Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University, developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) in 1983. The theory challenged traditional beliefs in the fields of education and cognitive science. Unlike the established understanding of intelligence — people are born with a uniform cognitive capacity that can be easily measured by short-answer tests — MI reconsiders our educational practice of the last century and provides an alternative.
According to Howard Gardner, human beings have nine different kinds of intelligence that reflect different ways of interacting with the world. Each person has a unique combination, or profile. Although we each have all nine intelligences, no two individuals have them in the same exact configuration — similar to our fingerprints. To read about the benefits of MI and for tips on implementing MI in your classroom, visit the Tips section. For additional MI resources, visit the Resources section.
For Gardner, intelligence is:
• the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture;
• a set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life;
• the potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.
HOWARD GARDNER’S NINE MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES:
1. Linguistic Intelligence: the capacity to use language to express what’s on your mind and to understand other people. Any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or other person for whom language is an important stock in trade has great linguistic intelligence.
2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or to manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.
3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence: the capacity to think in music; to be able to hear patterns, recognize them, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have strong musical intelligence don’t just remember music easily, they can’t get it out of their minds, it’s so omnipresent.
4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body (your hands, your fingers, your arms) to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of production. The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dancing or acting.
5. Spatial Intelligence: the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind — the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.
6. Naturalist Intelligence: the ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef.
7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: having an understanding of yourself; knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves. They tend to know what they can and can’t do, and to know where to go if they need help.
8. Interpersonal Intelligence: the ability to understand other people. It’s an ability we all need, but is especially important for teachers, clinicians, salespersons, or politicians — anybody who deals with other people.
9. Existential Intelligence: the ability and proclivity to pose (and ponder) questions about life, death, and ultimate realities.
There are multiple benefits to employing MI in your classroom. The Multiple Intelligence classroom acts like the “real” world in that, for example, the author and the illustrator of a book or the actor and the set builder in a play are equally valuable creators. Students become more active, involved learners. You and they may also come to regard intellectual ability more broadly. Drawing a picture, composing or listening to music, watching a performance — these activities can be vital to learning, as important as writing and mathematics. Learn about additional benefits of using an MI approach at the Concept to Classroom online workshop on Multiple Intelligences.
An MI curriculum is designed to teach content by taking into account all nine intelligences described in the Overview section. A child may wish to express his or her knowledge of that content in one of many different ways (i.e., puppetry, model making, classroom demonstrations, songs, plays, etc.). Learning through a variety of unique experiences allows children to better understand themselves as lifelong learners, and to see how others acquire knowledge and apply their skills. The key to implementing MI successfully is to design your classroom and the particular lesson so that students are able to participate in learning and understand the material in a variety of ways. Keep the following in mind:
1. Teaching with MI often necessitates that students work together in groups and/or on projects that employ many materials. Be sure that you adapt your classroom space as best you can to the parameters of the lesson. For example, if the lesson plan asks students to work with computers and you do not have enough in your classroom, try to schedule time in the computer lab in advance. If the lesson plan involves drawing or acting, be sure to arrange your classroom so that there is sufficient space and materials.
2. Be prepared not only to encourage collaboration and “thinking outside the box,” but also to maintain some control by setting specific boundaries for students. For example, if the assignment calls for the students to work together to develop a presentation, be sure to define exactly how they should work together (perhaps by encouraging them to assign different roles within the group) and what to do if they have trouble cooperating.
3. One “answer” or outcome is not the only acceptable measure of a child’s understanding. For example, if your objective is for students to understand the literary elements of a story or novel (e.g., rising action, conflict, climax, etc.), different learners might grasp the concept in different ways. One student might illustrate them through drawing, another might be able to re-create the elements through acting, and yet another might better be able to summarize them in writing.
4. Students need to have a clear understanding of how their work will be evaluated. Be sure to lay out the exact objectives and expectations of your lesson before beginning. Because MI allows for many different means of learning and expression, children need to understand that there may be many different forms of evaluation and that one style of work is not necessarily more demanding or time consuming than another. For example, if a project gives participants a choice between writing and illustrating, the outcomes will obviously be very different, but they may be given the same grade for meeting the same objective.
Allen, David, ed. ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING: FROM GRADING TO UNDERSTANDING. Foreword by Howard Gardner. New York: Teachers College Press, 1998.
Leading educators advocate new assessment methods that shift the focus from raw test scores to authentic student work. Suggestions for strategies and activities, such as visual work, portfolios, etc., to implement collaborative and reflective examination are provided for elementary through high school levels.
Campbell, Linda, Bruce Campbell, and Dee Dickinson. TEACHING AND LEARNING THROUGH MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES. Needham Heights,MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1996.
This book presents an extensive review of Howard Gardner’s MI theory, along with effective MI strategies that emphasize team teaching, student strengths, curriculum, and assessment. In addition, pedagogical implications, community interaction, and classroom diversity are also discussed.
Gardner, Howard. INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED: MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. New York: Basic Books, 1999.
In his newest publication, Gardner reports on the evolution and revisions of the theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Weber, Ellen. ROUNDTABLE LEARNING: BUILDING UNDERSTANDING THROUGH ENHANCED M.I. STRATEGIES. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press, 1997.
This book presents ways to implement MITA (Multiple Intelligence Teaching Approach) at all classroom levels, but with emphasis on grades 6 and above. It integrates constructivist theories developed by Vigotsky and Gardner into the curriculum design.
Weber, Ellen. STUDENT ASSESSMENT THAT WORKS: A PRACTICAL APPROACH. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1999.
Designed for teachers and parents, this book provides hands-on resource material and tools to implement MI across various disciplines and subjects. It also presents “how-to” activities such as asking probing questions, creating rubrics for alternative and performance-based authentic assessments, and other educational applications of MI.
Gardner, Howard, and Hirsch Jr., E.D. “Two Views on How to Get Johnny to Read and Think.” NEW YORK TIMES, September 11, 1999.
Howard Gardner and E. D. Hirsch share their thoughts on the state of education today.
The Library of Congress: American Memory
The library’s more than 50 extensive multimedia collections are available to students for study and use.
Concept to Classroom: Tapping Into Multiple Intelligences
Part of Thirteen Ed Online’s series of free, self-paced teacher workshops, “Tapping Into Multiple Intelligences” offers useful background information, examples, tips, and strategies related to integrating MI into classroom practice.
Harvard Project Zero
This site provides information about Project Zero, an educational research group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, led by Howard Gardner and his colleagues. Project Zero seeks to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.
ThomasArmstrong.com: Multiple Intelligences
This page provides general background information about the theory of Multiple Intelligences and practical strategies for using the theory in learning and teaching.
M.I. Smart: Multiple Intelligences: Additional Online Resources
Jane Carlson-Pickering’s page lists MI links, articles, Web sites, and books.
MITA (Multiple Intelligence Teaching Approach) Center
This site presents Ellen Weber’s MITA for school reform for high school as well as higher education, including a lesson bank and assessment tasks.
THE AMERICAN PROSPECT: “Multimedia and Multiple Intelligences” (Volume 7, Issue 29, November 1-December 1, 1996)
In this article, Shirley Veenema and Howard Gardner examine one particular example of interactive media, a CD-ROM about a Civil War battle, and how it takes advantage of the more complex view of intelligence that has emerged in recent decades.