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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.

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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

Rowland Gaal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our 'tricks' as educators, and I'm including all parents here, are to provide experiences and environments that necessitate the willing and purposeful engagement of the student. We learn and grow when we have a reason. Our class rooms usually at best try to 'contrive' such an environment, but often use the one-shoe-fits-all approach which more likely than not will neglect too many of Howard Garnder's identified multiple intelligences. So our task is to create an education system that is not separate from our daily lives but a part of all parts of our daily lives, as we often purport when our goal is to create life-long-learners. If we were to take an instantaneous cross-sectional snap shot of what is going on in our surroundings, the potential motivational and demanding experiences spotlighted, would shed light on a plethora of situations to engage and motivate any student. Up until the recent advent of public education, most education was accomplished by mentoring and simply observing and often experimenting with real-time real life experiences. Obviously, not all of those experiences were appropriate for each individual who had the experience, as the 'intelligences' the experiencer possessed were not necessarily appropriate for dealing with that experience nor were the sequences of exposure to those problems optimal. But, today we may have the luxury of better providing for that set of experiences most appropriate for the individual. We can't and shouldn't return to that older paradigm, but what can we incorporate from that older paradigm? What parts of education are best provided between the four walls of a classroom, within some organized school facility, and what parts are best obtained and realized in the world beyond our current idea of the classroom. Individually perceived importance of a need is the motivator to power the individual in the pursuit of the need. As parents and teachers we need to draw our children into a real world where he/she perceives themselves as an active and accountable participant thus providing the motivation and need to learn. As a middle school science, and journalism teacher of 40 years, I've attempted to incorporate this philosophy into my teaching and the rearing of my own children. Notice I said attempted, because as a child and person growing up in our existing society, these ideas were only partially modeled for me. It has been an evolutionary process to be able to make this thesis statement. I hope such a statement will come more easily and earlier in life for individuals of the future generations.

Catherine Mitchell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Re: #5 Yes! Yes! Yes! But how does one standardize testing for the bureaucrats who fund the schools?

We are still operating on testing how many facts can be crammed into a student's head in a time when memorizing facts is no longer necessary. Facts can be found when needed almost instantly. With modern technology, a student who follows a particular interest down the rabbit hole can do so much deeper than a standard text allows. However currently, a lot of time must be dedicated to memorizing facts that will never be needed or recalled in their adult life.

What means of measurable accountability will translate to something that is not only useful for students, but understandable to non-educators?

Mary Anne Rood's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The concept of Multiple Intelligences had been a great help to me as and educatior, tutor and coach. I work in a secondary program and students in this evironment, especailly, those who are identified as having learning problems. These students have often never considered the idea that they, personally, have ANY intelligence. They regard themselves as non contenders in the academic arena and all to often are self labelled as, "slow or not smart". I have found that using Multiple Intelligence categories gives these students the opportunity to identify strengths and figure out ways in which they can process and learn material present in their classes. They can say, "I have this style or ability."I and my students thank your for a powerful, positive tool.

Omaha Hi lo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences makes people think about "IQ," about being "smart." The theory is changing the way some teachers teach.
When Howard Gardner's book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1983) burst on the scene, it seemed to answer many questions for experienced teachers. We all had students who didn't fit the mold; we knew the students were bright, but they didn't excel on tests. Gardner's claim that there are several different kinds of intelligence gave us and others involved with teaching and learning a way of beginning to understand those students. We would look at what they could do well, instead of what they could not do.

Marissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm really concerned about Multiple Intelligences Theory.
I started teaching English as a private teacher when I was only 14 years old -it was in 1981 and I'm still doing it-, and without having any knowledge at all about techniques, approaches, methodology, and so on, I felt there was something else apart from "being very good at English", I noticed one could "be very good" at Maths, at Music, at Geography... and it all helped a lot -to learn English- Then it was when I started to convince my students that they were very "intelligent" musically speaking, or they were "intelligently" learning a new languge with the help of Geography...
As you can see, I never used the technical terms to work with your theory, but it was because not until I went to university to get my degree of English teacher -only 4 years ago- did I learn about the existence of a theory called "The Multiple Intellingences Theory" As you can imagine, I feel it a bit like part of mine... CONGRATULATIONS AND GO ON WORKING ON IT!!

Fathima Shukra Mohamed's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I was in highschool, it was madatory for everone to take history..so I took hisotry and I got a B in the class...but I can't say that I remeber anything that I supposedly had to have learned! For me, the courses that I got most out of were the courses that made me think and ask questions about the society we lived in. I didn't always get the answers, but it made me more aware of my surroundings, and thus allowed me to make informed decisions..
In terms of what Mr.Garder says about tests that students do, I feel that they are not inclusive of students who learn differently. I strongly believe that we need to find other ways of evaluating and assessing students.

Becca Briggs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that students are made to learn too many subjects in high school. The kids need to know certain processes and concepts but the empty facts that are being thrown at students are far too overwelming for the average (and below average) students. How much of this information is actually retained when the student is expected to memorize facts for a test? Mr. Gardner discusses how it may take weeks or months for a student to fully understand making a hypothesis. Also, the student is much more likely to retain knowledge from doing a reseach paper or a project. This is why so many people fail on the gameshow "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" The questions asked are often items they probably quick memorized 20 years ago for a test. Information is not retained by most students unless the teacher gives the student a reason to actually learn the information (by doing something hands on like projects or research papers).

Lisa Madore's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the way Mr. Gardener explained the differences between internalizing what we learn and merely memorizing information to pass a test. I like the papers we are required to write rather than the worksheets or quizzes over materials. Writing a paper requires a deeper thought process and understanding of the materials taught and makes us think about it more than we would if we were just searching for the answers in order to "fill in the blanks."

Amuzegar's picture

I just want to tell Howard Gardner:
Special thanks from Iranian Student & teachers

Alex Chang's picture

I'm a music teacher and also a Director of Academic Affairs Office from Taiwan.Our School named "National Nanke International Experimental High School" which is located in Science Park at Southern Taiwan.We are going to start an experimental curriculum by using the theory of MI. I hope to learn more from Dr.Gardner. But I have a question that why the Skill of Creativity is not a kind of Multiple Intelligence? Thank you.

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