Research in Progress—Multiple Intelligences Help Teach Culturally Diverse Learners

Spring 1995 Masthead

Carol Ann Tomlinson
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

In a unique university-school district collaboration, the University of Virginia and Charlotte-Mecklenberg (North Carolina) Public Schools are conducting a three-year study to determine the efficacy of using a multiple intelligence model to identify and teach primary age, low socioeconomic and/or minority learners. The collaboration is called Project START, an acronym for Support to Affirm Rising Talent.

The project has both practice and research components. The Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools, using funding from a Javits grant, assume major responsibility for the practice component. Approximately 250 low socioeconomic and/or minority first and second graders from 16 schools have been identified for participation in Project START using a series of nontraditional, problem-solving tasks based on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Through such activities as story-telling, building structures, developing strategies for keeping track of entering and exiting bus passengers during a simulation, and even disassembling and reassembling a household drainpipe, students in kindergarten and first grade had the opportunity last spring to display verbal-linguistic, spatial, logical mathematical, and personal intelligences.

Groups of approximately six or seven identified START children are placed in target classrooms. Their teachers participate in extensive, on-going staff training for developing curricula which utilize the child’s intelligence strength to foster development of skill in language and math, as well as focusing on talent development in the intelligence areas themselves. START classrooms also have a multicultural, manipulative, and language-rich emphasis because of strong research indications of the effectiveness of such instruction for low SES and culturally diverse populations.

Further, all START schools have Family Outreach Programs which concentrate on making parents aware of the potential of their youngsters, helping family members participate in developing that talent at home, and involving parents in their child’s school in a variety of ways. In some START schools, identified youngsters also work with community mentors who serve both to encourage talent development in areas of student strength and also to encourage general student success in school.

Staff members at the University of Virginia site of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented serve a dual role in Project START. They work as consultants for curriculum development, staff training, and development of family outreach and mentorship elements of the program. In addition, they have major responsibility for conducting an extensive 3-year research study, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, to determine the impact of the various interventions (e.g. START instruction, mentorships, family outreach) on achievement and attitudes about self and school. Further, they are studying the process through which teachers may come to differentiate instruction in START classrooms, and the impact of the program on families.

Project START should yield a variety of benefits beyond the obvious ones for participants and their families. In Charlotte, START will serve as a pilot for employing multiple intelligence identification and service throughout the school district’s program for gifted and talented youngsters. For a much broader audience, START will shed light on strategies for identifying and nurturing talent in economically disadvantaged and culturally diverse populations, and provide insight on ways in which teachers can learn to adjust their instruction to invite success among diverse student populations and in expanded talent fields.


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