In 1983 Dr. Howard Gardner had a bold, new idea: there are different kinds of intelligences. Rather than the static notion of there being one intelligence that can be measured by an IQ test, there are seven of them: Visual-Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical. It made sense. On an intuitive level, it appears obvious that different people have different kinds of abilities, skills, and thus, intelligences.
Educators were immediately interested. Through an understanding of their students’ intelligences, they surmised, teachers can identify the best methods to help their students learn. Eventually, over a period of time, ‘multiple intelligences’ became synonymous with ‘learning styles’. Not everyone was convinced, including Dr. Gardner himself. Writing for the Washington Post in 2013, Gardner said:
When researchers have tried to identify learning styles, teach consistently with those styles, and examine outcomes, there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a “one size fits all approach.”
While the debate rages on between ‘multiple intelligences’ and ‘learning styles’, there is no doubt that a more engaging, interactive classroom includes a variety of teaching methods and techniques. Even if it is not true that Billy is a ‘visual learner’ and Ada an ‘aural learner’, an understanding of multiples intelligences and/or learning styles can help add that much needed variety into the classroom.
Famous examples: Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison
How to teach them: Posters, artwork, illustrations, inventions, PowerPoints, maps, videos, charts and graphs.
Famous examples: Roger Federer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jim Carrey, Kim Yuna
How to teach them: Walk-and-talk surveys, acting, role playing, using tools, working with props, presentations, sports and dancing.
Famous examples: Beethoven, Michael Jackson, Elaine Paige, Bob Dylan
How to teach them: Background music, writing lyrics, performing songs, rhythmic chanting, ‘fill in the lyrics’, playing instruments and listening to the radio.
Famous examples: Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana
How to teach them: Group discussion, dialogues, interviews, debate, team challenges and pair work.
Famous examples: Martin Luther King, Jnr., Confucius, Plato, Gautama Buddha
How to teach them: Journals, diaries, self-reflection, guided discovery, brainstorming, introspective thinking and creative writing.
Famous examples: William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Charlotte Brontë, Walt Whitman
How to teach them: Poems, stories, reading books, speeches, word games, vocabulary building and writing assignments.
Famous examples: Marcus du Sautoy, Bill Gates, Archimedes, Ada Lovelace
How to teach them: Puzzles, conundrums, mysteries, investigation, riddles, data collection, theories and equations.
While listing famous examples for each of the multiple intelligences, it is easy to see why there has been so much debate. Is it really correct to say Martin Luther King, Jnr. was an intrapersonal learner? Possibly, but he was also clearly a master of using language as judged by his impassioned speeches, such as his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on civil rights in 1963. Michelangelo was no doubt a visual-spatial genius, but also deeply intrapersonal. He spent very little time with other people during the four years it took to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The theory of multiple intelligences can be extremely useful for teachers, but only when used in the right way. Effort must be made not to label students, or even whole classes, with one intelligence. For example, it may be intuitive to assume that an advanced math class is full of logical-mathematical learners, when there could be a whole range of students’ skills, abilities, and intelligence-combinations. Pigeon-holing must be avoided, and instead, the teacher should always teach with a variety of methods, techniques and content.
In 1996 Dr. Gardner added an eighth intelligence, ‘naturalist’, and in 1999 the possibility of a ninth, ‘existential’. How would a teacher plan a lesson to appeal to those intelligences?
Famous examples: Charles Darwin, Sir. David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Steve Irwin
How to teach them: Collecting plants, bird-watching, nature retreats, field trips, visiting zoos, gardening, landscaping and pets.
Famous examples: Friedrich Nietzsche, Daniel Dennett, Aristotle, Dalai Lama
How to teach them: Philosophical debates, community work, discussing the big issues, religion, the future, life, the universe, everything.
What would a lesson look like that tried to appeal to all nine of the multiple intelligences? Let’s find out by planning a lesson for an English class at Woosong University. Below is an excerpt from a syllabus for the textbook Q Skills for Success: Reading and Writing 2.
The topic is clearly about family, but there are two objectives. One, to task students with generating ideas and opinions from reading a text and two, task students with expressing and supporting opinions about what makes a family business successful. In this class, the students are freshman students at a Korean university studying mandatory English classes.
Perhaps the students can start with a warm-up activity to discuss Korean businesses. It would serve the double-edged purpose of appealing to their cultural backgrounds, allowing them to practice their speaking and engaging the ‘interpersonal’ learners in the class.
Now ‘visual’ and ‘musical’ learners can be engaged through watching short commercials of Korean businesses. Such an activity may also appeal to ‘logical-mathematical’ learners because they have to determine why the businesses are successful. In addition, the ‘interpersonal’ learners are still hooked due to the pair work and the sharing of opinions.
Don’t worry ‘intrapersonal’ learners, now is your chance to shine! A solo, research activity to allow for some downtime and individual study.
The ‘intrapersonal’ time does not last for too long. Indeed, the students are now plunged into an extremely ‘interpersonal’ activity by having to interview six of their classmates about their research.
Group work commences; students are now tasked with creating their own business, which is hopefully going to allow for all of the multiple intelligences to be engaged.
Students hit the lesson objectives by finalizing the idea for their new business.
Assigning different roles to students is where multiple intelligences theory can really come to the fore in the classroom. The students in the group can each work in a role that matches their skills, abilities and intelligences
A teacher can also assign different assignments to students in their classes. How about a ‘Save the Environment’ task to appeal to the ‘naturalist’ intelligence and a ‘Helping the Community’ task to engage the ‘existential’ intelligence?
The students then work on their new family businesses in their designated roles.
It’s presentation time! The students present their family businesses to the class while their classmates take notes and write down questions to ask them.
The key to using multiple intelligences theory in the classroom is not reinventing the wheel, but simply using a high-degree of variety. By planning classes that offer multiple modes of self-expression and communication, teachers can unlock the doors to high levels of student engagement and learning. Forget all of the different terminology and just remember: every student has different interests, different abilities, different skills, and possibly, different intelligences.
Don’t teach differently; instead, teach in many different ways.