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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 (66)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Shunta's picture

I learn that I'm smarter than I thought I was, however this is a learning experience, and I'm ready to get my life on the roll!

jackie's picture
im on assignment for my teacher

i have learned that i am more luinguistic than any thing

Mr. William Norris-Regan's picture
Mr. William Norris-Regan
Parent of two in the central vally of CA.

MI is a subjective fortune cookie/Zodiac as effective as any motivational placebo can be and should be reviled for the con it is. Public funds wasted on this should be subject to civil and criminal prosecution.
Citations backing this...
"To date there have been no published studies that offer evidence of the validity of the multiple intelligences. In 1994 Sternberg reported finding no empirical studies. In 2000 Allix reported finding no empirical validating studies, and at that time Gardner and Connell conceded that there was "little hard evidence for MI theory"
(2000, p. 292).

In 2004 Sternberg and Grigerenko stated that there were no validating studies for multiple intelligences, and in 2004 Gardner asserted that he would be "delighted were such evidence to accrue" (p. 214), and he admitted that "MI theory has few enthusiasts among psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological background" because they require "psychometric or experimental evidence that allows one to prove the existence of the several intelligences" (2004, p. 214)." (Waterhouse, 2006a, p. 208).

Mr. William Norris-Regan's picture
Mr. William Norris-Regan
Parent of two in the central vally of CA.

It is a motivational placebo. With all the hype of Dianetics, except it is being insidiously injected into our public interests by misguided educators. Misappropriation of public funds may not so far off if this keeps going.

Lisa's picture

I have learn that I can put anything to music! Music can help me do anything to the tune of professional!

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

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