George Lucas Educational Foundation

Multiple Intelligences and Rival Theories

Multiple Intelligences and Rival Theories

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We recently had a teacher write in on Facebook requesting resources about Gardner's multiple intelligences theory and the rival theories surrounding it. I came across this page: from ASCD that offers arguments and counterarguments in regards to the multiple intelligences theory.

Do you find Gardner's theory applicable to your students or your children? In my own experience, I have seen many students demonstrate different strengths throughout a variety of low-order and high-order thinking strategies. If not, is there another intelligence theory that you have found to be more representative in the classroom?

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Jaime McGrath's picture

Gardner's theory is somewhat accurate, but far too simplistic, like using IQ to rank and label children by intelligence. I'm reading Scott Kaufman's book Ungifted right now, and the truly scientific exploration of intelligence he undergoes makes Gardner read like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

I'm not a big fan of Gardner's multiple intelligences theory. I know, however, that there are many educators who do find it compelling.This is a link that provides info on MI:
I'm a constructivist and truly believe that learners construct knowledge for themselves. I'm not an expert, but just find the idea of MI to be too complicated for my liking. Just my 2cents!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I agree that MI is simplistic but for some teachers it provides a door into the idea that not all leathers are the same as they ( the teachers) are. Teachers were typically "typical" students and they're often surprised to find that most students simply aren't.

Gardner is a good first step, but the wise educator doesn't stop there. (In his defense, however, I think a lot of the ideas attributed to him are oversimplification a of his theories.)

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think whether you are thinking about learners from a multiple intelligences point of view, or a personalized instruction point of view, it all comes down to learners (of all ages, including teachers and administrators) understanding their own learning style and preferences.
For example, one of my sons had an expressive language issue. His ideas flow faster than he can type them, and he loses a lot of syntax and clarity in the rush to get everything down on paper. This has meant he needs to spend lots more time on editing and refining to get his work to reflect the complexity of the ideas in his head. When he writes in formats like poetry, amazing things come out that just gets lost in the 5 paragraph essay.
That said, it also means that using tools like audio note to record a lecture while he takes outline notes works better for him than trying to take a more standard, dictation style form of note taking in class, where so much cognitive effort in his case would be taken up by the writing he would lose the train of thought and the material the teacher is covering in class. By understanding how he learns best, and compensating accordingly, he has done well in high school and is a freshman in college this year- so far, so good.
Now that we are discovering things like genes for developmental dyslexia, (, I think we have to begin to understand that learning styles and preferences may be reflective of both genetics, epigenetics, and environment during development, and begin to reflect that very real possibility that not everyone requires academic skills, like reading and writing, in the exact same manner. This will mean taking a more flexible and differentiated/personalized approach to teaching as well, regardless of what theory or name we lump it under.

Angelteach's picture
First Grade Teacher

I would have to agree with Whitney. I just wrote an entire paper for grad school on differentiating instruction for children. I have been teaching eleven years, but want to improve how I differentiate to meet my students needs more accurately. In my district we are starting SGO's (Student Growth Objectives) for each tier of students. In order to meet these objectives, students must be taught at their level and build on the foundation they already have using a learning style that best suits them. Once you have pre-assessed a student, learned their learning style, and know what interests them, you can teach them with a personalized effective approach. From my teaching experience, I believe all students learn differently, and have different learning styles. Using Bloom's Taxonomy through content based activities is another way to meet students needs. Giving them a choice of what activity they want to do will work. I feel it is also important to be flexible and reflective. Without reflection and flexibility, we would not know what our students need, or how effective our teaching is. Using MI might be useful for some students but not for everyone. In education, I feel that you have to dabble in a little of everything and then use what works best for you.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

"In education, I feel that you have to dabble in a little of everything and then use what works best for you."

Great quote, Angelteach.

KMSG's picture
fourth grade teacher from New Jersey

Well said, Angelteach. You made many excellent points, one being that differentiation is key. One size does not fit all.

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