I think many people these days are familiar with the idea that some people are strongly visual, others more auditory, and still others predominantly kinesthetic. The theory of Multiple Intelligences, propounded by Harvard scholar Howard Gardner, takes this further and proposes that people strong in...
=>Verbal-linguistic intelligence learn best through reading, hearing and seeing words, speaking, writing, discussing, and debating
=>Math-logical intelligence learn best through working with patterns and relationships, classifying, categorizing, and working with the abstract
=>Spatial intelligence learn best by working with pictures and colors, visualizing, using the mind's eye, and drawing
=>Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence learn best by touching, moving, processing knowledge through bodily sensations
=>Musical intelligence learn best via rhythm, melody, singing, listening to music and melodies
=>Interpersonal intelligence learn best by sharing, comparing, relating, interviewing, and cooperating
=>Intrapersonal intelligence learn best through working alone, doing self-paced projects, having a chance to reflect
=>Naturalist intelligence learn best by working in nature, exploring living things, and learning about plants and natural events.
Gardner hypothesizes these "intelligences" somewhat differently than what we might expect if this were just an expansion of the visual-auditory-kinesthetic modes of processing. Rather than having just one dominant mode, the average person would be likely to have strengths in several. One could be strongest, but not necessarily.
While there is research supporting Gardner's ideas, there is not a consensus on their validity. Gardner has been criticized for not really defining intelligence anew. Nonetheless, most educators would probably agree that the first seven at least represent familiar kinds of abilities and that each person has a specific configuration of strengths and weaknesses in these. We also recognize sub-areas: many people who speak well don't write well and vice versa, skill with color doesn't always accompany skill at recalling visual imagery, etc. Primary school teachers have long tried to work with their pupils to strengthen all of these areas. And there seems little reason to abandon strengthening all of these areas at the college level.
At the end of the workshop, my own main question was how we might practically incorporate this into teaching art history. We're in a discipline, after all, that is primarily visual (falls under so-called spatial intelligence) and verbal. There's a certain amount of the logic side of the math-logic area (patterns and relationships, classifying, categorizing, and abstract thinking all have their place in art history), and successful art historians are usually good at working alone on self-paced projects (intrapersonal). But I'm not worried about how those of us who are already art historians function, I'm thinking about all those students sitting there in dark rooms and auditoriums looking at slides. They look at the slides and listen to us talk, and that's about it. If they're already good at processing that kind of input, fine. But it's hard to drag in some of the other learning modes.
To some extent, some of us do have our students do some group work. This gives us a bit of a break from lecturing, and the more extroverted, team-oriented students tend to like it. We don't, however, find very many ways of including music or movement into our classes.
One of the most memorable experiences I had in an art history class was when I first began to attend art history classes, and sat in on the survey class. When we reached the Romanesque, the professor turned on a portable tape recorder and played Gregorian chant while giving us a nonverbal tour of slides of cathedral interiors. I've always thought this was a wonderful way to introduce Romanesque architecture. Almost any period of art after Romanesque could have a musical introduction, but it would take some knowledge and planning. As for movement, that's more of a challenge. Or am I wrong on that?
What are some of the ways YOU have used some of these modalities in teaching art history, especially at the beginning level? What do you think would work well to help students learn?