• Tom Garside

A Multiple Intelligences approach to teaching.

Moving forward a little from Bloom’s taxonomy and related theories of learning (which we

looked at in our last blog), this time around we’re going to look back to 1983, and another seminal educational psychologist's pedagogical theory.

Howard Gardner was something of a left-field thinker who took a long hard look at public schools in the US and Canada, and noticed something which may ring true to you today. He researched the types of learning activity which were prioritised, which types of knowledge were held up as ‘academically prestigious’, and (as a result), what kinds of learning activity were prioritised by teachers in their classes.

He found that ‘successful students’, or students who scored highest in standardised testing systems at mainstream schools, tended to exhibit a very narrow range of thinking skills and ways of learning. In a nutshell, if a student could relate to logic and mathematical tasks well, and spend their time studying quietly and independently, without getting restless in class, he was branded as ‘intelligent’, and was most likely to succeed academically, and progress through the educational institution successfully, to college, university and onwards.

However, by contrast, students who were typically talkative, restless, perhaps good at art or sports, and who could not spend extended periods studying quietly, were labeled as ‘troublesome’ or ‘not intelligent’. In addition, these students typically had a hard time at school - they felt rules were restrictive and they didn’t fit in to the academic norms of the institution. Judging this student by the same criteria as the perceived 'intelligent' learner is like Einstein's famous allegory of judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree (Einstein being a well-known failure at school despite having the logical-mathematical tools for success in that environment...)

Anyone who has spent time in a high-school classroom will recognise these profiles of students, and the labels which they are given, perhaps unconsciously, by teachers and students alike. Gardner’s question was: is this fair? People come in many shapes and sizes, both physically and psychologically, so why should such a narrow profile of student be almost predestined for academic success due to the nature of the teaching and learning activity which goes on at school?

This prompted Gardner to propose a different model of learning, which takes into account the full spectrum of different ‘intelligences’. Everyone, he suggested, has a range of strengths and motivations, preferences and abilities when learning, which fall roughly into 8 categories (though Gardner himself admitted that his model was too restrictive and that there were probably more than he first identified). The eight categories that he initially identified were:

  • Verbal / linguistic intelligence (‘word smarts’)

  • Logical / mathematical intelligence (‘number smarts’)

  • Visual / spatial intelligence (‘visual smarts’)

  • Bodily / kinaesthetic intelligence (‘body smarts’)

  • Musical / rhythmic intelligence (‘music smarts’)

  • Interpersonal intelligence (‘people smarts’)

  • Intrapersonal intelligence(‘self-smarts’)

  • Naturalist intelligence (‘Nature smarts’)

Think for a moment about the types of ‘smart’ which are valued in the education system of the country where you are right now, reading this. What proportion of the eight intelligences represent ‘intelligence’ in mainstream schooling where you are?

The likelihood is that students who have verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical (and possibly interpersonal) intelligences are identified as ‘intelligent’, do well on standardised tests, and have a bright academic future.

So what about everyone else? Typically, in Gardner’s day as well as now, the other types of intelligence may be nice to see in students, but do not inform the approaches, methodology or assessment frameworks used in the school system. Gardner’s theory of learning relies on the application of these intelligences in designing course and class content which can stimulate all intelligence types, thus reaching a wider range of students than the traditional book and memory learning which is typically used even today.

In our next blog, we will look at some techniques to incorporate Multiple Intelligences theory into your teaching, to connect with the widest range of students possible in your classes.

Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.

If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher development courses, contact us or see our course dates and fees for details.