Using Multiple Intelligence Research in the Classroom

Harvard professor Howard Gardner proposed a revolutionary paradigm of intelligence in 1983 that said there is not just one IQ for all people, but multiple intelligences. He defined intelligence as “biological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture.”  This seemed to confirm what educators saw in classrooms, that every student did not learn the same way.  Learning, in fact, was much more complex than initially thought.

Gardner asserted that there are actually eight bits of intelligence that reflect a broader understanding of acumen than the traditional focus on linguistic and logical-math. This potentially changes the way students are taught, because educators need to accommodate every intelligence.

So, when teaching a lesson, the teacher must present the concept in all of the following ways: Linguistic, numbers, pictures, music, self-reflection, kinesthetic, interpersonal or social, and natural.

The American Institute for Learning and Human Development gives the following example: “when learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, the instructor would read it; study the math formulas that apply to it; discuss a chart that demonstrates it; give examples of real-world commerce; explain how when you feed your body lots of food hunger goes down, but when you don’t feed your body hunger goes up; find a song that demonstrates it.”

The objective of the teacher is to use many intelligence approaches to solidify a concept for the students.


Critics of Gardner’s multiple intelligences say that the theory is too broad, and really just represents talents, personality traits, and abilities. More importantly, there has been almost no research on the theory, and the little that has been done does not support the model. Some argue that what Gardner refers to as one of the intelligences is actually a skill, and developing a variety of skills does not require a different intelligence for each one.

Dr. Bernard Luskin asserted that Garner’s philosophy became popular because it meant that everyone was smart in some way, appealing to the self-esteem movement. We can all agree that we know people who are wise and make good judgments, but not necessarily be intelligent in the academic sense.

Although the theory seems very broad and with no real scientific evidence to prove it, should educators disregard its usefulness? The model could certainly be adapted for use, however, limited, as reaching students where they require many methods. It is true that education cannot be one-size-fits-all, but that is how it is structured.

A motivated teacher could take the concept and draw a circle with 8 lines to represent the intelligences.  If he/she used even half of the approaches for teaching a lesson, would it not be a fuller, more well-rounded lesson?  Isn’t that what we are after? Changing the thought process behind preparation for teaching seems to enrich the learning for a broader cross-section of students.

Here is a copy of Gardner’s test—perhaps every teacher should take it and decide for him/herself if it is worth the extra effort for expanding a lesson.


Choose your Reaction!