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Articles by Dr. Spencer Kagan

Cooperative Learning and Multiple Intelligences - What are the Connections?

Dr. Spencer Kagan
(Kagan Online Magazine, Fall 1998)

Kagan Cooperative Learning was founded in order to help teachers and students reap the proven benefits of cooperative learning. No other researched educational innovation has ever demonstrated such broad and consistent positive effects on students. When working cooperatively, students of all grades and content areas achieve more academically, acquire social skills, improve social relations including cross-race relations, feel better about themselves, and like school more. What could possibly be better for our students than giving them the tools to succeed in school and in our increasingly pluralistic society? What could possibly be better for our society at large than equipping our citizenry with the skills to not only tolerate diversity, but to appreciate it! Through cooperative learning, we provide a positive model in our classrooms of what our society ideally can be.

For many years, we have focused on providing teachers with the training and resources to make successful cooperative learning a reality in their classrooms. Recently, we have dedicated a great deal of energy to the theory of multiple intelligences. Why?

There are important connections between cooperative learning and multiple intelligences. On a broad, philosophical level, multiple intelligences and cooperative learning share the goals of helping students succeed in school and beyond. Let's examine three additional links: Instructional Strategies, Celebrating Diversity, and the Connection between Interpersonal Intelligence and Cooperative Skills.

Instructional Strategies

There are a number of valid ways to implement the theory of multiple intelligences, including creating MI learning centers, designing multiple intelligences lessons and theme units, and tailoring special learning programs to individuals in order to boost their weaker intelligences and/or deliver the curriculum through their stronger intelligences. At Kagan Cooperative Learning, based on our experience over the last twenty years with the range of approaches to implementing cooperative learning, we have charted a different approach. We place emphasis on simple multiple intelligences instructional strategies which can be incorporated as part of any lesson. Simple, instructional strategies can be easily integrated into any lesson to release the power of cooperative learning and multiple intelligences. For example, wanting to include cooperative learning during a review, a teacher may do a few rounds of Numbered Heads Together or Showdown. Wishing to engage the visual/spatial intelligence, the teacher might use a Mind Map, or a Visualization, or Guided Imagery.

In cooperative learning we have identified distinct strategies for mastery (practice and review), higher-level thinking, sharing information, building communication skills, teambuilding, and classbuilding. For multiple intelligences, we have identified many strategies which engage and develop each of the eight intelligences.

Many, but not all strategies overlap in function. For example, a Team Interview is great cooperative learning and also engages the interpersonal and the verbal/linguistic intelligences. Some strategies are unique to multiple intelligences: a simple Visualization, for example, has no cooperative learning component.

Underlying our emphasis on simple instructional strategies for both cooperative learning and multiple intelligences is a simple belief. When teachers are provided simple, effective, easy-to-learn, easy-to-use, instructional strategies, instruction and learning are dramatically improved.

Celebrating Diversity

In the traditional classroom the teacher hopes for homogeneity. The greater the difference in ability levels of the students, the more difficult the job of the teacher. In a very heterogeneous classroom the traditional teacher is faced with an impossible dilemma: Should I teach to the high achieving students, but teach beyond the grasp of the lows. Or should I teach to the lows, but fail to properly stimulate the highs?

In contrast, cooperative learning is based on the assumption of heterogeneity. If everyone on the team had exactly the same ability level and information base, no one would have anything to learn from each other. Heterogeneity in interaction produces learning: "Four heads are better than one" and "None of us are as smart as all of us."

It is difficult, however, when a heterogeneous teams first sits down to work together. The high achiever looks across the team table at the lowest achiever in the class and asks herself, "Do I really have to work with that dummy?" Meanwhile, the lower achiever is eyeing the high achiever and thinking, "Oh no, I am stuck with that nerd as a teammate." It is for these reasons that we have found teambuilding and classbuilding to be key elements for success in cooperative learning. The teambuilding and classbuilding methods emphasize getting to know each other and respecting individual differences. Cooperative learning is successful to the extent teammates come to celebrate their diversity, to the extent they understand that in their diversity lies their strength.

A successful multiple intelligence classroom is based on the same premise: We come to understand, appreciate, and celebrate our individual differences. If there were but one way to be smart, each person would rank below some individuals and above others in intelligences. By recognizing there are many ways to be smart, in the multiple intelligences classroom we come to realize each person is gifted in unique ways. Because individuals have different strengths, our collective strength resides in our diversity. We stop asking of others and ourselves, "How smart are you?" We ask rather, "How are you smart?"

At the heart of both multiple intelligences and cooperative learning is an appreciation of each individual for his or her uniqueness.

The Interpersonal Intelligence and Cooperative Skills

There is an obvious connection between the interpersonal intelligence and cooperative learning. The interpersonal intelligence involves an understanding of the feelings, motives, values, and points of view of others. These same skills are by-products of successful cooperative learning. Many cooperative learning methods explicitly teach the very social skills which define the interpersonal intelligence. For example, as we have students engage in Paraphrase Passport, they develop their ability to understand a point of view different from their own, developing a specific cooperative skill which is one facet of interpersonal intelligence.

Students with a particularly strong interpersonal intelligence are likely to be more engaged by academic content when they have the opportunity to interact with others over the content, engage their interpersonal intelligence. How can we best have students interact over the content other than through cooperative learning?

So, whether we are attempting to match or stretch the interpersonal intelligence, cooperative learning strategies are our best resources.

But, cooperative learning strategies do far more than develop the interpersonal intelligence. They have proven a positive impact on higher-level thinking (logical/mathematical intelligence) and play key roles in the writing process during peer editing and positive response groups (verbal/linguistic intelligence). Cooperative learning skills come into play directly in the other intelligences as well (band, choir, and other music groups; team sports; research teams to develop the naturalist intelligence).

Multiple intelligences furthers our understanding and appreciation of students' uniqueness and provides the rationale for expanding our curriculum to develop the many ways to be smart. Cooperative learning and multiple intelligences have a different emphasis, yet the philosophical goals of each are closely aligned, as are the practical strategies which ensure success with both of these transformative educational innovations. Independently, they make a powerful contribution to education; together they're dynamite!