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Advice, Workshops

Continuing the Conversation on “Multiple Intelligences in the Basic Writing Classroom”


[Note: in the post below Dr. William J. Rouster responds to the December Workshop on “Multiple Intelligences in the Basic Writing Classroom.” Video of that workshop is available on the blog in two parts, located here and here.]

The discussion on multiple intelligences and what that can mean for the 1010 classroom was quite fascinating. I was particularly attracted to Ruth Ray’s discussion of multiple intelligences and what the implications of that may be for the composition classroom. I believe that nearly all teachers already understand on some level that individual students learn in individual ways. Now how that is articulated and then applied to the classroom is another matter. There are elements of my 1010 pedagogy that are directly relatable to the discussion on multiple intelligences, particularly cultural criticism and conferencing.

First of all, as stated by Dr. Ray, our intelligences are developed within cultures and tend to be culturally dependent: how we learn and understand the world is tied into our cultures. One thing I believe every student understands to a greater and lesser degree and is curious about is his or her culture. We all have the ability to some degree to read our cultures as we would a text. This is also a topic that students seem to be eager to write about. Further, as Ray mentioned, it can be good to throw students a bit off balance, and discussing culture in a way that students are not completely familiar with can achieve that objective.

Additionally, because students learn in their own way and at their own pace, plus may not be detail oriented when it comes to their writing, I find that it is very helpful to conference with students on their essays. In my 1010 classes, I conference with students on three of five of their graded essays, so instead of taking the shotgun approach to writing instruction and discussing elements that some students may not be doing well in the class, I can discuss directly with the students what they are doing well and not so well. This has become so popular in my 1010 classes that some students have requested that I conference with them on all of their papers.

A third point made by Ray was that greater depth, rather than breadth, may we called for in teaching students with multiple intelligences and I find this approach indispensable in my own pedagogy. I have found that it is best to teach 1010 students one essay form, the five-paragraph persuasive essay, throughout the semester. I integrate the modes required by the department into the assignments and vary the subject matter with each essay. It has been my experience that trying to teach too many different kinds of essay forms to my basic writers means that they will not learn how to master any of the forms, and particularly, one essential form, a form that I believe prepares them for the more complicated formats that they will have to learn in more advanced courses.

Teaching for multiple intelligences could well inform any pedagogy, but I believe it is particularly useful for teaching basic writers. These writers need something interesting to discuss in class and write about in their papers. It is useful to discuss their writing one on one because no two basic writers are the same, and each has his or her own weaknesses and strengths which can be more readily pointed out in face-to-face meetings. Further, teaching 1010 students how to master one basic form is more useful than teaching them many different forms, at which they may or may not become adept.

Bill Rouster is a Special Lecturer in the Writing Department at Oakland University. He received his Ph.D. in Composition and Rhetoric from Wayne State in 1994 and has continued to teach in the WSU English Department as an Adjunct Professor.

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