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

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Chris  Anderson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Chris Anderson. I'm an elementary school teacher in the Woodburn School District in Woodburn, OR.
I found after taking the quiz (twice in an hour) and comparing my scores, that it might be useful to take the quiz twice (at least), to allow for differences of self-perception and interpretation that arise from differences of time, mood, energy etc. Then you can average your scores for each of the intelligences across the quizzes, and come up with what would probably be a more accurate assessment of your relative cognitive strengths. I had variations of 0% to 13% in the different intelligences in the two quizzes I took.
In fact, it might be interesting to re-quiz yourself every year to see how you did or didn't change over time in terms of cognitive aptitudes and skills. And if you were to do that, what the heck, maybe even try to strengthen an aptitude in which you haven't demonstrated much, shall we say, aptitude?
Self Intelligence Improvement, as it were.

Pat Montanaro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I gave my students a timed test, 60 - 100 multiplication facts. Then I gave them an addition timed test, 60 -100 addition facts. They had the hardest time doing the addition, because their brains were still processing multiplication. As a class, we laughed. It was hilarious. But, it illustrated an important issue with the brain. I think the brain was like a computer, they new the timed test was coming so it was allmost preprogramed. When I gave them the addition test, their brain was still programed to do multiplication.

alsesha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with him, that most people who are gifted excel in more than one of his dimensions of intelligence. The human brain is a restless organ and, if encouraged, a creative child will voraciously explore and combine different kinds of thinking. There are examples, such as Mozart, of astonishing highly-specified talents but I think these are not the norm. Ultimately, it is the ability to think metaphorically and see relationships and structures that allows us to create important work in any discipline, even though we might be attracted to particular avenues of expression.

Craig Gassen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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.

jacqueline fountain's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an artist as well and it's difficult for me sometimes to get others to understand what I need them to know. Say for instance, someone gives me info. verbally and days later, they wonder why I haven't replied. If I don't see information or details written on paper, napkin or whathave, I can not retain the information. I tried and tried again, but please; please write it down.

Jennifer Quincer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently a special education teacher for children with moderate to severe disabilities and I have found that utilizing multiple intelligences in planning even the very 'bite size' of tasks improves student's abilities to express their understanding of the topic later...and by later I don't simply mean an hour later...I've tested this days later, which for my kids is a huge challenge, and they were able to tell me what we had previously learned. My students generally utilize multiple ways of communicating already, so learning a single topic in multiple ways just seemed to fit. The only problem I've had is in the assessment stage, where I think the kids see the test and it looks somewhat foreign to them because it is not as engaging as the lessons. Same thing with the CAPA, the real display of their knowledge comes out through their projects and activities...not when they are sitting in a silent room in front of a black and white cue card.

Jolaine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have'nt taken the test, in fact I just started reading your web page, due to my fascination on emotion & social - via iTunes. I've got to say this is the best, most terriffic, teachings that could happen, and or be goings on in schools right now! I LOVE IT. The reality of it is so rawly true, I think that is why some may turn head at it, they're scared.What is even more scary is to continue on as it has been, and ignore the shootings, violence towards teachers, and fellow students, for a number of thier own reasons; oh yes let's don't forget all the young suicides and parent killing babies. Which in my opinion began when we as parents had our choices of punnishments taken away,and war before our lord,we must cater to our forigners befor our own beliefs in freedom, and pledges,patrinnizeing the important issues as Americans that we were first taught,sort of things first began. Also please don't get me wrong, as I am not predudice, as an adult.I also was raised in northern & central CA; and I was made to fight, in order to survive,and not 1 on 1,if it aws only that simple, I could and would of became better educated. The kids now-a-days' have even more pressure than that now. So yes Mr. Gardner & assosciates, I also whole heartedly believe in your theories 100%, I am embarrased that I can not contribute, besides word of mouth. GOD Blessed us all. "Sincerly a fan,Jolaine.S." THANK YOU.

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