Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Howard Gardner – developing a disciplined mind

The need to develop disciplined talents and gifts of all  students - the focus for the 21stC

Howard Gardner is well known to many teachers but he is the first to worry that his ideas about multiple intelligences have not always been introduced in ways that he approves. In his 2006 book ‘Five Minds for the Future’ he introduces readers to the ‘five minds’ that will be vital in the 21stC.

An earlier blog outlines Gardner’s ‘five minds’ but this blog focusses on what Gardner calls ‘the disciplined mind’ – the mind that knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding. ‘Without at least one discipline under his belt, the individual is destined to march to someone else’s tune.’

‘It is one thing’, he writes, ‘for students to accumulate plenty of factual knowledge, but they may have not learned to think in a disciplined manner. Gardner is not against information  but if shorn of connections, to underlying questions, to a disciplined way of constructing meaningful information, facts are simply ‘inert’ or ‘fragile’  knowledge. Students need to see information as stepping stones to more advanced understanding.

The challenge is for teachers to assist their students develop disciplined thinking in areas of interest that will eventually lead them to become productive citizens.  This relates to Gardner’s earlier work on developing eight or more differentintelligences as developing a disciplined mind ‘takes place through the identification of mutual interests and gifts’. Identifying and amplifying students’ talents ought to the focus for teachers – the number one priority for21stC schools.

Personalisation is often mentioned as the means to develop individual talents but this is problematic – how to develop disciplined thinking for everyone in the class?   David Perkins, Gardner’s colleague at the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests
Darwin driven by his interests
one way is give students a taste – a ‘threshold experience’ – each experience calling on the various learning areas as required and in turn providing opportunities for the individual talents of students to be identified or made use of. This integrated approach has long been the way creative NewZealand teachers have worked but all too often its importance has been eclipsed by the need to focus student achievement on literacy and numeracy as part ofpolitically inspired National Standards.

Gardner is suggesting that the disciplined mind, in any area of learning, requires four steps.

1.       Identify truly important topics or concepts within the discipline (Learning Areas) that will focus both on important content to be acquired and processes of how to learn in the discipline selected.

2.      Spend a significant amount of time on this topic. If it is worth studying it is worth studying in depth.

Gardner seems to be focussing on individual learning but it would be appropriate for students to work in collaborative teams – another way to make use of individual talents.

3.      Approach the topic in a number of ways. Any lesson is more likely to be understood if it has been approached or expressed through diverse a range of activities.  It is at this point’, Gardner writes the disciplined mind, ‘encounters my theory of multiple intelligences’.  A good teacher ‘will invariably draw on several intelligences in inculcating key concepts and processes’.  The various activities   provide opportunities for individual talents to be tapped and amplified personalising learning in the process.

4.      Most important set up “performances of understanding” and give students ample opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions. Gardner emphasizes that ‘both teachers and students ought to strive to perform to perform their current understandings; much of training should consist of formative exercises, with detailed feedback on where the performance is adequate, where it falls short, why it falls short, what can be done to fine-tune the performance’. ‘The only reliable way to determine whether understanding has truly been achieved is to pose a new question or puzzle – one on which individuals could not have been coached – and see how they fare.

My suggestion would be ,once students have been given ‘training’ in how to present their understanding would be to give students – towards the end of the year – free choice complete  and present an inquiry study of their own and for this to be seen as a major assessment task.

Driven by dance

The most important reason to develop disciplined understanding is that through achievement a desire for more is created. Once one has understood something well an ‘appetite has been whetted for additional and deeper understanding…..having eaten from the tree of understanding, he or she is likely to return their repeatedly for ever more satisfying intellectual nourishment’.

Such a disciplined approach can only be achieved by individuals who have learnt to value of hard work, perseverance and through sustained and systematic practice. Being able to perform well provides the inspiration to continue learning in whatever fields of learning come to be felt important.

Disciplined individuals continue to learn – they have become lifelong learners passionate about both the area of learning that has attracted them and also the process of learning. Gardner quotes Plato who said, 'through education we need to help students find pleasure in what they have to learn’ and that disciplined learning requires both ‘mastery of a craft, and the capacity to renew that craft through regular application over the years’.

Rather than the current diversion of focusing on literacy and numeracy, with its inevitable consequence of narrowing the curriculum, schools should get back to providing Perkin’s ‘threshold experiences’ so as to develop disciplined  minds and the gifts and talents of all their students.

With such gifts firmly in place students will be equipped to make a positive contribution to whatever areas of learning/occupation that have attracted their attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you have any thoughts on the apparent contradiction between 1) the rapid and overwhelmingly changing world (and its uncertainty in the kinds of jobs that will exist in the future)that many intellectuals and scholars support and 2) the need to be a master in a craft.
Greetings from Japan