Think Tac Toe: Differentiating Assessment


I. What is Differentiation?

Differentiation is based on the premise that students learn in different ways and come to us with different skill levels and knowledge.  A teacher should provide students with options for learning that include: different ways to learn, different amounts of time for learning, different assignments and of course different  assessments.

Assessments can be differentiated by using the multiple intelligence theory.

II. What is Multiple Intelligence, and why do we need to differentiate?

Howard Gardner claims that all human beings have multiple intelligences. These multiple intelligences can be nurtured and strengthened, or ignored and weakened. He believes each individual has nine intelligences:

1 Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence -- well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words

2 Mathematical-Logical Intelligence -- ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical or numerical patterns

3 Musical Intelligence -- ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber

4 Visual-Spatial Intelligence -- capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly

5 Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence -- ability to control one's body movements and to handle objects skillfully

6 Interpersonal Intelligence -- capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others.

7 Intrapersonal Intelligence -- capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes

8 Naturalist Intelligence -- ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature

9 Existential Intelligence -- sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.

Gardner is a psychologist and Professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, as well as Co-Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Traditional view of Intelligence Multiple Intelligences Theory
Intelligence can be measured by short-answer tests:

Stanford-Binet Intelligence Quotient
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISCIV)
Woodcock Johnson test of Cognitive Ability
Scholastic Aptitude Test
Assessment of an individual's multiple intelligences can foster learning and problem-solving styles. Short answer tests are not used because they do not measure disciplinary mastery or deep understanding. They only measure rote memorization skills and one's ability to do well on short answer tests. Some states have developed tests that value process over the final answer, such as PAM (Performance Assessment in Math) and PAL (Performance Assessment in Language)
People are born with a fixed amount of intelligence. Human beings have all of the intelligences, but each person has a unique combination, or profile.
Intelligence level does not change over a lifetime. We can all improve each of the intelligences, though some people will improve more readily in one intelligence area than in others.
Intelligence consists of ability in logic and language. There are many more types of intelligence which reflect different ways of interacting with the world
In traditional practice, teachers teach the same material to everyone. M.I. pedagogy implies that teachers teach and assess differently based on individual intellectual strengths and weaknesses.
Teachers teach a topic or "subject." Teachers structure learning activities around an issue or question and connect subjects. Teachers develop strategies that allow for students to demonstrate multiple ways of understanding and value their uniqueness.

What are some benefits of using the multiple intelligences approach in my school?


You may come to regard intellectual ability more broadly. Drawing a picture, composing, or listening to music, watching a performance -- these activities can be a vital door to learning -- as important as writing and mathematics. Studies show that many students who perform poorly on traditional tests are turned on to learning when classroom experiences incorporate artistic, athletic, and musical activities.

Take music, for example. As educator, David Thornburg of the Thornburg Institute notes,

"The mood of a piece of music might communicate, clearer than words, the feeling of an era being studied in history. The exploration of rhythm can help some students understand fractions. The exploration of the sounds of an organ can lead to an understanding of vibrational modes in physics. What caused the great scientist Kepler to think of the motions of planets in musical terms? Astronomy students could program a synthesizer to play Kepler's 'music of the spheres' and explore history, science, math and music all at once."


You will provide opportunities for authentic learning based on your students' needs, interests and talents. The multiple intelligence classroom acts like the "real" world: the author and the illustrator of a book are equally valuable creators. Students become more active, involved learners.


Parent and community involvement in your school may increase. This happens as students demonstrate work before panels and audiences. Activities involving apprenticeship learning bring members of the community into the learning process.


Students will be able to demonstrate and share their strengths. Building strengths gives a student the motivation to be a "specialist." This can in turn lead to increased self-esteem.


When you "teach for understanding," your students accumulate positive educational experiences and the capability for creating solutions to problems in life.

How can applying M.I. theory help students learn better?

Students begin to understand how they are intelligent. In Gardner's view, learning is both a social and psychological process. When students understand the balance of their own multiple intelligences they begin

  • To manage their own learning

  • To value their individual strengths

Teachers understand how students are intelligent as well as how intelligent they are. Knowing which students have the potential for strong interpersonal intelligence, for example, will help you create opportunities where the strength can be fostered in others. However, multiple intelligence theory is not intended to provide teachers with new IQ-like labels for their students.

Students approach understanding from different angles. The problem, "What is sand?" has scientific, poetic, artistic, musical, and geographic points of entry.

Students that exhibit comprehension through rubrics5, portfolios6, or demonstrations come to have an authentic understanding of achievement. The accomplishment of the lawyer is in winning her case through research and persuasive argument, more than in having passed the bar exam

(2004). Tapping Into Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved May 30, 2006, from Concept to Classroom Web site:

III.  Using Think Tac Toe to differentiate assessment:

One of the easiest ways to organize student choice activities and assessments is to use the Think Tac Toe format. Think Tac Toe is an alternative assessment/activity and can be used with all grades and will all subject areas. It  is easy because both you and your students already know how the choices work.  Students simply choose three activities going across, going down or going diagonally.  This gives students choices and gives teachers some control of the activities that the students choose. In this format you can be sure that any set of choices will include a variety of types of activities. You can also make sure that not matter which configuration students choose they will be completing activities that address the standards.

Think Tac Toes encourage and teach independent learning. The idea is for students to work in groups or individually to choose three projects to show understanding. The top line activities should be simple, the middle line boxes should be a bit more difficult and the bottom line projects would take several days to complete. Students can select any of the three columns, they could choose either vertical, horizontal or diagonal columns. (which would include one project from each level. These activities can be categorized in various ways; Bloom's Taxonomy, subject area or Multiple Intelligence.

Suggestions when using Think Tac Toes:

record the numbers of choices each student makes on a student activity chart 

When giving these assessment/activities to students a teacher can duplicate the rubric on the other side of the paper with the grid.  This way, students will have both the activities and rubric on their handout

Student Activity Chart

Think Tac Toe Assessment Chart

Think Tac Toe for Student Choice Activities

Multiple Intelligence Technology Tools

Websites/ Examples of Think Tac Toes

Create a Rubric for your Think Tac Toe

Rubric Guidelines

Rubric Maker #1

Rubric Maker #2

Rubric Maker #3






It's not about technology in the classroom,
it's about creating a learning environment that teaches students how to share thoughts, participate and experience ...
not just listen.