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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
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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, which includes a quick personal-assessment test that could help you discover a sense of your own native MI brilliance.

Comments (67)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Fati's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a teacher I want to know how can I find out the MIs of my students? Is there a specific test for the kids? If I know exactly, it would help me prepare lessons accordingly.


alamir9's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Iam Mohammed.ASudanese English language teachet.Now iam doing a phd in MI and vocabulary learning strategies.iam interested in discussion and idea sharing .These days iam still collercting resources and references .LOOKING FORWARD TO HEAR YOU.

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a middle school teacher that teaches Social Studies, Literature, and Mathematics. I have found the multiple intelligences to be very interesting to learn about, and I give my students a multiple intelligence survey at the beginning of the year to learn more about the way that they learn. With this tool, I then can accommodate each child by preparing different activities for different units with the multiple intelligences of the classroom. Then within the classroom lessons, we learn that everyone learns differently, and we have to be considerate of the way each other works. However, I would be interested to hear ideas about how multiple intelligences might help students work in a group setting because it is difficult to get my middle school students to work with a small group.

BOB's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

this is so stupid!!!!!!!!

Noreen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a graduate student at Walden University in Integrating Technology program. When I first read about Gardner's MI seven years ago I was so impressed. As I progressed in the field of education I realized how true it is. But at the same time I wonder that with this breaking through theory and so much said and discussed about it, why the schools havent yet implemented it. The first things to go off from the school if the budget doesnt pass is Phys Ed and Arts and Music. Aren't we being unfair to millions of students who can but only excel in these areas since these are there natural intelligences. I wish that teachers are taught more about how to develop strategies to integarte MI in the lesson plans.

Jeni G.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find it interesting that, despite what research and basic common sense tells us about educating children, we continue to abandon our "gut" and continue to present students with difficult and time consuming standardized tests on an annual (sometimes much more than annual) basis. When considering the idea that MI can help students learn material in a meaningful way, why then, would we not consider testing students on a level playing field? I know many educators try desperately to reach students in any way possible just so the learning taking place is meaningful and memorable; perhaps at times we could even win prize money on one of the hidden camera shows with the extreme antics we use to help children learn. Why then, when discussing NCLB and standardized testing, is nothing being said about the importance of assessing students based on their learning styles and MI? When something as serious as money and whether or not a school/district is labeled SINA or DINA (or any other acronym) is tied to a test that is unfair and only provides specific feedback for one "type" of student, we all have a duty to speak up and say, "This is not fair! You are comparing apples, to oranges, grapefruits, watermelons, strawberries, pineapples, kiwi, and bananas!" It's time we look at MI and not only teach to these strengths, but also assess students based on these if we really want an equal chance for all students.

Jeni G.
1st Grade
Walden University Graduate Student

Jim Pangborn's picture
Jim Pangborn
college English teacher: end-user of the k-12 system!

I would caution those who want to tailor their lessons to individual students' MI leanings. Too many kids are taught that they are one sort of learner or another, and this serves as an excuse to not develop other aspects of their minds. This goes cleanly against Gardner's own intentions! Those who want to use MI in their teaching should work to encourage all students to develop all their intelligences.

Darlene Pope's picture
Darlene Pope
8th Grade Social Studies teacher & Dept. Chair, AVID Coordinator

I teach middle school in a ethnically and economically diverse environment which makes differentiation an essential component of any lesson I plan. MI theory allows me to do this in a way that empowers my students to think about how they learn best and choose products that integrate those strengths. At the same time it allows me to design lessons that allow them to grow in their less strong areas. As a result I can both challenge and support every student in my classrooms and increase the likliehood of long term learning.

Every one of my students take several MI tests throughout the year. This helps them understand the plasticity of their brains and once again empowers them to stretch and discover more of themselves.

Darlene Pope's picture
Darlene Pope
8th Grade Social Studies teacher & Dept. Chair, AVID Coordinator

Tim, I agree with your statement. Indeed we have our greatest capacity to learn in our weaker areas. I find this an amazing concept for a lifelong learner.

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