Creating Optimal Classroom Environments in Special Education: Encouraging Multiple Intelligences

Creating Optimal Classroom Environments in Special Education: Encouraging Multiple Intelligences
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Showcase Individual Work Strengths

Creating optimal classroom environments in special education involves taking into account not only the intellectual environment but

also physical properties. Teachers must also integrate classroom activities that encourage self-confidence and self-esteem to help acquire skills. Recognizing and emphasizing individual student strengths with praise can aid in fostering achievement in other domains. Multiple Intelligence (MI) theorist, Howard Gardner’s approach recognizes different strengths and challenges for different students. It also is a valuable tool in working children on the extreme ends of the ability spectrum ability: those gifted students with strengths in his nine recognized intelligences (or deeply in one of them) – and learners typically referred to as learning disabled.

Showcasing students' individual work strengths gives incentive to strive harder, since they realize others will see their accomplishments. Reserve a bulletin board for students' work. Allow students to use their strengths to assist fellow-learners struggling in their area of lesson strength. Students with learning disabilities are far more receptive to learning if the instructor shows respect for their strengths and establishes trusting relationships. If each student does not prove to be a successful learner in the classroom, the method of instruction and curriculum remain disabled – not the student.

Not only is Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory an optimal way to conceive intelligence, but a way of mentally approaching the instruction and learning environment. MI instruction uses individualized methods of instruction and curricula as much as possible by creating optimal classroom environments in special education. Curriculum recognizes that a learner can be smart in more than one way. Teaching and assessing all students in the same manner should be disregarded. When an instructor teaches important ideas in multiple ways, he reaches more learners effectively.

Students Demonstrate Knowledge Differently

A learner can demonstrate knowledge and exhibit intelligence in a plethora of ways when there are optimal environments in classrooms for students facing challenges. Assessments furnish the learner the chance to demonstrate their stronger intelligences and can be much more effective than multiple-choice, short-answer questions with a bias toward logical-mathematical and linguistic abilities. Ideally, assessments appropriately reflect the nine intelligences: Verbal-linguistic, Mathematical-logical, Musical, Visual-spatial, Bodily-kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalist and Existential. Therefore, the individually targeted learner can even discover possible dynamic interaction between assorted intelligences. Choice-based activities and not-so-grounded topics prove more meaningful and relevant, since learners employ the strongest intelligences to approach activities. Then, students grow more confident about taking their own learning under control.

Classroom Arrangement

While targeting the special education learner’s individual strengths and weaknesses remains paramount for successful achievement, classroom physical properties combined can promote learning, too.

  • Create an environment that gives the optimal opportunities for learning by arranging students' seats in areas free from distractions.
  • Each special education student must have his/her own desk (no grouping/sharing) to avoid classroom distractions.
  • Lessen distractions in the classroom environment visually.
  • A checklist aids in classroom organization.
  • Use a “quiet area” or study carrel if needed.
  • Reduce materials on students' desks to lessen distractions.
  • Give students regular breaks if required.
  • Offer an accepted cue if a learner needs to leave the classroom.
  • Maintain an adequate amount of work materials in the classroom.
  • Instruct visually with the chalkboard, overhead projectors, charts and posters, as you speak.
  • Try passing a Nerf ball to a student you want to answer a question to maintain focus.
  • Design an area in the classroom where students who have completed their assignments may gather to keep from bothering others still on task. Supply educational materials in these areas to occupy learners.

Promoting learning in the special education classroom through classroom arrangement and other physical properties, combined with Multiple Intelligence theory, supports instruction and assessment in education. An advantage of MI theory for all students, particularly special education learners, is its ability to harbor a sense of collective and personal value by knowing one’s learning needs: that the learner has something to offer the entire class or group with his specific intelligences. This results in an equal classroom culture in regards to their being among a learning community – the need for others as well as their successful role in the group.

Awareness of Intelligences

Foremost, much of the special education literature correctly emphasizes that students' awareness of intelligences helps their discernment of the differences found in challenge and failure. This awareness remains essential particularly for special education students' positive self-esteem. Positive outcomes to challenging experiences propel the learner to take important risks with new curriculum. These favorable outcomes help to develop a manner of functioning outside the comfort zone – despite outcomes. The MI theory presents a student-centered model of teaching. Hence, it offers a curriculum and instructional style adapting to the individual for the best learning results. Curricula supported by MI theory can incorporate strategies created to empower learners. These strategies foster positive areas of self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-acceptance through positive reinforcement. Improved attitudes and behavior, increased multimodal skills and other benefits result from creating optimal classroom environments in special education.


Ecology of Education: An Intelligent Use of Belief by Aborn, Matt

Skyview High School: Nine Types of Intelligence by Howard Gardner

School Administrator on Applying Multiple Intelligences: How It Matters for Schools Today, 25 Years After Its Introduction by Howard Gardner and Christodoulo, Joanna

Special Education on Modifying the Elementary School Curriculum of Students with Special Needs: A List of Ideas, Demontigny, Jan.

Teacher Sol: Classroom Environment Special Education, Angela, Maria.