Students show their intelligence in different ways, and recognizing multiple intelligences helps teachers to know how to present information to allow students to process it.
Scott Seider tells of his first year as a high school English teacher in an article titled “An Educator’s Journey Toward Multiple Intelligences” written for Edutopia. He started attending freshmen football games as several of his students were on the team and he hoped that showing an interest in them would make them easier to control in his classroom. However, the teacher soon realized that some of the boys who struggled in his English class were able to memorize dozens of complex football plays. “I remember thinking these guys are really smart! I’m underestimating what they’re capable of!” And that was the start of Seider’s relationship with multiple intelligences.
The theory of multiple intelligences was developed by Howard Gardner, a Harvard University professor, in 1983. He theorized that traditional IQ tests deal with only a person’s general ability and do not account for intelligence in specific abilities. Gardner developed eight intelligences that he believes everyone has in different levels of ability which make each of us unique:
Ability to analyze information and use oral and written language as it is conveyed in books, poetry, speeches or oral presentations.
Ability to problem solve by developing equations, calculating, theorizing, or demonstrating.
Ability to understand maps, charts, graphs, and artwork by drawing, illustrating, or photography.
Ability to make and understand different types of sound by performing, singing, playing, or composing music.
Ability to identify and tell the difference among plant types, animals, and weather formations by collecting and classifying.
Ability to use body movement through exercise, dance, or athletics to create movies or animations or solve problems.
Ability to recognize and understand others’ motivations, intentions, or moods through teamwork in debates or panels.
Ability to recognize and understand their own characteristics through reflection or meditation using journals or diaries and striving for personal growth.
Proponents of multiple intelligences theory remind teachers that it is just a theory, or idea, and it is up to teachers to determine how that theory can be used in their classroom. Gardner, who is a trained psychologist, believes that this theory is best used as a tool to achieve a goal. Generally, a teacher may want to begin the school year by observing students’ play at recess or interactions with other students during free time to learn their strengths in each of the multiple intelligences to help with development of lesson plans.
Another easy implementation of the multiple intelligences theory is to offer students options. An assigned report may be submitted in writing; it may be presented orally with an option to use visual aids; it may be presented in the form of a multi-media presentation; or the report content may be developed into a play or song. Cultivating partnerships through the use of other teachers from art, music, or technology classes allows you to collaborate and find different ways to teach the same subject matter.
Teachers trying the multiple intelligences theory for the first time will be challenged to develop lesson plans to include some of the eight intelligences in a natural way without forcing activities into them. Scheduling may also need to be adjusted if students react well to new activities and aren’t ready to move on to something else. Teachers will also have to look at grading in a way that allows students who write well and struggle with oral presentations to be evaluated fairly as students work to develop other intelligences.
Helping students to learn in an effective way is a goal of all educators, and use of the multiple intelligences theory is another tool for teachers to use to reach that goal.