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Focus On Basics

Volume 3, Issue A ::: March 1999

MI, the GED, and Me

by Martha Jean
Perhaps you've been in the same place I was in 1996. I was a teacher, preparing students to take the tests of General Educational Development (GED). We spent much of class time using GED workbooks. Many of my students, most of whom were homeless, had great difficulty giving long-term attention to academic subjects and retaining the information being taught. Many students with these problems did not stay in the program long enough to reach their GED goals, yet I could see that these learners had abilities that made the world a better place. Then, I heard about the NCSALL's Adult Multiple Intelligences (MI) Project. I wanted to join the project because I had read a little bit about MI and was anxious to give some time and thought to how it could serve my learners.

Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory fit my observations of the students in my classrooms. MI theory proposes that there are eight and maybe more identifiable intelligences. The learners in my classrooms were smart in many different ways. Gardner defined intelligence as an ability to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in one or more cultures. He acknowledges the two traditionally accepted intelligences, which he calls mathematical/logical and linguistic, but he also theorizes the existence of the interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial, musical, bodily/kinesthetic, and naturalistic intelligences as well. Drawing, fixing cars, singing, resolving conflicts, or composing a poem skills my students possessed all fit this model. I wanted to figure out a way for students to use their multiple intelligences to connect productively with GED material.

First Year

In the first year of the AMI project, my teacher research question was whether GED-based, MI-informed activities would help students use their intelligences as learners and GED test-takers. I taught two classes of four to seven students; each class met twice a week for a total of six hours a week. I would use MI activities with one of my two classes, and my usual approaches with the other as a comparison group.


1. In 2-5 minutes list as many angles as you see (inside or outside).
Make a graph showing each type you found.
Which angle is most common? Why?

2. Using your arm and elbow, make five angles.
Draw those angles and write approximate measures for each.
Are there any kinds of angles that cannot be made with an elbow?

3. Discuss with someone and write a response:

What does someone mean when they say, "What's your angle?"

If you were on an icy road and did a 360, what happened to you?

Why do you think this angle called a right angle?

4. Using Play-Doh and/or paper show the angles 180, 135, 90, and 45 degrees.

5. Find or make five triangles. Measure and total the angles in each.

6. Draw, make with Play-Doh, or paint a place you know and mark and measure the angles.

7. Write a poem, song, chant, or rap using some of the following words about angles:

figure formed by two lines, intersection, elbow, notch, cusp, fork, flare, obtuse, acute

point of view, perspective, viewpoint, outlook, slant, standpoint, position

purpose, intention, plan, aim, objective, approach, method.

In that first year, I stumbled around a bit trying to figure out how to make an MI-informed lesson that would help GED test takers. I read David Lazear's Seven Ways of Teaching and Seven Ways of Knowing (1991), Thomas Armstrong's Seven Kinds of Smart (1993), and Bruce Campbell's The Multiple Intelligences Handbook (1994) to get ideas for my first MI lessons. After initial attempts that had every student trying activities in every intelligence, I realized that requiring work in each domain was not in the spirit of MI. I had to let my students choose activities. Their choices would probably mirror the intelligences in which they were strongest. I decided to use an MI-informed approach at least one day a week. I started to design "Choose 3" lessons on broad topics, such as math, for example. Each Choose 3 consists of choices based on the eight intelligences: at least one choice for each intelligence. Students picked the three activities they would do alone, with a teammate, or in a group.

I created lessons about home, travel, plants, math review, writing, and angles. I was trying to find topics that could reflect some of the GED subjects in each lesson or a lot of choices from one GED subject. For example, the math review had choices about angles, word problems, and perimeter, area, and volume. Students did do these lessons enthusiastically, but a couple of problems arose. The content of the lessons was too broadly defined: I could not connect the activities to a specific area of the GED for review. Also, the students did not always choose activities that centered on the content that they needed most. I began to address those shortcomings by creating lessons that were more narrowly defined by content. For example, angles from the GED math became the topic of one Choose 3 lesson, and all the activities related to angles. Brainstorming a pre-writing skill became the topic of another Choose 3 lesson. This way, after students completed a Choose 3 lesson, I knew the content had been covered and everyone could move into the workbook for review. I also found that the Choose 3 lessons could be used to review material already taught or to introduce a new topic.

Tracking Progress

I kept track of learners' progress with student daily logs that asked what materials they had completed and how they had scored on GED workbook material. Students also recorded their views on what was or wasn't working in MI lesson in multiple intelligence logs. I kept a teacher's daily log of my observations. The data show that, from the start, having choices increased students' involvement in class. Fewer students were going home early, taking lots of breaks, or just not doing anything. After I fine-tuned the Choose 3 activities, I observed that, although learners' choices differed, individuals thought they had chosen the easiest activities. Students who said they liked math often chose the logical/mathematical activities and students who said they liked discussions often chose the interpersonal activities, and so on. My conclusion was that learners were using their strongest intelligences to help them understand each GED topic.


Take 15-20 minutes to do each of the three you choose.

1. Trace your hand. On the fingers write two or more sentences that express the main ideas you would use for an essay about one of the following:

Why I like hands-on activities.

I am handy at

I like the way I handled this situation

2. Pick a graphic from the "GRAPHICS" folder. Color it.
Write three things you see in the graphic. Write six sentences about what you think the graphic is about or what it makes you think about.

3. Using one of these keyboard, magnet words, numbers, shapes, clay, Play-Doh, paint, markers, crayons, or paper pieces show how you would design a five paragraph essay about "My Favorite Classroom Activity."

4. Draw three rooms from a house you lived in as a child. In each room write two or more sentences about what you remember in that room.

5. Pick three life symbol graphics (see folder) that represent your life right now. On another sheet of paper trace the picture and write two or more sentences in each picture about why you chose that graphic.

6. Choose an animal picture that most reminds you of yourself. Trace the picture, or draw your own image, or make the animal out of clay or Play-Doh. List everything you can think of that describes that animal: how it looks, where it lives, family, food, movement, sounds it makes, how it acts, etc. Put a check next to the things that are like you and explain how they are similar.

By the end of that class year I was seeing something else that I thought was significant. Not only did I observe students using their strongest intelligences to learn GED materials, but I also noticed that students who traditionally drop out those with learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) appeared to be involved in learning in ways that I had never seen before. These students were coming to class and starting the Choose 3s immediately. They were more willing to go into the workbook material that was related to a Choose 3 activities they had done. Compared to the non-MI-informed class, and to the period before I started the MI project, there was less complaining, less protesting: "I don't understand!" and less avoidance of any classroom or workbook activity.

When I looked back at my classroom observations and attendance records, I noticed that, although usually students with ADD attended no more than a few weeks, one of my students with ADD had stayed on from enrollment in December to the end of class in May. Another LD student had attended regularly and gotten her GED, unlike past students with LD who never came to class long enough to be test-ready. A third student had excellent attendance compared to other LD students in a class where I was not trying MI-informed lessons.

Second Year

In the second year of the project, my research question was: How do MI-informed lessons affect the attendance and progress of adult learners with LD or ADD? I also liked the idea that I could develop and refine the Choose 3 lessons to help students pass the GED tests. I planned to add some math activities and also design Choose 3s for science, social studies, grammar, and writing. Examples of the lessons are given on pages 3-5. I was so pleased by the results of MI-informed instruction the first year that I could not deny it to either group of students, so both classes subsequently received MI-informed instruction.

The students had struggled with doing daily and MI logs in year one. In the second year, they talked and I recorded their MI activities, which included their views on the MI lessons. I also kept my teacher's log. I also kept my MI activities log. At intake and during the year, I recorded students' self-disclosures about LD or ADD diagnoses through school or agency testing, and I compiled attendance data.

The second year of the project was especially exciting. I had the whole year to incorporate MI theory into my GED lessons and could be more attentive to how learners with LD and ADD were responding to an MI-informed class.

This is what a class looked like: Students came in and started reading the Choose 3 for that day. Play-Doh, markers, a keyboard, rulers, Legos, pen or pencil, paper, and maybe a partner or a group would be collected to do the chosen activities. Lots of discussion, movement, concentration, debate, questions, and answers filled the room. Learners who finished before the others did related workbook activities. When everyone completed their three activities, the whole group gathered. Everyone identified their choices. Anyone who wanted to, which was usually everyone, shared what they did. I distributed a GED worksheet on the subject, which students read and answered silently. Then they shared, debated, and checked their answers. The remainder of the class and the next class included some writing exercises and lots of workbook practice.

The Planets

Choose 3 of the activities below.
Do any by yourself, with a partner, or in a group.
Read handouts: size, geography, distance of the planets.
Look at mobile and press on pictures. Look at books about planets.

1. List the distance of each planet to the sun in scientific notation.

2. Describe the planets musically - use keyboard, song, song titles, etc.

3. Using the paper roll, compare the distance from the planets to each other and the sun.

4. Compare the size and look of each planet using Play-Doh, paper, or balloons.

5.Using mime, dance, or a play, show what would happen to you if you were standing on each planet.

6. Write a description or create a poem that compares yourself to the planets you think you are most like and most different from.

7. Design two different aliens: One who looks like s/he could live on a planet closest to the sun and another who looks like s/he could live on a planet the farthest away from the sun. Use any materials to make each alien.

8. Make a list comparing the size, colors, distance from the sun, moons, and temperature of each planet.

My records showed that students with LD and ADD had excellent attendance. They not only attended more regularly than in other years, but they also were actively participating in the activities while in class. Because they attended more regularly and were doing the workbook reviews more willingly, they made progress toward individual GED tests. This, of course, was also true of all the GED students that year.

Positive Outcomes

By the year's end I had learned much about how MI-informed lessons affect the attendance and progress of adult learners with LD or ADD. In interviews with these students, one student said, "To know something is one thing. To know something and do it is another." He continued, "I prefer hands-on because it clarifies everything. If it was all workbook, I wouldn't do well cause I'd lose interest. I wouldn't stay long cause I'd lose interest. If you make work fun, it wouldn't be work."

Another student who had just passed her GED math said about working only in the workbook: "I'd probably still be on the math in the beginning. I concentrate more on those [points to Choose 3 lessons]. My mind drifts if I just do the workbook." She said of the Choose 3, "These give you a different way of looking at problems. You go through the problems more this way. In the workbook you just do the problems, that's it, and with this you can work together."

The words and reactions of students in my MI-informed classes have stayed with me. I believe that choices should always be a part of the learning experience. I know that allowing students to learn through their strengths is successful. I'm beginning to think about how MI will help learners with the GED 2001. It's a never-ending quest.



Armstrong, T. (1993). Seven Kinds of Smart. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Campbell, B. (1994). The Multiple Intelligences Handbook. Stanwood, WA: Campbell & Assoc., Inc.

Lazear, D. (1991). Seven Ways of Knowing: Teaching for Multiple Intelligences. Palatine, IL: Skylight Publishing, Inc.

Lazear, D. (1991). Seven Ways of Teaching: The Artistry of Teaching with Multiple Intelligences. Palatine, IL: Skylight Publishing, Inc.


About the Author

Martha Jean was born almost 50 years ago. During the second half of those years, as a substitute teacher in the public schools and as an adult education teacher for Community Action, Inc., in Salisbury, MA, she discovered that her best teaching happened when she was trying to figure out the many ways that her students could learn.

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