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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.

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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.

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