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The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice

Different Kinds of Smart: Multiple Intelligences

This program delves into Harvard University professor Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, describing how people have learning skills that differ in significant ways. Featured are teachers who share a class of five- through eight-year-olds, including several mainstreamed special needs students, and a ninth- and 10th-grade social studies teacher, with expert commentary from Howard Gardner.

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Linda Darling-Hammond: One child plays the violin and we call it a talent.  Another fixes things and we call him handy.  Another talks with most of his classmates, and sometimes we call that a distraction.  When we categorize abilities this way, we may be losing important teaching and learning opportunities just because our definition of intelligence is too narrow.  How can we improve all of our students’ academic performance by taking best advantage of their different ways of being smart? That’s the challenge of this episode.


Hello, I’m Linda Darling-Hammond and welcome to The Learning Classroom.


Many of us grew up in a time when we could earn the label of being smart by winning a spelling bee or acing the math quiz.


We knew there was more to being successful in the world, but that’s what was measured in school and so that’s how we earned the label of intelligent.


Then, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner published a book that challenged this view of intelligence and gave us a vocabulary to describe what most of us understood implicitly — that there are indeed many ways to be smart.


Howard Gardner, Ph.D., Harvard University: My claim is that rather there being a single thing called intelligence, which we have more or less of, so it’s called IQ view, that it makes more sense scientifically as well as educationally to think of people as having a number of different intelligences. Which are rather separate from one another. And each of these have evolved, just like we’ve evolved eyes, ears, and hearts, and kidneys, and so on, we’ve evolved a number of different intelligences. And I have a set of criteria which allow me to identify which candidate abilities are or are not intelligences.


Linda Darling-Hammond: Gardner identified eight independent categories of intelligence.


These are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. When teachers apply this theory to the classroom, it changes the way they view their students and the way they teach. In our first case, Rebecca Young and Georganne Urso-Flores team teach a combined first and second grade class.


Several years ago as part of a school wide reform, these teachers and their colleagues applied multiple intelligence theory throughout their curriculum. As students engage the content in a variety of ways, the school’s achievement on  state assessments has improved each year, from 57% of students meeting the third grade benchmarks in 1999 to 82% in 2002. When we visited, students were exploring the world of plants. As you watch these two teachers, consider how you might approach the subjects and the students you teach, while using many of their intelligences as pathways into the content. You may also consider alternatives for this lesson. What other approaches could you try?


(classroom scene)
I’m so glad that you are listening, okay Ken, when I give you the signal I’d like you to stand up and make a circle so that we can sing, um the green grass.
 ah! Ooh! Yeah!
Rebecca: Wait, I think…


Rebecca Young: We teach a lesson to this mixture of children by using multiple intelligences.  And, and that’s why we think this is the most successful thing, approach that we’ve taken because with all of the ranges we have…age ranges, ability ranges, this is how we reach everyone.  This is how everyone gets a chance to learn what their curriculum says we’re going to be teaching.


(classroom scene)
 Ok, now’s the time that you’re going to read a page and then talk to your group about what did you learn from that page.


Rebecca Young: Through multiple intelligences you’re, you’re giving the students a lot of entry points into one thing. Ah, for example if your class is reading a story and not everyone is very, very linguistic then you offer different ways for everyone to get into the story.  So everyone owns the story. Everyone can discuss the story, and know about the story.


(classroom scene)
Rebecca: Ok, boys and girls your time’s up.  Would you finish that sentence and then I’d like for you to bring your book club over to the carpet so we can talk about it. Would you, Austin like to tell what questions, or would you like to select somebody?
 I’ll do it.
 How old are trees?
 That’s a good question. I hope you find out. Anything else?
 Are plants the only thing that have, has leaves?
 Wow, this group was thinking, very nice!


Georganne Urso-Flores: Some students do have a difficult time with just words so, which doesn’t mean that they can’t necessarily understand the concept or they can’t you know, the comprehension is there so it’s a way to show that they understand what they read if they can draw it.  Or they can sing to it, or move to it, or act it out.  Just another way to access what they know.

(classroom scene)
Georganne: Ok, can you draw a flower over here? Because this says what’s the same about this picture.
 I know how to draw flowers.
 Oh, and I know you’re good at it too.  Can you draw a flower, let’s see?

Rebecca Young: This year, our theme for the year has been Earth Our Home and right now we’re on the, the part of that theme concerning plants.…..

And so one lesson that you might’ve seen is where we have the total group together and we’re talking about plants and the parts of the plant and the functions of the plants.


(classroom scene)
What do we call this part right here? That holds it right on to this, it is, this is the head, but it holds it.  It looks kinda like that.  It’s called the…sepals, remember…


Rebecca Young: That’s fine for the whole group.  You have to be a good listener for that. So, in order to make sure that everyone has a deeper understanding of what we’re talking about, we break up into groups and do activities.  And we plan each of these activities according to the eight intelligences.


(classroom scene)
 You know when you water color or paint you’ll be looking at these flowers for an idea, but do you know that um some people like to paint exactly what they see, and other people like to paint a little bit what’s in their mind. Okay, you choose what you’re going to do when it’s your turn to paint.  And the paper is right, right there, all right?  And now I want to go to my chair because I want to show about this flower.  You know it does almost look like plastic, but smell that John.  It does smell good, he’s right.  It is real.  Do you know that um, since we’re starting in plants and, and flowers are a plant, why don’t we take a flower apart today.  And when we do that let’s see if we can find all the parts that Miss Frizels class found and all the parts that are on here.  When you take your flower apart I want you to work with a partner and when you take your flower apart you’re going to be cutting it.  You’re going to be dissecting it.  And you know what your third activity, let’s make a great big giant flower like this. <ooooh>  Wow.  Can you see some of the parts?  This flower has petals, this flower has sepals at the bottom, this flower has the seed holder called the ovary.  And do you know what these little brown dots are?  Those are the… Keanna.


Georganne Urso-Flores: They’re dissecting, they’re labeling, they’re talking about the, and arranging their plant….that incorporated many intelligences in that activity….


We try to plan activities that incorporate many intelligences.


Rebecca Young: The plant dissection with the real thing I think is very appealing to the nature-smart children because no matter how many times they’ve observed plants, have they really ever gotten an opportunity to take one apart?  So I think that had a, a great appeal there versus the activity where they were cutting a model out, which is also spatial and more exaggerated, larger, and included the labeling of the parts.


(classroom scene)
Where is the pistol?  Okay Shakira is going to show you. Shakira, show him where the pistol is.
Right here.

Rebecca Young: With this approach the total lesson gives them the concept but the rotation part, the small group, really reinforces and sometimes maybe it is the entry point of someone to learn about the topic….In a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise.


(classroom scene)
Georganne:  Remember it’s that sack, there you go.  Can you, then point to the one on your paper.  Excellent.  And did you open it up?  Cut it open and get the seeds inside?


Howard Gardner: But you can see that even when something as simple as learning about the stamen and the pistol that lots and lots of ways of getting to do that and why penalize kids who can’t do it one way? Cause some kids will learn the best from reading and other kids will learn the best from dissecting or trying to put it together again or building a model out of 3-D. The other thing you’ll do is you’ll show the kids what it means to really understand something cause we really understand something when we can think about it in more than one way. And maybe if some of the kids learn it in a number of different ways it’s much more entrenched in the head.  That’s certainly something which everybody that has ever thought about human psychology has learned, we can go back to Plato and that is if we have lots of ways thinking about something you’re much less likely to forget than if you only have one way of thinking about it.


Rebecca Young: We find out our student’s strengths by putting a lot of things out there that would appeal to the different intelligences and then we do a lot of observing of them and, and it takes a while sometimes, because sometimes even when someone is strong in an intelligence they, they aren’t very developed yet in that.  So, it does take a while to find that out about them.


(classroom scene)
Rebecca: What is that number?
 Okay, how many sticks of ten in the number seven?


Rebecca Young: One way that we are able to observe our students in, in their favorite activities and try to discern their intelligences is during choice time.  And choice time, we have about twelve choices, twelve things to do.  And they range from dramatic play to carpentry to more quiet things.  We have reading and puzzles.  And this is a very popular time of the day because people are allowed to choose.  And naturally they choose the things that are fun for them.


(classroom scene)
Girl: This is called take apart.
 And we’re taking this wood apart. Or whatever.


Rebecca Young: One of the really popular things during choice is the take apart center and there’s usually something in there to take apart, like a telephone or a keyboard.  And I think children that are logical like to go there because they like to discover what makes things work….


(classroom scene)
 I got an idea.  Watch this. Wait. No I need this.


Georganne Urso-Flores: Choice time is a very important part of our day. And because they, they get to choose and, and when you have the grade to look at their intelligences that they’re very comfortable with and they enjoy.


Rebecca Young: It also allows us to play with them, which is another way to really learn a lot about a child.


Georganne Urso-Flores: We have a multiple intelligence pizza we call it and, visually we have each intelligence labeled and we have a picture and we talk about if you’re, you know, if you like this kind of activity or, you know, this is what, you know, and then they would raise their hand, “Oh, yeah, I really like to do that, or I really like to play sports, or I really like to draw or be by myself.”  And they can, they can identify with that.  And they really do get excited about it.  And they can tell you all about it. They can, you know, they have the words now to describe how smart they are.


Rebecca Young: Definitely has changed the way I look at intelligence.  I think that it’s very easy to fall into just honoring linguistic and mathematical intelligences, but ah now I can see how wonderful it is and how really smart all of our students are.


Howard Gardner: I think that multiple intelligences theory comes from the fact that everybody who has three kids themselves know that, knows that kids think and learn in different ways. And so the question is do we ignore that or do we take it seriously? MI theory gives you a way of categorizing as a first cut. But even when you take a look at any of the intelligences they themselves can be subdivided, there are many kinds of linguistic intelligence. Being good in a foreign language is not the same as being good in speaking, or being good in writing, or being good in debating. These are all aspects of linguistic intelligence. So the multiple intelligences opens up the conversation, but it should never be used to stop the conversation or to prematurely label kids.


Linda Darling-Hammond: The theory of multiple intelligences allows two things to happen:  First, it offers students multiple entry points into one topic.  And second, it deepens students understanding of a concept by allowing them to approach it from a variety of angles.


It’s important to note however, that using a multiple intelligence approach does not mean we should have students listen to music instead of reading, or draw pictures instead of writing.  Teachers should think of students’ strengths as starting points for instruction, not as end points.  These strengths should be used as a way to hook the students’ interest and get them engaged and then used as a base for developing other necessary skills.


Howard Gardner: Number one, decide what you want to teach, what is important, what you want students to understand.  Because simply knowing there are different intelligences is not the same, as to say, “I want students, to be able to understand what happened in the 1970’s, or to know how a flower is constructed, or to be able to depict in some symbol system what they’re reading.”  You have to state what your educational goal is.  And the second recommendation would be to take the differences among kids very, very seriously.


Linda Darling-Hammond: Accessing learning through a variety of media is something teachers of young children do all the time. But what about the upper grades? Traditionally this is a time when students are expected to learn primarily from lectures and reading.


Students usually move from class to class, where learning is compartmentalized.


In many schools, spatial intelligence never strays from art class and history is learned only from books, the dustier the better.  But the fact is we all learn in a variety of ways throughout our lives.


As teachers we ought to take advantage of that.


For example, at Lake Orion High School, Tom Romito and his team of five colleagues routinely apply multiple intelligences theory to their teaching of writing, literature and history.


They do this through a program they’ve created called matrix – which serves a class of 9th and 10th graders including general, college prepatory and special education inclusion students.


Tom’s class is near the end of a year-long study of the United States in the twentieth century.  They are in the middle of a unit about the 1970s, in which groups have researched several issues that led to important social legislation.


The students use a variety of intelligences as they prepare and then present theatrical skits that introduce their classmates to the social, political, economic and environmental challenges of this time period.  After the skits, each group discusses the information they discovered with the class and together they consider the impact of this era on the society we live in today.  Finally, they write essays about the issues they have researched.


(classroom scene)
Tom: As you are preparing these skits and getting ready to do them, what’s really important is that you remember that the point of doing this is for you to share information with the rest of the class.  Your, the particular theme that you’ve had not everyone else has had.  So if you’re doing Watergate you’re the only group that has had that information.  On the one hand, it should be an entertaining and a fun thing, but more important than that is you have to communicate the information to the rest of the class in a way that they’re going to remember it.  Because they haven’t done the reading, they don’t have the background.  What they’re gonna know about Watergate or the women’s movement is what you teach them, what you show them through the skit that you’re doing.  So really keep that in mind.


Tom Romito: It’s really important to us to, to recognize that students learn in different ways.  And just knowing that sort of colors everything that we do.  So for, whether it’s a theme of the ’70’s or the history of World War II, we try and think okay, different students are gonna learn this in different ways, so how can we connect with all of the students in some way or another?


(classroom scene)
If you dare step any closer I will, and I mean I will start myself on fire.
There’s no need for that now.
Well give me my freedom then and the rights that everyone else is obliged to.
 You wouldn’t know what to do with freedom.
Now tell me what are people gonna learn from this?
: People will go to great lengths to stand up for what they thought was right.


Tom Romito: Not every activity is going to work for every student. There are going to be some students that say, ‘Why are we going to be doing this silly skit? You know, just tell me about this or give me a book to read.’  Because that makes sense to them and they can learn that way.


(classroom scene)
Tom: Watergate!  That’s what, you know it’s interest- it’s interesting how these days that anything that’s kind of a scandal. They add the word ‘gate’ on the end.


Tom Romito: But for other kids there needs to be more or doing something else with it is helpful.


(classroom scene)
Girl in pink:
 Okay, so how are we gonna start this out, where do we start out?
Girl in black:
Girl in pink:
 We should have Devon talking to somebody.


Tom Romito: In this case they’re in a small group, they’ve all read the information and then they have to process it.  And say, “Okay, what is this information, what do we want to communicate to the rest of the class.” So they have to have a conversation that way. So they’re working with each other and some kids may not have understood everything. They’re able to talk it out.  And hopefully they can all together come to an understanding of the information.  And then they have to say, “How are we going to communicate this? How are we going to show this?”


(classroom scene)
Girl in white: 
I want to be the pregnant chick.  Let me be the pregnant chick.


Tom Romito: And then once they can reach a decision, say this is how we’re going to do it then they have to actually do it.


(classroom scene)
This is Megan, and Crystal and Amber and they’re all employees for my company. And they’re all, they all have kids and I don’t know about it.


Tom Romito: So when they’re done with doing that, having worked with each other and they’ve made something physical, had acted something out, plus having to do all that with each other, hopefully they’re going to learn a lot more.


(classroom scene)
Tom: Today, would Devon had been saying, “Hey we’ll see what we can do, I’ll see what I can do”?
 Why not?
 Ther’re laws against it.
 There are laws against it now. Do you know what that law is called? Or one specific other.  A thing called… There’s a law passed recently called the Family Medical Leave Act.


Tom Romito: When they sit down to take a standardized test they’re not going to be able to write a song, they’re not going to be able to perform a skit.  They need to know information. So in order to make that work it’s important that this type of activity is one part of an overall approach.


For instance, after we do these skits we’re going to incorporate some sort of follow up that’s a more traditional essay, so, to really emphasize that’s what kids know that they have to be able to do that.  But hopefully for kids that may have been struggling that part of it will be easier because we’ve accessed these other intelligences.


(classroom scene)
Girl in gray: That’s a great idea!


Tom Romito: Sometimes it’s easy to fall into a trap and just say, “Oh we want kids to feel good about themselves, we’re going to give them opportunities to succeed so that they can feel good and to focus too much on the self-esteem issue.” But we know that that’s not enough. What one thing that we were able to do is use some of these multiple intelligences to give students opportunities to focus on their own strength, and when you do that, it, it does build confidence and gives them the confidence to take that and apply it to something else.


(classroom scene)
 All right, we made a movie.  All right.
  People, people, I have just the solution, the environmental, wait the federal environmental pesticide control act.  We are now controlling all pesticides, so now they have to be safe, and unharmful in order to be sprayed onto your fruits and vegetables.


Tom Romito: If they’re just being confident because they did something creative that’s not enough. If they can use that confidence and build on it and then take that and maybe be able to work on their research paper better because they’ve done something good, and they’ve been validated for that, and been recognized by their peers. Or you know, even down to they’ve gotten a good grade because of doing something that they’re really good at, then, hopefully that will transfer over and apply to some other skills that they may not be so strong at.


(classroom scene)
What happened in the 1960s with pesticides, Brian?
Pesticides killed many animals and, ah, people.
So as a result in 1973, the government passed the, ah, Pesticide Act…


Tom Romito: One thing that we always try and keep in mind is that we’re not trying to teach kids how to be musicians, or we’re not trying to teach kids how to, how to be able to, to move skillfully.  But what we’re trying to do is use those intelligences that they have to get at content information and also to get at real world skills, primarily working with each other.  And if we’re asking them to perform these tasks or do things a certain way, they’ve gotta think about it, they have to interact with each other, and those are the skills that are, they’re really gonna take with them.


(classroom scene)
I need something.
 Most of the rulers are being used for protest signs, right now.


Tom Romito: One of the more difficult parts of teaching this way for some teachers is it really involves giving up some level of control.  If you’re really gonna have a student-centered activity, what that entails is you lay out the plan for the students and then you let them do it.


(classroom scene)
Girl: I think we should play number one, American Woman, and uh..


Tom Romito: And, and that’s difficult for some people to do, to, to sort of stand back and say, “Okay, you know, this may be successful, it may not be successful.”


And what you have to do, part of it is just, personally sort of getting over that and being willing to give up that control. But also there’s a lot you can do in terms of really structuring the activity and holding kids accountable, even minute to minute and saying “By the end of this thirty minute, here’s what you have to have completed and filled out.” And then you can lay that out to the kids and say, “Now it’s up to you, take responsibility, focus on your strengths, to really take the initiative to make this work for you, because I have done my part to set it all up for you.”


And if it doesn’t work, you, you look at it and you say, am I…part of teaching with a team which is so great, every day afterwards we say, “What worked and what didn’t work?  How should we change this?  How can we change this?  What do we need to add, what do we need to take out?”  And you constantly have to analyze what you’re doing and think about it, and rework it, and retool everyday, because the next time you do it, you’re gonna do it differently, because you have to.


Linda Darling-Hammond: What we saw in Tom Romito’s classroom was a part of an overall lesson. As he mentioned, these activities supplement more traditional readings, lecturing and essay writing. Approaching topics in a variety of ways helps students bring the material alive and build bridges from their strengths to new areas of learning.


Students will need many skills to succeed in life.  Tom Romito’s students were not only learning history, they were learning how to do research, organize their thoughts, work in groups, and express their ideas both creatively in theater and coherently in formal prose.


Howard Gardner: Still, at the end of the day it’s good to have more than one area of intellectual strength, because that area is not going to be good for understanding everything, and one of the arts of good pedagogy is to help people, so to speak, cobble together the areas in which they are relatively good so they can master something thats important. If you think about lawyers, people can be very good as lawyers ’cause they’re very articulate.  They can be very good as lawyers because they can write a good brief.  They can be very good as lawyers because they’re very logical.  They can be very good as lawyers because they know how to persuade a jury.  Now you can have four different lawyers, but it’s also great if a single lawyer learns to do all those things, which means that lawyer has to develop a number of different kinds of intelligence.  And I think the same thing goes with kids, we probably want to help kids cobble together the intelligences where they have some potential to be very strong, because that’s gonna equip them very well for the range of stuff they’re gonna have to do, not only in school but in what we now call lifelong learning.


Linda Darling-Hammond: Multiple intelligence theory helps teachers think about and plan for their students’ strengths.  It recognizes that we are all smart in different ways and that we can develop intelligences through many pathways.  If we keep this in mind when we’re teaching we are more likely to reach every student.


This theory encourages us to approach lessons from a variety of angles, both to enhance our student’s understanding of a subject and to allow each student multiple points of entry.  When we give each type of learner a strong pathway to understand new content, we level the playing field, and we give students the confidence to approach areas that are more challenging for them.  By broadening the way we view intelligence we can encourage all children to be lifelong learners.


This is The Learning Classroom, thanks for watching.

“Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, gives us a different framework for teaching and thinking in the classroom, as well as how we think about what people do in life. We rely on lots different abilities to succeed in life. Different people have those abilities differently developed, and using the strengths that we have as a pathway into material actually lets us learn that material more deeply.” 
Linda Darling-Hammond

Key Questions

  • How are students “smart” in different ways?
  • How can teachers use multiple intelligences in the classroom?

Learning Objectives

  1. Defining intelligence – Teachers will understand that intelligence is multidimensional and can be developed. Teachers will consider how definitions of intelligence inform thinking.
  2. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences – Teachers will consider and understand eight different intelligences, how they might be accessed, and how they might be instrumental in helping students learn.
  3. Applying the theory of multiple intelligences – Teachers will become familiar with how the theory of multiple intelligences can be used in their classrooms by helping to identify students’ strengths, providing entry points into subject matter, and encouraging students to represent their understanding in different ways.

Video Program

This episode delves into Harvard University professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, describing how people have learning skills that differ across eight different cognitive pathways. Teachers Rebecca Young and Georganne Urso-Flores, who share a class of 5 through 8-year olds that includes several mainstreamed special needs students at Ann Visger Elementary School, River Rouge, Michigan, and Tom Romito, a ninth and tenth grade Social Studies teacher at Lake Orion High School, Lake Orion, Michigan, are featured to illustrate how this theory is practiced in classrooms. Harvard professor Howard Gardner provides expert commentary.

Session Content Outline

Key Questions

  • How are students “smart” in different ways?
  • How can teachers use multiple intelligences in the classroom?

Learning Objectives

  • Defining intelligence – Teachers will understand that intelligence is multidimensional and can be developed. Teachers will consider how definitions of intelligence inform thinking.
  • Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences – Teachers will consider and understand eight different intelligences, how they might be accessed, and how they might be instrumental in helping students learn.
  • Applying the theory of multiple intelligences – Teachers will become familiar with how the theory of multiple intelligences can be used in their classrooms by helping to identify students’ strengths, providing entry points into subject matter, and encouraging students to represent their understanding in different ways.

Session Outline

What does it mean to be smart? Tests of “intelligence” typically measure how well you read and write or how quickly you can work with numbers. In 1983, Howard Gardner presented an alternative view of intelligence. In his book, Frames of Mind, he outlined seven intelligences:

  • Linguistic and logical mathematical (abilities typically measured by IQ tests)
  • Musicalspatialbodily-kinesthetic (movement and motor skills)
  • Interpersonal (skills and abilities in working with others)
  • Intrapersonal (self-knowledge and awareness)

Since then, Gardner has added one more to the list:

  • Naturalistic intelligence (the ability to make distinctions in the natural environment)

Traditionally, IQ was seen as an innate capacity – something you are born with in a given quantity. However, multiple intelligences theory suggests that intelligences can be developed over time.

The Eight Intelligences

Gardner (1983) emphasizes that intelligence is most accurately thought of as a potential, and the various intelligences are sets of “know-how” – or ways of doing things.

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

Teachers can draw on Gardner’s theory for their classrooms in three ways:

  • By assessing and building on students’ strengths
  • By providing points of entry to subject matter
  • By creating interdisciplinary curricula

Assessing and Building on Students Strengths

  • In order for students to remain motivated in school, they need opportunities to succeed in learning. An important aim of schooling is to give students opportunities to feel successful.
  • However, students’ preferred mode of intelligence should not become the medium for all of the student’s work in place of developing other needed abilities.
  • Teachers should also be careful to avoid the “pigeon-holing effect” – labeling students forever as “X” types of learners. All individuals possess certain combinations of the various intelligences, and they can apply these differently in different contexts.
  • How can these differing intelligences be assessed? Kreshevsky and Seidel (1998) suggest teachers look for the following things to develop better understandings of individual students:
    • What choices do students make when given options?
    • What roles do they play when working together?
    • How do they handle unanticipated problems?
    • What captures their attention? When do they lose interest?
    • What problem-solving strategies do they offer?
    • How do they communicate ideas, understandings, thoughts, and feelings?
    • What does their physical behavior suggest?
  • MI theory also recommends a range of classroom assessments that tap into the different ways students’ think and learn.
  • Portfolios and public presentations that are evaluated by outside audiences also provide opportunities for students to share what they have learned through several communication modes.

Providing Powerful Points of Entry

Part of being an intelligent learner is demonstrating that you can think about the same idea in different ways. Gardner suggests three ways teachers can enhance students’ understanding:

  • by providing powerful points of entry – many ways to introduce and approach a topic
  • by offering apt analogies – connecting new topics to ideas and concepts that are more readily familiar to students
  • by providing multiple representations of the central or core ideas of the topic

Creating Interdisciplinary Curricula

The intelligences are pathways or entry points to understanding, not necessarily ends in and of themselves. Teachers should still be clear about teaching and learning goals. There are many ways a teacher can incorporate multiple intelligences in the service of understanding.


  • MI theory prompts a consideration of what it means to solve problems in different disciplines using all of the human abilities at our disposal.
  • MI theory is a way of thinking about how children learn and how best to teach them. The theory provides a way of thinking about how we learn that urges teachers to extend the boundaries of traditional curriculum, consider the many talents and abilities students bring to a school setting, and put greater emphasis on the variety of skills necessary to succeed in today’s world.

Key Terms - New In This Session

  1. Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence – the ability to use one’s body to create products or solve problems.
  2. Interpersonal Intelligence – an awareness or sensitivity to others’ feelings and intentions.
  3. Intrapersonal Intelligence – the ability for people to “distinguish among their own feelings, to build accurate mental models of themselves, and to draw on these models to make decisions about their lives” (Kreshevsky & Siedel, 1998, p. 20).
  4. Linguistic Intelligence – the ability to communicate and use language in a variety of ways – through speaking, writing, and reading.
  5. Logical-mathematical Intelligence – the ability to order objects, assess their quantity, and make statements about the relationships among them (Gardner, 1985).
  6. Musical Intelligence – a sensitivity to pitch (melody), rhythm, and the qualities of a tone (Gardner, 1985).
  7. Naturalistic Intelligence – the ability to recognize and classify species and other aspects of their environment.
  8. Pathway – the form of intelligence that learners are using at any given moment to acquire knowledge and skills.
  9. Point of Entry – the way a new topic or set of new ideas in a lesson is introduced, e.g. watching a movie to begin a lesson about history could be considered an aesthetic point of entry.
  10. Spatial Intelligence – the ability to perceive a form or object (either visually or through touch), remember visual or spatial information, and recognize and imagine objects from different angles (Gardner, 1985).

Questions for Reflection Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1. The video segments in The Learning Classroom were taped as teachers worked in their own classrooms. As you watch, jot down the questions you have about what you see the teacher do and how the students respond.

Step 2. When you’re done, click on the episode title from the list and compare your questions with the Questions for Reflection and responses that our project team has anticipated.

Step 3. Review the responses we have prepared to questions that match the ones you have asked. The expert responses are not “final answers,” they are provided to give you a starting point for your own reflection. What else might you add to the response you read?

Questions for Reflection

Question 1: Doesn’t it take way too much time to teach everything from multiple “perspectives?”

Response 1: Every student does not need to access every bit of information through the use of several intelligences. What matters is giving each student opportunities to draw on her particular strengths to access the curriculum. In that respect, teaching to the multiple intelligences of students will foster greater understanding faster among more students. Overall, that may be more “efficient” than other approaches.

Question 2: The high school students appear to be using multiple intelligences as they develop presentations. But as they watch other presentations how will they be engaging multiple intelligences?

Response 2: Students watching the presentations may not be engaging all of their intelligences, but they are also not as responsible for understanding the content of the other presentations as they are their own. The assignment is intended to give students a chance to work in groups and explore one topic of a period in U.S. history in more depth than a textbook reading. Other assignments, including reading and writing tasks, provide a common body of knowledge that all students are responsible for.

Question 3: When Rebecca Young and Georganne Urso-Flores placed students in different groups and asked them to read a story first, and then talk to their group about what they read, what happens to students who are not reading on grade level? How can they participate? Won’t they feel further alienated, if not embarrassed, when they can not participate in the discussion?

Response 3: The beautiful thing about placing students in groups is how willing students are to help their classmates. What we know about the theory of learning in a social context (that is also a part of this course) is that giving students chances to learning from one another a very powerful tool – for both the peer teacher and peer learner. When this theory is combined with the theory of multiple intelligences, students who are linguistically strong – usually your better readers – may take the lead initially. However, students whose learning may be invoked more by their spatial intelligence, for example, may lend a deeper meaning to the learning at hand that they can share with the group. The important variable to consider when placing diverse readers in a group is to assign several activities within the group that provide powerful points of entry for all levels of students.

Question 4: Creating multiple activity centers throughout a room, and then allowing students to select which activities they want to participate in is something that is done in elementary schools during “free time.” Young and Urso-Flores call this “choice time” and share that this is how they ascertain their students’ intellectual preferences. Children are social and usually like to hang out with a friend during free time. How do you know that a child just wants to be with a friend instead of moving towards what stimulates him or her intellectually? In addition, how do you know if the selected activity is a child’s intellectual preference instead of just something that he or she wants to do that day?

Response 4:First, everyone has multiple intelligences and so what excites a child one day may not excite him or her another day. Students should not be pigeonholed based on what they might do on any given day. But if a child is having difficulty in learning, an effective teacher may find that by observing a pattern of learning preference she is now armed with a better understanding of how to reach a student.

There are several ways teachers can document students’ intelligence preferences. They can keep track of when students get frustrated and look to see how they handle their frustration. They can pay attention to students that seem particularly focused and engaged in an activity. Teachers can look at whether students appear to be shy but express themselves in written format very well or vice versa.

A key concept of multiple intelligences is recognizing that there are many ways to allow all levels of students to express learning, and there are many activities to explore any given idea. Having multiple ways of thinking about learning allows more students an opportunity to successfully master new material.

Question 5: In one part of the episode, a picture of a “learning style pizza” was shown. The teacher explained that the students feel very good about themselves because they can use multiple intelligences language to describe how smart they are. In the same episode, Howard Gardner warned about not using the eight intelligences to label children. Isn’t this a contradiction?

Response 5: The “learning style pizza” is actually a good example of metacognition – another learning theory in this course. It helps students understand their own thinking, and that gives them more control of their thinking and learning. Young and Urso-Flores were trying to allow children to understand the concept of multiple intelligences to give them some insight into their own learning. Knowing they can be smart in different ways also motivates them to overcome frustrations or self-consciousness about their weaknesses. As an example, students who know they are not on grade level in reading can now feel a new pride in their ability to be intelligent in the way they work with number manipulatives or the way they just naturally are able to construct things from their imagination.

These teachers are saying that by creating an environment where all students are smart allows teachers as well as their students to plan their lessons for learning in multiple ways. Although we expect schools to do more than help students “feel good about themselves,” the feeling of success is a powerful motivator that can transfer from areas where a student is naturally strong to other areas where the student has had less success. That is an important aspect of multiple intelligence approaches. If the teacher doesn’t use a strength in one area to leverage progress in another, there is a danger of labeling the student.

Question 6: I understand that students learn in different ways. The hard part is constructing lessons with multiple activities that give every student access to the content through their strongest intelligences. Do you design multiple activities for each goal, or do you apply a different intelligence activity to each goal – ultimately addressing all eight intelligences by the end of a semester?

Response 6: As we have been seeing, the more ways information is presented the greater number of associations or connections students can make to it. That suggests there is an advantage to designing multiple activities for each complex learning objective. There are advantages to offering some choices for students to access material – all students don’t have to be presented all the material in every way. But there is a learning benefit when students are challenged to manipulate information and express their knowledge through different intelligences or by completing complex tasks that cross disciplines.

The choices you make will depend on the concepts you are teaching and their importance in the overall discipline. As Gardner notes, “While most topics can be powerfully approached in a number of ways, there is no point in assuming that every topic can be effectively approached in at least seven ways” (Gardner, 1985).

Question 7: Working with high school students requires lots of structure. Tom Romito encourages teachers to release control. How do you release control and allow the students to have conversations with each other while keeping them focused on the learning and not on personal conversations that are so important at that age level?

Response 7: We ought to distinguish control of the classroom from control of students’ learning. Tom Romito does encourage teachers to transfer more control of students’ learning to students, but he is still clearly in charge of what is going on in the classroom overall. He is challenging students to use their multiple intelligences creatively to master the material. By assigning them to teach others in the class, he is giving them an authentic task that motivates them to stay focused on the work.

Furthermore, Romito points out that giving up control does not mean giving up structure for the design of the learning. He says that he structures the activity “minute by minute.” He lays out the plan, including the amount of time allowed to complete each segment of the assignment. His contribution and control comes from structuring the environment in such a way that students will have an opportunity to talk with each other and decide how best to handle the information. Romito feels this method will allow students to have a richer, more meaningful experience that will pay off in both traditional assessments and the tests we face in life.

Question 8: It will be impossible for me to implement multiple intelligences theory in my classes because there is no opportunity for me to meet with a team of colleagues to discuss the successes and failures. In both episodes – Young and Urso-Flores, in a elementary setting, and Tom Romito, in a high school setting – the teachers planned collaboratively with their colleagues.

Response 8: Collaborations are not required to use the theory of multiple intelligences, or any of the other theories presented in this course. However, as Tom Romito suggested, it is always beneficial to talk with colleagues about teaching, because it allows you to explore what is working and what is not and make adjustments. Young and Urso-Flores teach as a team and discuss with each other how to strengthen their teaching so more students are learning at a rate and level of excellence they desire.

Teachers as well as students are social learners, and that makes learning interactions with peers very valuable. Although you may not be in a formal team with colleagues, you might discuss multiple intelligences in a department meeting or with another teacher or teachers interested in collaborating informally. Throughout this course are examples of teachers in schools that have implemented collaborations and school-wide interdisciplinary curricula, and those big changes can start with simple, informal conversations among a few teachers.

Question 9: In the video Howard Gardner said, “one of the arts of good pedagogy is to help people, so to speak, cobble together the areas in which they are relatively good so they can master something that’s important.” What does he mean?

Response 9: When Gardner used the term “cobble together” he was referring to the way the various intelligences be considered as sets of “know-how” or procedures for doing things. While the intelligences are defined separately, most tasks aren’t solved by a single skill – they require putting in practice multiple intelligences. So Gardner is reemphasizing that all people possess all the intelligences, and they blend them – or cobble them together –in whatever combination is appropriate to perform the task at hand.

Question 10: Tom Romito said that when students sit down to take a test they can not discuss, act out, or draw. How, then, is the theory of multiple intelligences respected when, in fact, tests are geared towards linguistic learners?

Response 10: Most assessments are geared towards linguistic learners and that’s why Romito uses multiple intelligences to leverage the power of students’ strengths into better performance on typical written tests. He provides different entry points into subject matter and allows students to express their understanding in their own unique ways. When students experience their success it prepares them to take on new challenges. Intelligence is not static, and students have all seven intelligences in some degree. Acknowledging how they are uniquely smart increases the probability of students using their other intelligences more effectively.

On another note, many schools are recognizing that assessments ought to be multidimensional. Paper and pencil assessments are very important, but portfolios and projects are also valuable tools to demonstrate a student’s mastery of knowledge and skills.

Question 11: In the episode, Young and Urso-Flores share that multiple intelligences gives a teacher an opportunity to categorize students for a “first cut” in terms of their learning preferences. Do learning preferences change depending on the objective being introduced?

Response 11: Young and Urso-Flores introduced parts of a flower by engaging students in three different activities. The objective remains the same – identifying the parts of a flower – and the students are given an opportunity to explore three different ways of learning it.

By observing how students completed these three activities, they made their “first cut” observations about their students’ strengths. They can now build other learning experiences for their students based on the students learning preferences – thereby creating many more opportunities for success for each student.

These judgments of students’ strengths must be under constant review. There may be certain preferences that remain constant, but students do have the ability to develop their intelligences. These changes may be based on the successes from using a preferred intelligence. As confidence builds, students’ are more comfortable stretching their other intelligences, and as they do, teachers should be paying attention and adjusting their strategies accordingly.

Different content may also call for adjustments in approaches because different material may engage students differently.

Question 12: Tom Romito explained that students learn in different ways, so how can we connect to all of the students so they all reach our learning objectives?

Response 12: Offering a variety of ways of accessing material and demonstrating mastery increases the chances of reaching all students, because they can opt in at their own comfort level. One of the dangers of multiple approaches is that some students will quickly reach a level of understanding and may become bored as they participate in activities designed to include different learners. However, challenging students to explore the content through different cognitive pathways will deepen their understanding, so it is worthwhile to encourage students to participate in multiple activities.

Romito can use several devices to engage students throughout the process. He has set up the skit activity as an authentic task – students are asked to educate their peers, and they don’t want to let their peers down. Romito can also follow the example of Young and Urso-Flores when they posted the “intelligence pizza.” They made their strategies visible to students, and Romito can as well. He can point out that students have intelligence strengths, and he is going to use different activities to include everyone and to challenge students to stretch their capabilities.


Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Howard Gardner
John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education, Harvard University

Rebecca Young
first/second grade teacher, Ann Visger Elementary, River Rouge, Michigan

Georganne Urso-Flores
first/second grade teacher, Ann Visger Elementary, River Rouge, Michigan

Tom Romito
teacher, Lake Orion High School, Lake Orion, Michigan

TRANSCRIPT OF COMMENTS BY Howard Gardner, professor at Harvard University

Excerpts from an interview with Howard Gardner, professor at Harvard University.

Taped July 20, 2001

Discussion of “Different Kinds of Smart: Multiple Intelligences”

The important thing to understand about multiple Intelligence is, that it is a theory about how the mind is organized. It’s also a theory about how the mind evolved over many, many thousands of years. And my claim is rather than there being a single thing called intelligence which we have more or less – some thing called IQ – it makes more sense scientifically as well as educationally, to think of people as having a number of different intelligences which are rather separate from one another, and each of these have evolved just like we have evolved eyes, and ears, and hearts, and kidneys, and so on. We have evolved a different number of intelligences.

I have a set of criteria, which allows me to identify which abilities are or are not intelligences. The first two that I always mention are linguistic intelligence, and logical mathematical intelligence. Not because I think they are important in any ultimate sense, but most people when they use the word intelligences are talking about linguistic, or logical mathematical ability, and because those are the intelligences that are really being stressed in school and particularly in testing. And if you’re good in language and logic then you’ll probably be good test taker. As long as you stay in school you’ll think you’re smart. If you leave school you might find there are other intelligences which are very important.

Now I think there are six or seven additional intelligences. Musical, the capacity to think in music. People often say music is a talent and I say fine, let’s call music a talent, but then let’s say some people are talented with words, some people are talented with numbers, some people are talented with notes. What doesn’t make sense is to say number and words are smart, where music is a mere talent.

Fourth kind of intelligence is spatial intelligence, it’s the capacity to imagine large spaces a way a pilot would, or more local spaces like a chess player or an architect, or a sculptor.

Bodily-kinetic intelligence is the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body to solve problems, or make things like a dancer, sculptor, athlete of some sort.

There are two kinds of personal intelligence: interpersonal intelligence – understanding other people, and intra-personal intelligences.

Dan Goleman, who has put forth the notion of emotional intelligence, tends to be talking about the same thing that I am talking about when I say inter- or intra- personal intelligences – knowing the world of human beings. Which clearly in almost any job is at least as important as to whether you can figure out square roots.

An eighth kind of intelligence called naturalist intelligence is the capacity to make distinctions in the world of nature, between one plant and another, one animal to another, one mountain to another. Darwin is the genius of naturalist intelligence.

I also think that there might be a ninth intelligence called the existential intelligence – the intelligence of big questions. Rats might have more spatial intelligence then we do, or hummingbirds might have more musical intelligence, but no other species asks big questions and cares about the answers. The reason why I am not certain that there is an existential intelligence, is that one of my criteria for intelligence is whether there are parts of the brain or parts of the nervous system which are dedicated to that kind of computing. And we don’t yet have good evidence that existential intelligence is separate say from, logical intelligence or personal intelligence, or other kind of intelligence.

Now this is a scientific theory and there is a lot of evidence for the theory of multiple intelligences, the evidences proves. This doesn’t mean it’s right. Scientific theories are never proved right. All you can do is prove them wrong, if you can’t prove them right. But you can never go directly from a scientific theory into a set of recommendation on what to do in a classroom. And that is not only because every finding has lots of different implications. But it is also because once you get into a classroom it’s always a question of values – what do you value, what do you think is important, what are you trying to achieve? And we could know every neuron in the brain and it wouldn’t tell us what we should try to achieve. That’s a question of values. And that’s why when you take the theory of multiple intelligences – even if we knew a thousand years from now that this was completely right, that this is the absolute right way of describing the human brain and the human mind, we won’t say, “Well, therefore we got to do X.” Because we could say, “If there are eight or nine intelligences we should teach everything eight or nine different ways.” We could say if there were eight or nine different intelligences, eight or nine different tests. We could say for eight or nine different intelligences, let’s put all the kids that are good in one intelligence together. We could say let’s put all the kids that are lousy in one intelligence together. Let’s say we mix them up and make the groups as diverse as possible. And all of those are reasonable implications. So you can never go directly from a claim about the human mind to what you should do in classes. That being said I think that there are lots of educational implications with multiple intelligences theory. But you can’t talk about them without talking about what you think is important and why.

I think the two major pieces of advice that I would give to any educator who wants to use multiple intelligences is number one: decide what you want to teach, what is important, what you want students to understand. Because knowing there are different intelligences is not the same, as saying I want students to be able to know what happened in the 1970’s, or to know how a flower is constructed, or to be able to depicted in some symbol system what they’re reading. You have to state what your educational goal is.

The second condition would be take the differences around kids very, very seriously. We can think about what the opposites would be. The opposite of taking the differences of kids seriously is what I call uniform education. You don’t have to wear a uniform necessarily but everyone is taught the same stuff in the same way, everyone is accessed in the same way. And we think it is fair because we are treating everyone the same way. But if you think about it, it is completely unfair, because we are picking one kind of intelligence – almost always the language logic mind, what I call the law professor mind. We’re pitching stuff to that kind of mind, and we’re accessing that kind of mind. If you want to find Bill and Hillary Clinton, then use that approach. But if you want to find a George Bush or an Al Gore, Bill Bradley or John McCain, that won’t work. None of them is a law professor, and they have very different kinds of minds.

As for the notion of knowing what you want to teach and why, it seems to me that’s elementary. Yet I go to many schools, people say we’re doing multiple intelligences, I say, “That’s great, what are you doing?” They say, “Well, we just want to involve all the intelligences,” and they never say for what. What’s your goal? What is going to be different if you involve all the intelligences? And if you can’t answer that question, if you don’t say, “I want students to understand, let’s say the theory of relativity, or evolutionary theory, or what happened in the Holocaust, or what does zero mean, or what is gravity, or why do we have to have a scapegoat when we’re involved in some kind of dispute.” If you don’t have that kind of answer of what you are trying to teach then all the theory will get you nowhere. Once you say, “Well, I want to teach evolution,” then we can talk – all right, what are the different ways you can get into evolution, what are the ideas that you want to emphasis, what are the ways you can bring out say, natural selection, or variation until survival or fitting into some kind of niche. Talk about that, say, “All right, what are some ways we can get into that, what are the ways that we can stimulate kids that don’t think about the world in the same way. Should we use stories should we use films, should we have them act things out, should we have them in dramas, should we have them role play, should we have them do group work, and jigsaw work? Is it better for them to work on a generation algorithm on a computer, were you can actually see hydrogen generation in a matter of seconds?” You can begin to ask that question.

Then you can ask that other question, “What is going to count for understanding evolution?” Is it simply going to be if you can repeat the definition in the book. I sure hope not, because that is not going to get you very far when some one says, “Geez, my computer virus is evolving.” Are you going to say, “Does that make sense? Can a computer virus evolve?” The dictionary definition is going to tell you that. Or someone says, “We discovered a new set of bones in East Africa and we think that is going to change the Hominid lineage.” The dictionary is not going to tell you the answer to that question. You got to really understand the theory, and there is lots and lots of ways in which you can begin to approach questions like that. So to repeat, valuing the differences among kids and trying to find out as much as you can about every child’s mind and two – knowing exactly what you are trying to teach, what will count as a good performance and then seeing whether these different multiple intelligences approaches will get you to that kind of understanding.

Discussion of the two segments in “Different Kinds of Smart: Multiple Intelligences.”

Well, two examples which I saw are actually quite different from one another. In the case of the class of primary kids, the teachers have a very, very specific goal. They want the students to understand that a flower has structure, the different parts of the flower carry out different functions and in fact they have names, which help you figure out what does what. So that’s a pretty easy lesson. And at the end of the day, the kids are either going to understand something about the structure of the flower, understanding different parts have different roles and how they work together or they won’t. And there are lots of ways in which kids can show that. Now you can simply lecture about it, you can simply give a book and say read it. You could also say nothing and just take the flower apart and have the kids put it together again. But the more you approach that goal with a number of different avenues as the teachers were trying to do, two great things happen. First of all you reach kids. Some kids will learn best from reading and others will learn the best from dissecting or trying to put it together again or building a model out of 3-D. But, the other thing you’ll do is you’ll show the kids what it means to really understand something, because we really understand something when we can think about it in more than one way. Think about anything that you understand well; yourself, your family, your home, your work. You can think about it pictorially, logically, graphically, artistically, linguistically and so on. When you only can explain something one way and you can only give one kind of definition that shows your own understanding is very thin, it’s very tenuous, and you probably ought to go back and study it again. So that’s an example of a very focused approach to understanding something that is quite specific and something that is important for biology or what is called naturalistic study.

Now, when you study something about the 1970s, that’s a much more complicated space. I mean the ’70s is history, the 70s is politics, it’s culture. We saw various discussions of various kinds of laws that were put into effect, that’s also a reaction to the ’60s, so it’s important to talk about the ’60s, and so on. And one of the important things I think that one tries to get across in a course like that is what does it mean to characterize a decade at all? Because after all, the ’70s is just an arbitrary number. Why not go from 1968 to 1983? When you’re talking about the ’70s the implication is that something rather special happened during that period. Now, because there’s so many things that are going on in the 1970s, that’s a playing field for different kinds of assignments – for drama, as we saw, for enacting songs, for a look at laws and trying to figure out why they arose when they did, or thinking about the political aspects both domestic, where you had a lot of 1960s reaction and foreign policy, where the Vietnam war ended, and so on. And there’s absolutely no reason in the world why somebody who’s studying the ’70s can’t make use of a whole different range of intelligences and have a very good time doing it. The teacher’s job at the end of the day is still to say, “What do I want the students to be able to understand now about what a decade means, what it means in this country, what it means historically, culturally, artistically, politically, socially, economically, etc. etc.” If the teacher has laid out those particular goals and can say, “Well, out of these twenty goals I want every student to at least have mastered you know, most of them, and here are some ways in which they can show it, whether it’s a class project, or some kind of a newspaper article, or a debate, or a presentation for parents.”

[looking at the presentations and skits the high school students created in “Different Kinds of Smart: Multiple Intelligences”]

One of the wonderful things about multi-art forms, like drama, theater, is that you can use all of the intelligences there. And obviously there’s language, the music, scenery and spatial intelligence, bodily, I mean Marcel Marceau doesn’t say a word and we know what he’s doing. Clearly it’s about interpersonal intelligence, clearly it’s about big issues. So it’s not the case… It’s the existential intelligence. So it’s not the case that someone says theater, therefore bodily intelligence, it’s rather theater is a great testing ground for many, many different intelligences. But one of the reasons why kids love to do theater is almost everybody can do something. If you’re not good in acting you can handle the lights, you know. If you’re not good at directing you can be a prompter, if you don’t have good rote memory, then you’ll do gesture or join the chorus. And a very, very important point brought out by all the teachers in this, in this film is that if kids feel inept in everything, it’s absolutely terrible, you know, because they’re just discouraged, they don’t want to learn, and they often become anti-social. So a very important part of school is to throw out a lifeline to kids so they don’t feel inept in everything, and a multiple intelligences education is much more likely to define areas where every kid is good, or at least relatively good at something. And again theater is a great, ground for that because it has so many different roles in it. Opera, is another thing I think of that has many different roles. In fact, one of the ways in which I first became conscious about multiple intelligences was about 15 – 20 years ago when I took my then young children to see Cats, the famous musical. And I enjoyed Cats and so did they, but then leaving I noticed that one child remember exactly how the cats had moved, was very sort of bodily and visual. Another child was singing the music and another child loved the poetry of T.S. Elliot, and I said even just going to a theater people take very, very different things away from it. And as teachers, we can say that’s noise let’s get rid of it, let’s all memorize Edy Hersh’s list of the 500 things we have to learn in the second grade or we can say, “Gee, isn’t it great, think of how much there is in that play, how many different things people can take away from it, and you know, can you see what Sally saw? Can you hear what Benjamin heard?”

[looking at the segment in “Different Kinds of Smart” in which Rebecca Young and Georganne Urso-Flores are working on a science unit with flowers]

Let’s think about what you can get if you actually try to make a very accurate cutting of a particular part of the flower. This might be something really training you either just in hand movement, it’s very good to have fine motor control, as we say. Another might be to give you more of an aesthetic sense, what’s a good curve, what’s a smooth curve, how does nature have the marvelous forms that it does? But I think that probably what most teachers have in mind is that for some people, hearing a description that looks like a shell is enough, for some kids, reading a description, you know, it’s a ovoid with a trapezoid at the bottom is enough, but for a lot of kids actually cutting it out, palpating it, looking at it, makes it much more their own. And if you think about what it’s like to learn a foreign language, we have to learn verb conjugations, we have to learn prepositions, you have to learn what to say in certain situations, and you have to be able to memorize lots of vocabulary which is meaningless when you first hear it. People devise all kinds of strategies for doing it, and you know the fact that some people after repeating it over and over again, and some people make a very crazy picture in their mind and link the two things that way, and other people think of a funny word association, and still other people have to memorize dialogue, that’s what I did because it gave me the words in context. You can see that even when something is as simple as learning about the stamen and the pistol, there are lots and lots of ways in getting to do that, and why penalize kids who can’t do it one way? And maybe if some of the kids learn it in a number of different ways it’s much more entrenched in the head. That’s certainly something which everybody that has ever thought about human psychology has learned, we can go back to Plato. And that is, if we have lots of ways thinking about something, you’re much less likely to forget than if you only have one way of thinking about it.

The truth is, you can never know for sure what intelligence a person is using. If we were scientists who knew a lot more than we do, we could open up the mind/brain, we could say, “Well, that’s the musical intelligence there, and we see the blood going there, and we see the neurons.” We could do that, but we can’t do that now. We have to make inferences about what intelligences anybody is using by the kinds of behaviors that they evince. Nonetheless we can make some good guesses. If a child is doing a lot of drawing or building things in 3-D, we can guess that child is using spatial intelligence. If a child is busy singing, or playing an instrument, or humming to himself, or doing rhythmic patterns, we can assume that musical intelligence is involved. If the child is very interested in comparing one flower with another and trying to figure out where each part begins and another one ends, that probably is a sign that a natural intelligence is being used. If a child says, “What are flowers? Why do we have a flower in a cranny in the wall,” that’s probably a sign that the child is using an existential intelligence and maybe a poetic or linguistic intelligence as well. But we can’t know for sure, and that’s one of the wonderful things about human beings.

Anything that human beings do well, we can do well using a number of intelligences. Let’s take geometry. Presumably if you have a lot of spatial intelligence that’s a big help in learning geometry, but you can learn geometry without having a lot of spatial intelligence. You can do it in a more linguistic way, you can do it in a more logical way, you can do it in a more bodily way. Also, given computers now, if you’re a kind of person who can’t easily manipulate a space in your own mind, like me, you can do it on a computer screen. And the computer then is a prosthetic for you, it allows you to do something externally which other people can do in their head. I’m pretty musical, so when I listen to a fugue, I can see, I can hear what it would sound like if he was, if he inverted the theme when the new theme comes in, but if I couldn’t I could put in a tape recorder and listen to it over again, slow it down, pull the voices apart and I could, the prosthetic would help me do what I can’t do on my own. And that raises a very wonderful thing about living in the current era and that is that until very recently, if people lacked an intelligence, or had a very poor intelligence they were kind of stuck, but now with with good software you can enhance an intelligence in which you are not good, and in a sense, that is what good tutors have always done. They found out how to mobilize intelligences which the kids had, or how to provide additional help for the things the kids didn’t have. But most people can’t afford tutoring, most people can afford software and as the software gets better we’ll have increasingly individualized education. And when a teacher says, “Well, I taught Johnny algebra one way and he didn’t understand it, so he’s stupid.” the teacher will be seen as malpracticing because there will be twenty ways to teach algebra, and the real trick will be to figure out how to get Johnny and Sally and Billy all to be able to do algebra and not to assume that if they can’t get it one way then they can’t get it at all.

One of the things I’ve found is that it’s hard to find anybody anywhere, child or wizened adult who does not find these ideas initially interesting. Somehow the notion that you can be smart in different ways is very interesting to people, and I find no reason to hide that particular claim. Also, in many, many schools people either use the language of multiple intelligences, like linguistic intelligences, or they use slang like the word smart, or song smart, thing like that. That’s fine as a way into this particular way of thinking. But when it becomes dangerous is when people think either it is a very accurate description of themselves, because without a huge battery we don’t really know what peoples’ intelligences are. But also when they get labeled for having one kind intelligence, then by implication they don’t have the other kinds. In fact what is more accurate to say is everyone has all these intelligences – that’s what makes us human. We all have musical, and bodily, and spatial intelligence. We all have those potentials, but for both genetic and experiential reasons at any historical moment, everyone is going to be stronger in some things than others. And the educational choice is – do we ignore this or do we try to exploit it? And I think the excitement about multiple intelligences theory comes from everyone that has three kids themselves, knows that kids think and learn in different ways. So the question is, do we ignore that or do we take it seriously? MI theory gives you a way of categorizing as a first cut, but even when you take a look at any of the intelligences, they can be subdivided. [There are] many different kinds of linguistic intelligences. Being good in foreign languages is not the same as being good in speaking, or being good in writing. Those are all aspects of linguistic intelligence. Spatial intelligence in the large is different then spatial intelligence in the small. 2D is different than 3D. So the multiple intelligences open up the conversation, but it should never be used to stop the conversation, or prematurely label kids.

One of the things I noticed is in talking about choices, the teacher [in the video] said we can only see what the kids like to do, then we make an inference about their intelligences. This could be correct, but on the other hand it could also be incorrect. Things we like to do are not necessarily things we’re good at, though we might get better at things if we spend a lot of time them. But some people like to do things that they’re not very good at, especially when they have a choice. They like to work in the muscle that’s not so strong. So we can’t really make claims about what kinds of intelligences people are using unless we actually observe them very carefully to see when they are drawing. Are they talking to themselves, is it being guided by language, are they looking at a model, is it coming out of their imagination? And we also have to make sure that we are not projecting our own way of doing that task, in the way the child is doing it. We have to respect the child’s own way of approaching something. Though I think choices are great, you can learn a lot from people making choices, but you shouldn’t assume when somebody chooses it is the same as the kind of intelligences that they favor. It may well not be.

Multiple intelligence is probably on the surface the most compatible with working with young kids. There’s less of a pressure to prepare kids for college and for exams and for particular disciplines. And young kids show you the intelligences they’re using; they are very graphic about them. You go to a children’s museum for the child for an hour and you know a tremendous amount about that child’s intelligences. When you get to the secondary level not only is there a lot more pressure for performance in certain standard types of tests, but you also have to amass disciplinary knowledge, which is traditionally done very much by lecturing and by reading. For this very reason, I wrote a book called The Disciplined Mind where I took three topics which would clearly be seen as high school or college: the theory of evolution according to Darwin, the Holocaust from the middle of the twentieth century, and the music of Mozart, particularly the analyses of a three-minute trio from the marriage of Figaro. And I tried to show how, even if you were trying to cover quite traditional sorts of educational materials here from history, from biology, from the arts, you can both enter these issues from lots of different ways, there are many, different entry points to topics like this, and you can assess kids’ understanding in many different ways. So if you adopt a multiple intelligences approach there’s no reason whatsoever why you can’t take it all the way up to graduate school.

The issue of examinations is a more complicated one, because so often the exams that we require in this country are linguistic-logical instruments. And if you are fortunate enough to go to a school or be in a district where those instruments are not the only things that are, that matter, then you can have much more performance-based examinations, student portfolios where you actually let students do work which shows the use of intelligences to understand the concepts of importance. If, however, you’re in a school in a district where you have a very rigorous and strict kind of testing program, then I think the only choice, the only option you have is to spend some time actually drilling students on these kinds of things.

Nonetheless, one of the interesting things that cross-national studies show is that actually in America we try to cover many more topics than they do in countries which cover, which do much better than we do in international comparisons. And the amazing thing is sometimes kids in those countries do better on questions in areas that they haven’t covered than our kids do in areas where they have covered. Now that seems bizarre unless you realize that what the kids are learning in other countries, say Singapore or Hungary, is how to think scientifically, or how to think mathematically, or how to think historically. And once they’ve understood how to think that way, when they’re introduced to something new, they can figure out what the likely answer is. But if you just spend five minutes on a topic and go on to something else, if you’re not asked it exactly the way it was presented to you, you’re not going to be able to get the right answer at all. So I’m hoping with the passage of time that more people involved with assessment in America will realize that what we’re doing now is very silly in trying to run through lots of memorized material, rote material and test kids on that. And if we want to probe instead for understanding, we could both take more advantage of multiple intelligences, and we would have students who could actually solve problems which they can’t solve now, because they don’t know how to think in a deep way.

When you approach things in lots and lots of different ways, you really get inside them; you get into their inner essence. When you just memorize a definition, if you ask about something in any other way except in that reflex way, you’re finished.

Let’s say you know what a student’s profile is at a given moment, and let’s say a student is very strong in an area and not strong in other areas, what should you do? The first thing to realize is that you can’t answer that question from the theory of multiple intelligences, that’s a value question. And you know, if you’re in an affluent family where making a living is never a problem, then probably you’re going to want to be a rounded kind of person. If, on the other hand, you’ve just gotten off the boat from Indo-China and it is very, very important to be successful, and you’re very strong in math and music, you’re probably going to want to push that, and no multiple intelligence theorist should say, “Oh no, do it another way.” That being said, one of the things we know about any intelligence is that it gets stronger when students practice at it and work at it. And so if you value an intelligence, even if initially a child is not very good at it, if you devote a lot of energy and attention the child will get stronger. There’s absolutely no question about it. Moreover the better you are as a teacher, and the more you can make use of appropriate resources the stronger the child will get in that area. Still, at the end of the day it’s good to have more than one area of intellectual strength, because that area is not going to be good for understanding everything. And one of the arts of good pedagogy is to help people, so to speak, cobble together the areas in which they are relatively good so they can master something that’s important. If you think about lawyers, people can be very good as lawyers ’cause they’re very articulate. They can be very good as lawyers because they can write a good brief. They can be very good as lawyers because they’re very logical. They can be very good as lawyers because they know how to persuade a jury. Now you can have four different lawyers, but it’s also great if a single lawyer learns to do all those things, which means that lawyer will have to develop a number of different kinds of intelligence. And I think the same thing goes with kids. We probably want to help kids cobble together the intelligences where they probably have some potential to be very strong, because that’s going to equip them very well for the range of stuff they’re gonna have to do, not only in school but in what we now call lifelong learning.



Hatch, T. (1997, March). Getting specific about multiple intelligences. Educational Leadership54(6). Retrieved 1/12/03.
This article on multiple intelligences in the classroom describes specific student examples.

Campbell, L. (1997, September). Variations on a theme: How teachers interpret MI theory. Educational Leadership55(1). Retrieved 1/12/03.
This article describes how schools around the country have incorporated and adapted MI theory, from interdisciplinary themes to apprenticeships.

Gardner, H. (1999, February). Who owns intelligence? The Atlantic Monthly,283(2).
This article by Gardner describes how we define intelligence.

Project SUMIT, Harvard University, Project Zero.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997, March). What does it mean to be smart? Educational Leadership 54(6), 20-24.


Harvard Project Zero
Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.

Schools Using Multiple Intelligences
Schools Using Multiple Intelligences is a research investigation into how schools use multiple intelligences theory. The site includes information about the project as well as an overview of the theory.