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

Nancy Jacobs's picture
Nancy Jacobs
ELL teacher for grades 7-12 at Norfolk, NE.

[quote]As an artist I have often been frustrated with the over reliance our society has on its one mode of learning. As an art teacher I am often surprised to hear other teachers lament that they "cannot draw a straight line." If I were to declare to them that I cannot write a complete sentence, or read a book, I would be looked at as if I was crazy. I think everyone should be able to express themselves visually in a way similar to our ingrained views of literacy. Everyone should be able, for instance to draw a realistic picture of themselves while looking in a mirror. This is a basic art skill, to represent what you see and feel on paper with a pencil. But then again I could no more create a competent piece of music without first spending a year leaning music. We have a very long way to go before society is willing to embrace the kind of intellectual diversity teachers see every day as represented by Gardner's MI.[/quote]

Craig, I agree with you. My strengths have always been interpersonal and verbal. I make my living translating and interpreting and teaching Spanish and English.

But, art stopped after grade school. On Edutopia's quiz I had a ZERO on visual/spatial. Maybe I should know basic art skills and logic problems and geometry, etc. But I don't see how it would have helped me exactly. I'd be miserable learning those things and would rather read a book. I also hated PE.

Jolene Gray's picture

I took the test three times to compare my results, and was surprised how accurate the results were. I have recently started college and this assesment was one of our class assignments. I will be using the suggested learning techniques through out the course to enhance my learning experience.

rebekah's picture
middle school

i to took the quiz i found it very interesting and will use these tools to further my education

Stacie's picture

[quote]You now have my permission to apply these two insights to whatever grade with which you are involved.[/quote]

I will be starting my PhD in August 2011, but am already planning for my dissertation and related research. Your post has given me another interesting perspective to consider. Thank you, Don Hagelberg!

Natasha's picture

I enjoy this website it teaches me alot about myself as far as my learning abilities and studying habits go.

Le'roy James (THE FIRECRACKER)'s picture

After careful analises of the questions and answers that I've given. I was amazed at the accuracy of the quize. I always try to improve myself so that I can be a better serve those that use my srevices. At this point I am thrilled to be taken this course.

Sacha Luria's picture
Sacha Luria
Teacher and mother of three children

I think this is best summarized by Sharon Elementary School's "How are you smart?" instead of the more often-heard "How smart are you?". It delivers a pretty solid, highly encouraging message out there to the kids that they do not have to be limited by traditional pencil-and-paper fare in order to become the best that they can be.

I hope that other schools will adapt this practice very soon. The MI approach is brimming with so many exciting possibilities for us teachers and our students!


jacobs mantha's picture

This is a really nice post. I have been looking for details on this subject for some time now. I was beginning to lose any hope that I will find what I need. And then I find your awesome post. What can I say, I am a lucky fellow. Thanks a lot for taking the time to make this for us and giving us the opportunity to read it.Too bad Google doesn't show great content like yours first. It keeps showing old posts that don't have good information in them. Anyway, thanks a lot for doing this and keep up the good work. I will return here once I am done with this.

cell phone listening

Antonio B. Jenkins's picture
Antonio B. Jenkins
Middle grades Science and Social Studies teacher

I am starting a new curriculum this school year to development authentic creative learning in the classroom to improve student achievement for at-risk youth.

Ismael Mendez's picture

this was very true and actualy found my learning style and hope to do an other survey like this.

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