Differential Effects of a Multiple Intelligences Curriculum on Student Performance

by Thanh T. Nguyen

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Synopsis

The Fuller School is one of the six elementary schools in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a small urban community known for shipbuilding and fishing. Fuller students come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds (from public housing facilities to affluent families) and a variety of ethnic groups (including Italian, Hispanic and Vietnamese). With its diverse population, the Fuller School represented an excellent environment to test the use of Multiple Intelligences (MI) as a foundation for its curriculum.

This study aimed to examine one of the ten objectives of the FIRST Schools and Teacher Program Grant: "To improve student achievement on standardized tests" by using "multiple intelligences instruction." The results of the California Achievement Test/5 (CAT/5) given at grade 5 tended to show no differences between students in the MI and the traditional school program. Although no association between CAT/5 outcomes and the MI treatment were found, two report-card outcomes at the sixth grade-level--Math and Physical Education--and an interaction of Program-type with Home-language on Music were found to be significant. By and large, the magnitude of these differences was not large enough to conclude that the MI treatment was effective in producing larger standardized test scores than students in the non-MI program. Yet, considering that the MI program emphasizes different kinds of activities and more diverse ways of learning and provides an alternative to the traditional classroom, this result of no differences between programs can be thought of a success for the MI community. Participants in the MI program performed just as well as those who had been in the traditional program.

This case study is unusual because public schools rarely assigned their students randomly to experimental programs through a lottery process. Although students were randomly assigned to MI and traditional classrooms, accounting for several additional demographic variables in the studentsÍ personal and family background helped to characterize the differences in student performance in language, mathematics, social studies, science, arts, physical education, and music.

Educators should find the results encouraging, even with no differences in test scores and grades, because this indicates that MI approaches are competitive with traditional ones. These findings shed new light on the application of MI and, given the growth in its use, provides a much-needed comparison for those interested in implementing it as one component of educational reform.