that boldly states 'this is the best way to do X' or 'you definitely shouldn't do Y or Z - they don't work'. Too often I think, and also historically in ELT in particular, this has been done. I'm always reminded of the following quote:

    '...any claim that a particular method or resource is 'good' or 'best practice' needs to be met with the following questions:
    Who says so? On what evidence? Using what criteria? 'Best' for whom? Under what conditions? With what type of students? ...'
    Coffield, F. and S. Edward (2009), BERJ Vol 35, No 3, June 2009, p376

    Now having said that, I don't actually have anything against what you might describe as the 'whacky approaches' and their 'woo-woo labels'. For example, for my experimental practice lesson while on the DELTA programme at UCL in 2012 I looked at a technique with NLP principles behind it (from the very book you mention above by Rinvolucri and Baker). I think what has to be done is to look at what you're doing critically,as I'm sure you'd agree, to evaluate its effectiveness and potential outcomes.



    1. Hi Mike, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I really love that quote by Coffield, he's a great read. His was the team that took learning styles to pieces in 2006(?).

      Coincidentally I did "the silent way" for my experimental. I would agree with you that things need to be looked at critically, -I'd also agree that flaky methods can also have (unexpected?) positive benefits. Catering to all "learning styles" is a flaky idea, but presenting material in a range of ways (visual, auditory etc) is a good idea because it helps to create stronger recall and thus aid learning. I wonder though whether MI or NLP should be allowed to claim any credit for the 'bits the work' despite not working for the reasons listed? I'm actually writing a blog post about this at the mo.

  3. I once went to a session on NLP in which it was stated "if it works, it's NLP"! It would seem therefore that by this logic, not only are various established TEFL tasks NLP, but also, the bicycle, electricity, the industrial revolution, the written word, fire, human life, the creation of the universe itself are in fact all the products of NLP!!

    1. I've heard the 'If it works it's NLP' thing before. It would be funny if it wasn't so ironic.