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Focus On Basics

Volume 3, Issue A ::: March 1999

Adding a Dimension to Career Counseling

Introducing MI theory and MI-enhanced activities to a career counseling course opened everyone's eyes to new possibilities

by Jean Mantzaris
At Wallingford Adult Education Learning Center, Wallingford, CT, we serve the needs of our adult learners with classes in basic education, general educational development (GED), and external and credit diploma programs. We also provide classes in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) for a growing population of students, a significant number of whom are Mexican immigrants. Many of our students are employed at minimum wage jobs, or receive welfare, disability, or unemployment benefits. An essential element of their education at our Learning Center revolves around making career choices and seeking related higher education and training. As guidance counselor responsible for career development, I struggled with how to serve these students. They are under considerable pressure to make the "right" career choice, while constrained by limited time, limited finances, significant family obligations, and a limited view beyond standard careers.

In searching for new ideas and a more focused approach, I joined the Multiple Intelligences (MI) project. While traditional concepts of human intelligence measure linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities, multiple intelligences theory suggests that the range of intelligences be broadened to include spatial-visual, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. All humans possess these intelligences in varying degrees and apply them in various combinations, given their proclivities, activities, and environment. This concept seemed a promising premise for guiding students through their career choice process. I therefore agreed to learn about MI theory and carry out a practitioner inquiry project in which I applied MI theory to my work with adult learners involved in career development. I decided to focus on how students' awareness of their own intelligences and participation in activities informed by MI theory affect their career-decision making process.

The class in which I did my research was a 12-week career development module that met each Wednesday morning for an hour and a half. I had 11 students, five of whom were male. Of the 11, eight participated in almost all the activities. Our Learning Center uses individualized instruction, so these modules were the only place where students were in groups. To gather data, I had students write in their journals after each MI-inspired activity; I also kept observation notes and held individualized interviews with the students before and after the course.

Immediate Changes

Before the module started, I held individual interviews with students. In the past, when interviewing students, I began with a short conversation about why they came to adult education, then quickly had them filling out forms and taking assessment tests. With MI in mind, I asked students about their career choices, their strengths, what they felt they were good at, and a "wish" career. I also had all students assess their intelligences using an instrument developed by Meg Costanzo, another AMI project member. I wanted to see if their dream occupations matched their strengths.

During the first class session, using lecture and visuals, I introduced Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, and then had the students work in pairs, interviewing each other about their intelligences. Each student reported to the group on the strengths of his or her partner. Journal entries from that day included: "This stuff is fun, but more than that it shows you how many people around you are smart in many ways and so am I" and "Like it woke me up. I though it was enlightening. I came in with a poor mood but this picked up my spirits." One student expressed negative views of the activity, describing it as "a waste of time. I'm here to study for my GED. I don't have time for this."

Another week, I asked students to "go back in time" and reflect on what they loved to do as children and bring representations - photos, favorite stories, etc. - of these activities into class. Two students shared childhood photos. John shared a picture of his first Halloween, commenting on how much he did and still does enjoy pretending. Kimberly talked about taking things apart and putting them together, something she still enjoys today. Students also had time to "play" with materials I had assembled that were familiar to them from childhood, such as kazoos, blocks, and Legos. They reflected on whether their favorite activities were connected to present favorite activities or strengths, and if they wished to resume or strengthen any neglected activities. They looked for links between their adult and childhood intelligences and explored why childhood intelligences withered or flourished. Eric, for example, talked about a childhood among adults and how being a clown in school got him in trouble. The students each made key chain ornaments depicting a strength they wanted to nurture.

During another meeting, the students completed the Harrington-O'Shea Career Decision Making System. This career inventory has several reading levels and is available in Spanish. The students received an interpretive folder with their personal summary profile and I reviewed this material with them. Some of the students exhibited a flat profile on the Harrington-O'Shea, which may have resulted from a lack of familiarity with the scale used in the instrument: like and dislike. The students felt that these inventories were not as reflective of their strengths as the MI profiles they had developed. I believe the MI assessment seemed more personal to students.

When the students moved to a study of Connecticut career clusters - eight areas that drive Connecticut's economy - they looked at the careers in light of multiple intelligences. One student saw how a natural resource manager needs math/logical strength to study chemistry, physics, and math; linguistic strength to express concerns verbally and in writing; kinesthetic strength for field work; visual/spatial strength to look for clues in the environment; interpersonal strength to accept recommendations; and interpersonal strength to reflect on findings and to make ethical considerations. Another student for whom business and finance may not have previously had any appeal viewed his strengths as math/logical and musical and began to think about a business career in the recording industry. Yet another student with linguistic strength and no known career objectives described how his quick tongue - a source of trouble for him in school and with the law - might be an asset in the broadcasting industry.

New Possibilities

Once students became aware of their strengths, career possibilities abounded. While four students were fairly certain about possible careers during the interviews I held before the module began, only one remained certain of his choice at the completion of our work. A decision of "no choice," however, now seemed positive rather than directionless. The students were beginning to dream, and to explore. Three students decided to enter community college to explore different areas of study. The two who worried about having served jail time now made plans: one to attend a community college and the other to attend the state university. For the three public assistance recipients, the changes were significant. All three filed college applications and Free Application for Federal Finance Aid (FAFSA). For one, that took particular courage, since her benefits were ending and she faced opposition from family members.


The entire project was an extraordinarily enlightening experience for all of us involved, counselor and students alike. Rather than beginning the endeavor with a hypothesis - a statement of expected outcome - I began with a question: Can MI theory provide a valid approach for guiding students through the process of identifying their strengths and skills in order to make appropriate and ultimately gratifying career decisions? I was no longer operating within the parameters of proven research; rather, I was assuming the role of the researcher, and it would be I who formulated the outcome.

As a counselor, I had previously been so focused on the "right fit" in the career decision-making of adult education students that I missed the discovery process. Yet, as the students and I became more and more absorbed in this project, we found that the discovery process is a vital and multidimensional element of career choice-making. It was fascinating to watch the students reaching back into their childhoods for recollections of their strengths, skills, and favorite activities and drawing correlations to those extant. From there, they were able to extrapolate their career choices. Using what they learned about themselves through MI, they will now be able to capitalize on their strengths and talents in the future.

I was at first uncomfortable that this approach so widely expanded the students' range of choices; I had always viewed the career counseling process as one of narrowing, not broadening, possibilities. My own ambivalence became a discovery process in itself as I learned that the MI approach could be a valid and viable tool in career development.

Perhaps the words of John, one of my most eloquent student journal writers, best exemplifies our MI journey into self-discovery and career decision-making: " our past experiences shade our view on glasses were somber and obscure, tainting everything that filtered throughout Then expectedly the world around me changed. The air gave birth to new sounds and smells. The land filled with colors I had never seen I had unconsciously changed my glasses. New dreams and desires danced through my mind. Words like college, career, and future introduced themselves into my vocabulary ."


About the Author

Jean Mantzaris is a full-time guidance counselor of adult high school preparation and ESOL students at the Wallingford Adult Learning Center, Wallingford, CT. She lives in the community with her husband and three children.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL