In the past, we’ve written about the different types of learning styles. That is one theory which posits we should be teaching based on how our students like to learn, or how they learn best.
But there is another theory that, while sounding similar, is not. It brings about another opinion on how we should view our human ‘smart-ness.’ It says we should be viewing many forms of aptitude as ‘intelligent’ and thus, teach by recognizing a person’s core strengths. We’ll unpack that in a bit.
So, yes, it sounds like those two theories are one and the same. And many have confused them before. But the founder of the theory of multiple intelligences (sometimes abbreviated as “MI”), disagrees with the theory of learning styles, or learning better via distinct “senses.” So to respect that, and to keep our explanation accurate, we ought to make the distinction between them.
In this article, though, we’ll explain what the theory of multiple intelligences is, and why it’s important to know when teaching.
What is the theory of multiple intelligences, and where did it come from?
In 1983, Howard Gardner published a book titled, “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” In it, he identified 7 types of intelligence that a human could have. Eventually, that grew to 9 types. And some say it may be a growing list.
In short, through research with people who had been brain damaged, he came to the conclusion that just because someone isn’t able to perform one task (as a sign of being ‘smart’), that didn’t exclude them from still performing other tasks, or making their way in the world. And, while we all have all the types of intelligence, some of us seem to excel in one area over another.
So can we say that if a student is good at math, or science, they are ‘smart,’ whereas if a student is good at music or drawing, they are somehow not as ‘smart’?
If you check with yourself, you may find that many of us do have these concepts. We place more value on the intelligence that some skills require, over others.
And, we can incorrectly assume that if someone is good at one thing, they must be good at others – that is the theory of “general intelligence.” We rave about a person’s IQ scores, or we see others do it on T.V. That type of praise is with regards to general intelligence, and it puts away the idea that intelligence can come in many forms.
The nine types of intelligences, according to Howard Gardner, and how to identify them
So…what are the multiple intelligences? How are they ‘found’ in a person?
They are listed as the following:
- “Verbal-linguistic intelligence”
- “Logical-mathematical intelligence”
- “Visual-spatial intelligence”
- “Musical intelligence”
- “Naturalistic intelligence”
- “Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence”
- “Interpersonal intelligence”
- “Intrapersonal intelligence”
What do each of the intelligence labels mean? Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we’ll link to a great article that breaks down the definitions and applications of each form of intelligence:
If any of these sound like they fit with you, you could be right! But don’t undermine the fact that you are probably more intelligent than you think!
There is a fun quiz on eduptopia to give you an idea of where you fall in the continuum of these types of strengths (though we wouldn’t go so far as to call that quiz ‘science’!)
Here is the link to try it out:
You’ll notice that even if you thought one or two of the above intelligences fit you the most, you may have a range of skills and abilities, with some strengths showing in some areas more than others.
Keep in mind that Gardner didn’t really believe in a test to identify people’s intelligences. This is because intelligences are demonstrated, rather than spoken about when describing oneself (according to the article at the link below). External sources have made these quizzes, and another is here:
Why educators need to know about the theory of multiple intelligences
At this point, you may realize that when we broaden our view of what it means to be “intelligent,” we can value the qualities that different students may have, and teach accordingly. We can also see the need for a customized approach to education, where each pupil gets to foster their strengths, rather than suppress them, or feel bad they don’t have what another student has.
Adapting to the theory of multiple intelligences is opposed to conforming kids to a set standard, or telling them they are smart, or not smart, based on a test they all have to take.
Our experience tells us that humans vary, and each has something to contribute to the world – even if it’s not math and science and the traditional, philosophical, educational routes. Even our own interests show us that we can pick up skills we enjoy a lot faster than the ones we don’t enjoy – right?
And so, when a teacher presents information to students, it’s important to be adaptable. The teacher needs to use different methods of teaching to reach each type of intelligence in a student, or set of students. As Gardner himself puts it, the theory he devised should bring about:
A commitment to convey important ideas and concepts in a number of different formats. This activation of multiple intelligences holds promise of reaching many more students and also demonstrating what it means to understand a topic thoroughly and deeply.
We encourage you to view the links in this article to get ideas for inspiration on how to do this, practically. Also stay tuned for a future article where we’ll write about how to apply the theory of multiple intelligences in your own teaching methods.
If you want to hear Gardner explain why multiple intelligences matter in learning environments, here is a video where you can watch him do that:
See related on our education blog:
- Spending one-on-one time with your child to figure out how they learn
- Learning how your child learns: making the assessment
- Math Tutoring Tips for Children with Different Learning Styles
- How Parents and Tutors Can Help Children Recognize Their Learning Styles