MELİH ARAT

Harvard professor: Don’t teach more, teach deeper!

Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner is a leading figure in the world »»

Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner is a leading figure in the world of education. His theory of multiple intelligences changed conventional wisdom regarding IQ.

He fundamentally transformed the way intelligence is understood. In his groundbreaking book “The Frames of Mind,” he divided intelligence into the categories of linguistic, mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, an understanding of the natural world and spatial reasoning. Before Howard Gardner, psychologists only used IQ to measure intelligence and the entire school system was based on classical IQ theory. Today in most of the modern schools in the world, Multiple Intelligence Theory is in use. In an interview, he shared his vision about the issues of education in the 21st century.

Today classroom teaching is very complicated for teachers. Students nowadays can access information more freely and also be distracted more easily. What are the new ways or methods to encourage student engagement in classes, especially in middle and high schools?

There are three major factors that are affecting education today: the emergence and prominence of the new digital media, the power of globalization and the critical, relativistic spirit entailed in much postmodern thought. Any educator who ignores these factors is likely to be alienated from his students and vice versa.

What is the use of technology in education? Do we need computers, projectors, smart boards? Does technology interrupt students’ concentration?

We have to decide what to teach, what is truly important, in terms of skills, knowledge, values. Then we should decide when, and if so how, to make use of technology. I am completely in favor of technology if it helps us to achieve our educational goals. So if we want students to learn to work collaboratively, we certainly should make use of social networks. But of course any technology can be used poorly. If students flit from one thing to another, their concentration cannot be developed. And if they only use social media to gossip, rather than to circulate and react to interesting and important articles and videos, then of course the technology is wasted. But any good educator can and should mobilize technology for positive educational goals.

Do we need to make a fundamental change in curriculum?

Before the university level, students should focus on four curricular areas; science, mathematics, history and the arts. I see no reason to change this emphasis. Probably interdisciplinary work is more important than it was in earlier times, but that is best undertaken after the major disciplines have been acquired.

I think that the big changes will take place in pedagogy. The Internet makes it possible to teach many things at a distance, for much less money and perhaps as efficiently or even more efficiently. Teachers will need to demonstrate what they can achieve that cannot be achieved by distance learning. Residential learning is important, in my view, but it needs to focus on those kinds of learning that require group interaction, mentoring, scaffolding and other pedagogical aids that do not lend themselves to web posting and distribution.

Harvard University claims to be number one in producing leaders of the future. Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

Leadership can and should be modeled. I doubt that anyone becomes an effective leader unless he or she has seen examples of effective or ineffective leadership and has sought to draw lessons from these examples. The military has been effective in training leadership, as well as some companies and some educational institutions. But while reading and lectures can be helpful, human examples and counterexamples are crucial. Practice at leadership, including how to recover from mistakes, is also crucial.

It has been a long time since the introduction of multiple intelligences. What is the best way to practice this theory in schools? Can you give an example?

After 30 years of study, reflection and experimentation, I can say that Multiple Intelligences Theory (MI theory) has two primary educational implications. The first is individuation. We should know as much about each learner as possible; and to the extent possible, we should teach that child in ways that the child can learn, and assess the child in ways that are comfortable to the child. For the first time in human history, technology makes this dream possible. We can now teach and assess algebra and geography in many ways.

The second implication is pluralization. Anything worth teaching should be taught in multiple ways. In that way, one reaches more students, and one shows what it is like to really understand something (if you can only think about something in one way, you don’t really understand it). There is only one cost to pluralization -- you need to teach fewer things and do so in more depth. And this runs against the belief that more is always better -- I like to say “less is sometimes more.”

In your book “The Unschooled Mind,” you mention that we learn more before we go to school than we learn in school. So how can we improve our education system to teach more?

So my goal is not to teach more, but to teach better and deeper. All the information we need is now available in a small, smart phone. What is not available there is how to think critically, how to debate, how to be creative, and most important, how to be moral and ethical. This is the topic of my book “Five Minds for the Future.”

We do learn much before we go to school and some of it is valuable. But lots of it is wrong. The academic disciplines, like science and history, often violate common sense, and you cannot learn to think like a physicist, or a biologist, or an economist, or a philosopher, unless you have a good education. Also, with few exceptions, individuals cannot learn to read, write and do simple mathematics unless they attend school. And so there is lots to do in school -- and one of the things that we have to do is to correct inaccurate or misleading ways of thinking, to which human beings are prone.

What is your interpretation of student-directed learning?

We know that no one learns anything unless they are actively involved in the process, think that it is important and practice that learning. In that sense, student-involved learning is essential. But there are many things that knowledgeable people (usually adults) know that most children don’t know, and it is foolish to think that students can always figure things out for themselves. It is a romantic notion which does not stand up to scrutiny. What adults should do is to provide some guidance and some modeling, but then remove the supports, the scaffolding, as quickly as possible.

How should we assess students in schools?

The best assessment is informal, regular, just in time feedback on what has been learned, and what needs more attention. Teachers and students should share this knowledge and figure out what are the best next steps. Any good professional relies on this kind of feedback. Frequent, high-stake testing is counterproductive. It’s like thinking that a sick patient will get better if you take his or her temperature a lot.

You have visited Turkey before. What can you suggest to Turkey in terms of its education system?

Having made only two brief trips to Turkey, I certainly don’t think that I am in a position to make suggestions that are specific for Turkey particularly. But I strongly recommend the book “Finnish Lessons” by Pasi Sahlberg. Finland is universally seen as a very effective educational system. Sahlberg does not say that one should copy Finland. But he issues a warning not simply to copy the systems in the United States and Britain. They make a lot of noise and carry their weight around ostentatiously, but they have not been particularly effective. And in many ways, Finland, which has done the opposite of the US and Britain has been very successful. So I would say -- try to learn from many positive models around the world, while at the same time decide what is most needed, and most specific, for Turkey in the second decade of the 21st century.

2012-09-16

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Columnist:: MELİH ARAT