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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences

Edutopia revisits its 1997 interview with the Harvard University professor about multiple intelligences and new forms of assessment. More to this story.
Transcript

Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences (Transcript)

Howard Gardner: We have schools because we hope that someday when children have left schools that they will still be able to use what it is that they've learned. And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they're studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands-on, to essentially recreate things in their own mind and then transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear.

The student may have a good grade on the exam. We may think that he or she is learning, but a year or two later there's nothing left. If, on the other hand, somebody has carried out an experiment himself or herself, analyzed the data, made a prediction and saw whether it came out correctly; if somebody is doing history and actually does some interviewing himself or herself, oral histories, then reads the documents, listens to it, go back and asks further questions, writes up a paper-- that's the kind of thing that's going to adhere, where if you simply memorize a bunch of names and a bunch of facts and a bunch of-- even a bunch of definitions, there's nothing to hold onto.

The idea of multiple intelligences comes out of psychology. It's a theory that was developed to document the fact that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn and how people represent things in their minds, and then how people use them in order to show what it is that they've understood. If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing in the same way and assess them in the same way, and that would be fair. But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths-- some people are good in thinking spatially, some people are good in thinking language, other people are very logical, other people need to do hands-on; they need to actually explore actively and to try things out-- once we realize that, then education which treats everybody the same way is actually the most unfair education because it picks out one kind of mind, which I call the Law Professor Mind, somebody who's very linguistic and logical, and says, "If you think like that, great. If you don't think like that, there's no room in the train for you." If we know that one child has a very spatial-- a visual or spatial way of learning, another child has a very hands-on way of learning, a third child likes to ask deep philosophical questions, a fourth child likes stories, we don't have to talk very fast as a teacher. We can actually provide software, we can provide materials, we can provide resources which present material to a child in a way in which the child will find interesting and will be able to use his or her intelligences productivity, and to the extent that the technology is interactive, the child will actually be able to show his or her understanding in a way that's comfortable to the child.

We have this myth that the only way to learn something is read it in a textbook or hear a lecture on it, and the only way to show that we've understood something is to take a short-answer test or maybe occasionally with an essay question thrown in. But that's nonsense. Everything can be taught in more than one way, and anything that's understood can be shown in more than one way. I don't believe because there are eight intelligences we have to teach things eight ways. I think that's silly. But we always ought to be asking to ourselves, "Are we reaching every child, and if not, are there other ways in which we can do it?" I think that we teach way too many subjects and we cover way too much material, and the end result is that students have a very superficial knowledge-- as we often say, a mile wide and an inch deep-- and then once they leave school, almost everything's been forgotten. And I think that school needs to change to have a few priorities and to really go into those priorities very deeply.

So let's take the area of science. I actually don't care if a child studies physics or biology or geology or astronomy before he goes to college. There's plenty of time to do that kind of detailed work. I think what's really important is to begin to learn to think scientifically, to understand what a hypothesis is, how to test it out and see whether it's working or not; if it's not working, how to revise your theory about things. That takes time. There's no way you can present that in a week or indeed even in a month. You have to learn about it from doing many different kinds of experiments, seeing when the results are like what you predicted, seeing when they're different, and so on. But if you really focus on science in that kind of way, by the time you go to college-- or, if you don't go to college, by the time you go to workplace-- you'll know the difference between a statement which is simply a matter of opinion or prejudice, and one for which there's solid evidence.

The most important thing about assessment is knowing what it is that you should be able to do. And the best way for me to think about it is a child learning a sport or a child learning an art form, because they're as completely un-mysterious-- what you have to be to be a quarterback or a figure skater or a violin player. You see it, you try it out, you're coached. You know when you're getting better. You know how you're doing compared to other kids. In school, assessment is mystifying. Nobody knows what's going to be on the test, and when the test results go back, neither the teacher nor the student knows what to do.

So what I favor is highlighting for kids from the day they walk into school what are the performances and what are the exhibitions for which they're going to be accountable. Let's get real. Let's look at the kinds of things that we really value in the world. Let's be as explicit as we can. Let's provide feedback to kids from as early as possible, and then let them internalize the feedback so they themselves can say what's going well, what's not going so well.

I'm a writer, and initially I had to have a lot of feedback from editors, including a lot of rejections. But over time, I learned what was important, I learned to edit myself, and now the feedback from editors is much less necessary. And I think anybody as an adult knows that as you get to be more expert in things you don't have to do so much external critiquing; you can do what we call self-assessment. And in school, assessment shouldn't be something that's done to you. It should be something where you are the most active agent.

I think for there to be longstanding change in American education-- that is widespread rather than just on the margins-- first of all people have to see examples of places which are like their own places where the new kind of education really works, where students are learning deeply, where they can exhibit their knowledge publicly, and where everybody who looks at the kids says, "That's the kind of kids I want to have." So we need to have enough good examples.

Second of all, we need to have the individuals who are involved in education, primarily teachers and administrators, believe in this, really want to do it, and get the kind of help that they need in order to be able to switch, so to speak, from a teacher-centered, "Let's stuff it into the kid's mind" kind of education, to one where the preparation is behind the scenes and the child himself or herself is at the center of learning.

Third of all, I think we need to have assessment schemes which really convince everybody that this kind of education is working. It does no good to have child-centered learning and then have the same old multiple choice tests which were used 50 or 100 years ago.

Finally, I think there has to be a political commitment which says that this is the kind of education which we want to have in our country, and maybe outside this country, for the foreseeable future. And as long as people are busy bashing teachers or saying that we can't try anything new because it might fail, then reform will be stifled as it has been in the past.

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Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University, adjunct professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine, and chairman of the steering committee of the graduate school's Project Zero.

He has written twenty books and hundreds of articles and is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, which holds that intelligence goes far beyond the traditional verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical measurements. Here he discusses student-directed learning, multiple intelligences, and a different approach to assessment.

 

  1. On the importance of engaging students actively in what they are studying.
  2. On the characteristics of student-directed learning.
  3. On the theory of multiple intelligences.
  4. On technology and multiple intelligences.
  5. On the need for fundamental change in the curriculum.
  6. On how assessment in school differs from assessment in other arenas such as sports or music.
  7. On the need for a new approach to assessment in schools.
  8. On what needs to happen in order that long-standing change occurs in public education.

1. On the importance of engaging students actively in what they are studying.

We have schools because we hope that some day when children have left schools that they will still be able to use what it is that they've learned. And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they're studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands on, to essentially re-create things in their own mind and transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear. The student may have a good grade on the exam, we may think that he or she is learning, but a year or two later there's nothing left.

Back to Top

2. On the characteristics of student-directed learning.

If, on the other hand, somebody has carried out an experiment himself or herself, analyzed the data, made a prediction, and saw whether it came out correctly, if somebody is doing history and actually does some interviewing himself or herself -- oral histories -- then reads the documents, listens to it, goes back and asks further questions, writes up a paper. That's the kind of thing that's going to adhere, whereas if you simply memorize a bunch of names and a bunch of facts, even a bunch of definitions, there's nothing to hold on to.

Back to Top

3. On the theory of multiple intelligences.

The idea of multiple intelligences comes out of psychology. It's a theory that was developed to document the fact that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn and how people represent things in their minds, and then how people use them in order to show what it is that they've understood.

If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing in the same way and assess them in the same way and that would be fair. But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths -- some people are good in thinking spatially, some in thinking language, others are very logical, other people need to be hands on and explore actively and try things out -- then education, which treats everybody the same way, is actually the most unfair education. Because it picks out one kind of mind, which I call the law professor mind -- somebody who's very linguistic and logical -- and says, if you think like that, great, if you don't think like that, there's no room on the train for you.

Back to Top

4. On technology and multiple intelligences.

If we know that one child has a very spatial or visual-spatial way of learning, another child has a very hands-on way of learning, a third child likes to ask deep philosophical questions, the fourth child likes stories, we don't have to talk very fast as a teacher. We can actually provide software, we can provide materials, we can provide resources that present material to a child in a way in which the child will find interesting and will be able to use his or her intelligences productively and, to the extent that the technology is interactive, the child will actually be able to show his or her understanding in a way that's comfortable to the child.

We have this myth that the only way to learn something is to read it in a textbook or hear a lecture on it. And the only way to show that we've understood something is to take a short-answer test or maybe occasionally with an essay question thrown in. But that's nonsense. Everything can be taught in more than one way. And anything that's understood can be shown in more than one way. I don't believe because there are eight intelligences we have to teach things eight ways. I think that's silly. But we always ought to be asking ourselves, "Are we reaching every child, and, if not, are there other ways in which we can do it?"

Back to Top

5. On the need for fundamental change in the curriculum.

I think that we teach way too many subjects and we cover way too much material and the end result is that students have a very superficial knowledge, as we often say, a mile wide and an inch deep. Then once they leave school, almost everything's been forgotten. And I think that school needs to change to have a few priorities and to really go into those priorities very deeply.

Let's take the area of science. I actually don't care if a child studies physics or biology or geology or astronomy before he goes to college. There's plenty of time to do that kind of detailed work. I think what's really important is to begin to learn to think scientifically. To understand what a hypothesis is. How to test it out and see whether it's working or not. If it's not working, how to revise your theory about things. That takes time. There's no way you can present that in a week or indeed even in a month. You have to learn about it from doing many different kinds of experiments, seeing when the results are like what you predicted, seeing when they're different, and so on.

But if you really focus on science in that kind of way by the time you go to college -- or, if you don't go to college, by the time you go to the workplace -- you'll know the difference between a statement that is simply a matter of opinion or prejudice and one for which there's solid evidence.

Back to Top

6. On how assessment in school differs from assessment in other arenas such as sports or music.

The most important thing about assessment is knowing what it is that you should be able to do. And the best way for me to think about it is a child learning a sport or a child learning an art form, because it is completely unmysterious what you have to be to be a quarterback or a figure skater or a violin player. You see it, you try it out, you're coached, you know when you're getting better, you know how you're doing compared to other kids.

In school, assessment is mystifying. Nobody knows what's going to be on the test, and when the test results go back, neither the teacher nor the student knows what to do. So what I favor is highlighting for kids from the day they walk into school the performances and exhibitions for which they're going to be accountable.

Back to Top

7. On the need for a new approach to assessment in schools.

Let's get real. Let's look at the kinds of things that we really value in the world. Let's be as explicit as we can. Let's provide feedback to kids from as early as possible and then let them internalize the feedback so they themselves can say what's going well, what's not going so well.

I'm a writer and initially I had to have a lot of feedback from editors, including a lot of rejections, but over time I learned what was important. I learned to edit myself and now the feedback from editors is much less necessary. And I think anybody as an adult knows that as you get to be more expert in things you don't have to do so much external critiquing, you can do what we call self-assessment. And in school, assessment shouldn't be something that's done to you, it should be something where you are the most active agent.

Back to Top

8. On what needs to happen in order that long-standing change occurs in public education.

I think for there to be long-standing change in American education that is widespread rather than just on the margins, first of all people have to see examples of places that are like their own places where the new kind of education really works, where students are learning deeply, where they can exhibit their knowledge publicly, and where everybody who looks at the kids says, "That's the kind of kids I want to have." So we need to have enough good examples.

Second of all, we need to have the individuals who are involved in education, primarily teachers and administrators, believe in this, really want to do it, and get the kind of help that they need in order to be able to switch, so to speak, from a teacher-centered, let's-stuff-it-into-the-kid's-mind kind of education to one where the preparation is behind the scenes and the child himself or herself is at the center of learning.

Third of all, I think we need to have assessment schemes that really convince everybody that this kind of education is working. And it's no good to have child-centered learning and then have the same, old multiple-choice tests that were used fifty or a one-hundred years ago.

Finally, I think there has to be a political commitment that says this is the kind of education that we want to have in our country, and maybe outside this country, for the foreseeable future. And as long as people are busy bashing teachers or saying that we can't try anything new because it might fail then reform will be stifled as it has been in the past.

Back to Top

Comments (47)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jamie Kociuba's picture
Jamie Kociuba
doctoral student

GC,
I agree with your thoughts regarding the need for supplementation when utilizing Multiple Intelligence instructional strategies. Initially, as you mentioned, there needs to be some form of direct instruction, the introduction or knowledge acquisition stage. These strategies work best when coupled with other strategies, such as the Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship model. Here you must have some kind of initial knowledge acquisition taking place. Following this stage, comes application and adaptation, where students adapt their knowledge through transforming it in a different context. The Verbal Linguistic intelligence can also be utilized for the introduction stages of a lesson. This calls for students to read or listen for information and learning.
Jamie

Barry Kort's picture
Barry Kort
Volunteer Science Educator at the Boston Museum of Science

I would like to see more use of creative storycraft in our educational system.

It's obvious that storycraft helps develop language arts. And it's fairly obvious that stories, which are populated with curious characters, provide a fluid medium for developing emotional intelligence (mainly with respect to illuminating interpersonal relationships among the cast of characters).

What may not be obvious is that there is also a mathematical component to storycraft, not unlike the mathematical components of Game Theory.

Stories obey a fascinating kind of StoryBook Logic with remarkably deep mathematical roots touching on fundamental aspects of Algebra and Calculus. There is even a fundamental theorem of StoryBook Logic known as Clancy's Theorem, which establishes the basis for the continuity of an unfolding storyline.

Thus it should be possible to promote Language Arts, Emotional Intelligence and Mathematical Reasoning Skills in an integrated module on Creative StoryCraft.

Character-driven stories can also be used to generate cartoon animations, using new sites like XtraNormal.Com and GoAnimate.Com.

Patricia Kokinos's picture
Patricia Kokinos
Author, speaker, former teacher/admin., school change activist

Hi, Jamie! Regarding your question, team approaches to experiential/hands-on/constructivist learning allow each student to serve a specific function in the group, according to their preferred modality, e.g. moderator, recorder, organizer, artist, constructor, etc. Or even to take on a less comfortable role to see how it works for them, etc. The best info I have found on really using the theory of learning styles is in a book written by a couple of friends of mine right here in Ventura, CA. Here's a link to their book: http://discoveryourchildslearningstyle.com and explore the website, too, since it provides a wealth of information on this concept:
http://learningsuccessinstitute.com/index.html I hope you are enjoying your doctoral work even though I'm sure right now you're thinking "so much to learn, so little time"! Good Luck!!

Jamie Kociuba's picture
Jamie Kociuba
doctoral student

Patricia, Wow this website offers so much support for parents, and even teachers with regards to changing the way we think about learning and helping our kids recognize their strengths as learners. I believe that this concept is what it is all about, helping students, both young and adult, recognize their style of learning so that they can become lifelong learners, enjoying the enchantment and wonder education can provide. I do believe that I shall order their book within the near future! It will serve it purpose in my classroom! I am always trying to find new ways to help my students love learning in their own way.
Thank you,
Jamie

"Professor" Paul O. Briones's picture
"Professor" Paul O. Briones
Host and Co-Creator of Virtual Science University

Thru my site, Virtual Science University, www.virtualscienceuniversity.com I have developed a model that is multi-input, kinesthetically driven, and internalized by the learner. This model uses a different approach to assessment. This model has helped students go very far versus just testing the person on a Multiple Choice Test, where all students do is memorize or associate information. During the lecture, they go thru Engage, Explore, Explain, and Elaborate behaviors in their multi-intellect groups. http://www.sendspace.com/file/95lypt After showing any of my Biology Lecture Series DVDs or on-line lecture, I ask my students to use my PHAT CAC format to access the following types of digital media like wikis, podcasts, NPR broadcasts, blogs, and other virtual sites on the subject that was lectured. PHAT CAC is another way of remembering the steps of the Scientific method. This way of remembering the steps of the Scientific Method are: P=Problem, H=Hypothesis, A=Arrange Equipment, T=Test the Hypothesis, C=Collect Data, A-Analyze Data, C=Form a Conclusion Now, after following their Lab Project or hearing their song on the subject or Power Point Presentation on the subject, I can evaluate their work. Many times I just walk around and let the student take ownership of their learning. All I do is facilitate or coach, the way you do in athletics or developing someone's musical ability. I can relate to this because I have been a Tennis Coach and a Concert Performer. Of course, I've done this in a small Texas Public School, Kermit High School, that turned around their Science TAKS Exit Scores. The last graduating class had an increase of 40% points from their Sophomore Year to their Exit year. To learn more about how I teach, visit my weekly blog at http://www.virtualscienceuniversity.com/blog.aspx and my lecture website at: www.virtualscienceuniversity.com I am not teaching at Kermit High School, but have stepped out to do Science Education Consulting across the nation.

GP's picture

IF you haven't already seen Evelyn Glennie, you can check out a video of her here (http://eteachers.info/categoryblog/307-evelyn-glennie-qclapping-musicq-....). In the argument of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner has indeed framed an incredible outline of how we think and how we learn. Unfortunately, most of public education is suffering from tunnel vision and sees experiences, as watching Evelyn Glennie, as a moment. But these are teachable moments that unlock music, kinesthesia, etc, and can be used as a vehicle to broaden the tunnel vision of the system.

"Professor" Paul O. Briones's picture
"Professor" Paul O. Briones
Host and Co-Creator of Virtual Science University

"But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths -- some people are good in thinking spatially, some in thinking language, others are very logical, other people need to be hands on and explore actively and try things out -- then education, which treats everybody the same way, is actually the most unfair education."

Using the above quote from Doctor Howard Gardner and using what we already know about the Multiple Intelligence Theory, gives fundamental reasons as to why the traditional methods of teaching science, (lecture, lab, review, test) don't work. I am not saying to stop lecturing, doing labs, and giving tests. I am talking about individually allowing the student to watch the lecture on his/her own time online, and then give him/her the opportunity to internalize the information in class and approach the information from the lecture from their intellectual strengths either spatially, musically, kinesthetically, logically, or linguistically. Allowing them to use these intellectual strengths produces awesome results! Here is another concern. As a teacher you cannot teach the Scientific Method which I now have given it a modern name, "THE PHAT CAC", in one week!!! In every lab that you conduct through the entire year, you have to lay out your experiment format in form of the PHAT CAC. P=Problem, H=Hypothesis, A=Arrange Equipment, T=Test the hypothesis, C=Collect the data, A=Analyze the data, C=Conclude your findings. If you roll out my PHAT CAC Song, which is a dance r & b, hip-hop song, the students will be singing it all year long as they conduct their experiments. If you want to see students really grow in science education, try this approach! You will never regret it! For more info, visit my www.virtualscienceuniversity.com and subscribe to lecture three: Environmental Stewardship and Scientific Analysis and also visit today's VSU Blog Posting: http://www.virtualscienceuniversity.com/blog.aspx?id=90fc83d3-e5b8-4447-...

T. Downs's picture

M.I. is garbage. It isn't a theory because there hasn't been any real hypothesis testing to add up to a theory. Teachers, for the love of God, stop labeling kids as Kinesthetic Learners simply because they can't sit still for dreadful school work. ALL humans are visually dominant. Notice the big eyes on the front of the face? All people learn through their senses and providing many varieties of input is key to understanding. Stop it! This is the equivalent of phrenology. Sounds like science, turns out it's just clap trap.

Man Cheung's picture

So the status quo is the way to go? Is the current education system working for most people? Check out the the crime rate. Check out the rate of illegal drug use. Check out the rate of bankruptcy and home loan foreclosures. Does this sound like a society where people are well educated? Able to make critical and rationally thought out decisions? Have mutual respect and care for their fellow human beings?

Fine, you have a problem with MI Theory, but you seem to be simply attacking MI theory without understanding much about it or coming up with an alternative for tackling some of the big issues in education which it is trying to address, that is: to make education more engaging for all students. Any system which aims to do that should be trialled, should be understood. MI theory is about helping kids find out what they are good at. You seem to want to go "back to the good old days" which is some kind of fantasy land of which nostalgics often dream about but never really existed. If you want to attack something stupids how about starting with SATs, now there is a pointless exercise which measures only an ability to recall or read tricky questions but cannot measure if someone is going to be a good student, a good leader or a creative and dynamic person who can help the world be a better place. That's what universities really want. It certainly can't predict who will be a good worker and that should be a cornerstone of education. At some point education needs to forward and evolve to help society grow into something better. If MI theory is not the answer, I would like to know, in your opinion, what is.

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