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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Redefining Smart: Multiple Intelligences

Edutopia reports on the resurgent relevance of Howard Gardner's ground-breaking theory, which changed the game for students and teachers.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
Credit: iStockphoto

Editor's Note (2013): There is no scientific evidence, as of yet, that shows that people have specific, fixed learning styles or discrete intelligences, nor that students benefit when teachers target instruction to a specific learning style or intelligence. However, providing students with multiple ways to learn content has been shown to improve student learning (Hattie, 2011). Read more about the research on multiple intelligences and learning styles.

In his landmark book Frames of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences, published in 1983, Harvard University education professor Howard Gardner unveiled a theory of multiple intelligences that famously rejected the traditional and long-held view that aptitude consists solely of the ability to reason and understand complex ideas.

Instead, he identified seven separate human capacities: musical, verbal, physical, interpersonal, visual, logical, and intrapersonal. And not all of them, including the category he added years later -- naturalistic -- could be easily evaluated by the standard measuring stick of the time: the IQ test.

Psychologists, unimpressed with Gardner's mold breaking, mostly looked the other way. Teachers, on the other hand, were electrified. The book supported what educators had known for a long time: Kids in their classrooms possess natural aptitudes for music, sports, emotional understanding -- strengths that cannot be identified in traditional tests. Gardner had given voice to their experience. Boston University education professor Scott Seider describes the reaction as a "grassroots uprising" of educators at all levels who embraced multiple intelligences (MI) theory "with a genuine passion."

In the articles that follow, we cast our light on places where the passion awakened by Gardner burns brightest today -- in schoolwide curricula, in the hearts and minds of individual teachers, in the continuing research on intelligences, and, as ever, in the evolving philosophy of Gardner himself. Like so many education reforms, the theory of multiple intelligences still is the subject of vociferous and ever-changing debate. Such is the bumpy path to change.

In keeping with our mission to illuminate what works in public education, we look at the specific ways MI enriches the experience of students and advances the goals of their teachers. Be sure to look for more of our MI coverage here on Edutopia.org, which includes a quick personal-assessment test that could help you discover a sense of your own native MI brilliance.

Comments (63)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

vicki's picture

How do you define smart? It's not because you know about something that somebody else doesn't. Does anybody know anything about everything? Somebody may know something about something you know nothing about but you know something about something else that they know nothing about. This doesn't make you smart, it just makes you knowledegable about a certain category. Knowing your type of intelligence allows you to find the resources, and know where your strengths are so that you can find your learning style.

Jeff's picture

The dictionary defines intelligence as "capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc."
So to answer your question, to measure smart is to measure one's ability to learn

Joann Travers's picture

The report in general indicates that individuals may have different aspects that influences their learning life style and impacts on it significantly . The areas that have be recognized that contributes to an individual improved development have been utilized by educators to promote extensive learning and achievement of goals in students. However, it can be thought of as controversial since other theory has identified that in various learning style test that one in particular almost always takes precedence over all. Overall, they have their merit and conclusions are debatable; allowing for further research to be explored.

Tony Reed's picture

I too am on assignment learned shall I say confirmed a few things about myself that will benefit me in the near future . I am musical, linguistic and bodily-kinesthetic. With that in mind I should be better at my approach to learning.

Tom Dolenz's picture
Tom Dolenz
adjunct instructor

I have been aware of multiple intelligences and do believe that certain people have a tendency to be stronger in an area.

Nancy S. Lane-Lefgren's picture

I have recently returned to college a the age 62 and I must say I am benefiting from the experience a lot more than I did the first time around at 18.

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