Children 'Flourish' Here
Indianapolis--"Walk how you feel about the music," the gym teacher calls out to the class of 1st graders, who obligingly wriggle and slink about the room.
"Now I want to see a nice, happy walk, like a spring day," she says, and the children change their steps to match the mood.
Like most of their peers nationwide, 1st-grade students at the Key School here receive their fair share of instruction in reading, mathematics, science, and social studies.
But during an average day, they will also play the violin, speak Spanish, move their bodies to music, enter data into a computer, and solve board games that emphasize spatial skills.
The abundance and variety of daily offerings are designed to tap each child's strength in areas of intelligence beyond language and math--which teachers in this school say are stressed too much by public education.
"Children should have an opportunity at least part of the day to do things that they really flourish in," says Patricia J. Bolanos, the school's principal.
"Other things, besides math and language, are equally important in school," she argues, "and they should be given some time and talent to be developed." The new elementary school, which opened in September, culminates three years of hard work by Ms. Bolanos and seven other teachers, who designed the school from scratch and then convinced the district to fund it.
A videotaped documentary, to be premiered this week, details how the teachers accomplished their goal.
The public magnet school draws on the theories of scholars from both education and psychology, with a particular emphasis on the work of Howard Gardner, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University.
The new school is the first in the nation organized around Mr. Gardner's theory of "multiple intelligences."
'Surprised and Touched'
Mr. Gardner has served as a consultant to the project since 1984, when the teachers drove 14 hours to Pennsylvania to present him with a curriculum they had developed based on his ideas.
"I was both surprised and touched," he recalls, "that a group of teachers whom I didn't know--and who struck me as being plain old vanilla-ice-cream-type teachers--had gone to the trouble of conducting a big study of creativity; had found my book and liked some of the ideas in it; and had driven all the way from Indianapolis to Northeastern Pennsylvania just to talk with me."
"That's not something that happens to someone like me every day," he says.
The cognitive psychologist is one of a growing number of researchers who are challenging traditional notions about human intellect.
For years, scholars defined intelligence as a general mental ability whose power could be described by the single score on an I.Q. test.
In his book Frames of Mind, however, Mr. Gardner argues that human beings possess not one, but seven, relatively autonomous intellec4tual competencies. (See related story, next page.)
These include the linguistic and logical-mathematical faculties usually emphasized in school.
But there is also musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (the ability to use the body in highly skilled ways, and to work deftly with objects).
In addition, Mr. Gardner suggests the existence of two "personal" intelligences, based on a highly developed understanding of one's self and others.
"His book really pulled together and gave some legitimacy to the ideas that we had been trying to implement," says Ms. Bolanos.
The Key School is designed to give all seven intelligences equal emphasis through the use of an interdisciplinary curriculum.
In addition to the regular academic subjects, each student in grades K-6 receives almost daily instruction from specialists in physical education, music, art, Spanish, and computers.
The curriculum is tied together by schoolwide themes that span all grades and all subjects and that change every nine weeks. For the first part of this year, students focused on the "connections" between people and their environment.
At the end of nine weeks, each student is responsible for producing a project of his or her own design that illustrates the theme.
Time in 'Pods'
Four days a week, students also spend time in their "pods."
These multi-aged groupings--which students and parents select based on personal preference--emphasize work in a particular cognitive area.
In the "math pentathlon" pod, for example, students play board games that exercise their logical, spatial, and mathematical skills.
In the "architecture" pod, students have "adopted" nine houses in the surrounding neighborhood and are preparing an architectural walking tour.
Other pods include "actors unlimited," choir, instrumental music, problem-solving, mind and movement, and the physical sciences.
Because both instructional and noninstructional staff members--including Ms. Bolanos--teach pods, the groups contain no more than a dozen students.
Children can also participate in after-school electives, such as photography, computer graphics, gymnastics, and Spanish. These are taught by teachers, volunteers, and hourly employees.
Once a week, students attend a schoolwide event that brings in artists, business people, and other professionals to serve as role models, perform, and talk about their work.
Partly as a result of the curriculum-rich program, teachers say students are happier.
"I see lots of opportunities during the day for kids to be good at something," says Kathleen M. Woods, a 1st-grade teacher.
But Ms. Bolanos emphasizes that "this is not like a school from the '60's, where everyone gets to do whatever they want."
Rather, the school made a conscious decision to emphasize children's strengths as a way to motivate them.
"We knew we were searching for something," says Beverly J. Hoeltke, a 2nd-grade teacher. "We really weren't meeting children's needs completely. Some kids were bright, but they weren't making it."
She argues that the school enables teachers to find a child's "intrinsic motivation" and capitalize on it.
In addition to the writings of Mr. Gardner, the teachers have drawn heavily on theories of creativity and motivation developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago; work on qualitative evaluation by Elliot Eisner at Stanford University; and theories about curriculum and school structure developed by Ernest Boyer, James Macdonald, and John I. Goodlad.
'Always Worked Together'
The long and tortuous path toward the making of a school began in 1984, when the eight teachers were working together at Public School 113 here, an elementary school that emphasized team teaching.
"We always worked together, talking about what we were in the process of trying to do," says Ms. Bolanos. "When we sat down with a cup of coffee in the teachers' lounge, we always talked shop."
At the end of the school year, the teachers applied for a state grant to write a curriculum for creatively gifted and talented students.
The research and work on that curriculum spanned a year of weekend and evening meetings in the teachers' homes. Eventually, it led to the idea of founding a school for all students.
In April 1985, the teachers approached the school district's superintendent with their proposal. And in July 1986, they received funding from the Lilly Endowment to help plan the school.
Today, 16 licensed teachers--including a part-time media specialist and a part-time science teacher--work at the school, which serves 150 students from all parts of the city.
Students were selected from more than 500 applicants, based on a computer lottery that followed the district's desegregation guidelines.
Approximately 40 percent of the students are black. Forty-three percent live with only one parent. And more than a third receive free- or reduced-price school lunches.
James A. Adams, superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools, says the eight teachers "were given an opportunity to create, develop, and explore in ways that most teachers never have."
That was possible, he asserts, because their idea for a school meshed with his own desire to increase parental involvement in education, and because there was a school building sitting vacant.
"A lot of people talk about teacher empowerment, about teachers taking responsibility," says Mr. Gardner, "but most of us have never seen it really happen."
"Almost from one year to the next," he notes, "[these teachers] became committed professionals in a much wider arena, with lots more crossfire than any of them had been trained to deal with before."
The eight women negotiated with administrators and the local teachers' union to set up the school.
According to Ms. Bolanos, union officials approved production of a documentary to detail the school's creation. But they adamantly opposed plans for teachers to engage in peer evaluation. "We very much wanted that to be part of the design," she says.
The teachers also convinced representatives from local businesses, cultural institutions, and universities to form an advisory committee that will help the school take advantage of local resources. It will also link what is happening in the school with the greater community.
In addition, parents are actively involved in the school's mission.
They must attend three out of every four parent-teacher conferences, if their child is to remain in the school.
They can take advantage of the extended-day programs that are so important for many working parents. And they are strongly encouraged to serve as volunteers on a number of parent-advisory committees.
One committee has even drafted a form for parents to fill out, so that children can draw on other parents as resources for their theme projects.
The school is also asking parents to donate one hour of their time this year to come into the appropriate "pod" and share their work.
Despite its propitious start, however, the school faces a number of challenges.
One of the biggest is how to measure and record a child's progress in each of the seven competencies.
"The pressure to standardize everything is unreal," says Ms. Bolanos, "to get everything so that you can measure it, and uniformly reinued on Following Page Continued from Preceding Page
port it." She shares Mr. Gardner's view that most tests measure only a narrow slice of children's linguistic and mathematical abilities.
Even in those areas, she adds, tests fail to reflect children's creativity, their motivation to learn, or their higher-order thinking skills.
To remedy the situation, teachers at the Key School are trying to supplement the district's tests and report cards with more qualitative information:
"Videotaped portfolios" will document children's interests and accomplishments.
The portfolios include tapes of an initial interview with the student, and excerpts of his or her work throughout the year. Parents will receive a copy of the portfolio when their child leaves school.
Each student keeps a "reflective" log, with weekly entries about the school's themes and his or her projects.
Students also spend part of each week in a special "flow-activity center." The media-rich room allows them to choose from a range of board games, puzzles, audio tapes, and other materials geared to one of the seven intelligences.
Gwen Staten, the flow-activity teacher, keeps a detailed record of which activities children select, and how they tackle problems. That information will be combined with other knowledge about the children's preferences to develop an intellectual profile for each student.
In addition, the teachers have selected one child in each grade whom they are all following closely. At the end of the year, teachers will pool their notes and use them to design a system for keeping better records on all children.
Grade-level teachers are also learning more about their students, because they follow them into their art, music, and physical-education courses. The experience gives teachers a chance to observe one another, and to view their students in different settings.
Now 'Work Really Begins'
But while children are stimulated by all this new activity, teachers admit that the pace is exhausting.
"We designed this idea, and ended up in this school," says Ms. Bolanos, "and then the realization came that now the work really begins.''
"We have a starting point for what we want to do, but new ideas keep coming to the surface."
In order to make room for new aspects of the curriculum, grade-level teachers have had to compress math, science, language, and social-studies into less time each day.
"In most elementary schools, there's a lot of wasted time," says Sharon A. Smith, a 4th-grade teacher. "Because of our schedule, things are very structured. We don't have any time to waste."
"We have very full days," she adds, "and I'm tired at the end of the day."
Ms. Woods says, "I'm not doing the fluff. I'm getting right to the subjects and teaching."
Grade-level teachers are also struggling with how knowledge about multiple intelligences should influence their instruction.
Ms. Hoeltke says, "I'm trying to do more indirect teaching, because we say indirect teaching is the most effective way, but we don't do that."
She is also working with two university professors, who are helping her to incorporate reasoning and spatial skills into her math lessons.
All teachers at the school are encouraged to find such "scholar-mentors" with whom they can collaborate. Ms. Smith, for example, is working with Mr. Csikszentmihalyi, from the University of Chicago, on children's interpersonal relations; and Ms. Staten is working with him on how to increase motivation.
Eventually, says Ms. Bolanos, she hopes the school will develop into a "modified research center," where teachers and scholars can work together to improve students' learning.
"I think it would be nice if we could learn the best way to teach each child," says Ms. Woods. "I don't know if it's possible. Just to learn the things that work with children the best, to give them an idea of what they like, and what they're good at."
Jean Eltzroth, the school's music teacher, sums up the views of most people on the staff.
"I'm working harder. There's more stress. I'm teaching more thoroughly," she says.
But, she adds, the mission of the school keeps her going.
"I am not a linguistic person," she says, "but no one ever said that to me; teachers just gave me C's."
"But I was musical," she adds. "When I picked up the violin, it just flowed, and I was always the best in the class."
"Maybe that's another reason I like this school so much--because I know there are kids like me out there."