Traditional Western definitions of intelligence are primarily concerned with mathematical, verbal, and logical intelligences. However, plenty of research suggests that there are multiple intelligences. Understanding the multiple strengths students have is crucial to developing educational approaches that allow students to grow into their gifts and balance intellectual limitations. When educators take students’ varied capabilities into account and adjust accordingly, they can more fully support learning and inspire students to grow.
Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist at Harvard, first suggested the existence of multiple types of intelligence. In developing his Multiple Intelligence Theory, Gardner proposed that people are not born with all of the intelligence they could have, but instead develop multiple intelligence types as they grow. While Gardner acknowledged linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, over time, he also identified six other types of intelligence including spatial intelligence, musical intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and naturalistic intelligence.
Multiple Intelligence Theory can help educators see cognitive ability in a whole new light. They can identify already established capabilities and help students balance out limitations by playing to these abilities. These are skills that graduates develop in an online Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) — Effective Practitioner PreK-12 program.
Working with Learning Styles
Multiple Intelligence Theory is often confused with another of Gardner’s theories: Learning Styles. However, the two are not the same. Gardner theorized that educators could help students understand new concepts or skills by utilizing their preferred learning styles. However, learning styles are neither static nor consistently helpful. Although students may prefer visual or auditory learning in general, this does not mean they always learn best in these ways.
In the same way, Multiple Intelligence Theory is often conflated with preferred learning styles. People often assume students can only learn one way because they only have one major type of intelligence. However, this goes against Gardner’s theories. He argues that multiple intelligences should inform educational approaches that take the development of multiple intelligences into consideration.
Russian educator Margarita Finko suggests that Multiple Intelligence Theory should also be combined with a consideration of students’ cultural backgrounds to allow for more flexibility and enable educators to adapt learning content to their students individual and culturally determined learning needs.
Individualization and variety are the key concerns when employing Multiple Intelligence Theory in the classroom. To avoid the simplistic trap of conflating Multiple Intelligence Theory with preferred learning styles, educators must understand their students’ strengths while harnessing those strengths to balance out their limitations. Teachers should attempt to emphasize multiple intelligences throughout their lessons and activities, being careful not to rely too much on just a few or assume all their students have the same strengths and needs.
This is particularly useful for students with disabilities and English language learners. Traditional intelligence assessments do not account for disabilities and language barriers, but individualizing educational materials and activities to play to individuals’ strengths can greatly help students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and developmental disabilities like autism. These strategies are also beneficial for teaching concepts in languages that are not native to students.
Engaging New Teaching Strategies
Educators with an understanding of multiple intelligences should apply this knowledge in their lesson planning and offer multiple ways to access information, accounting for more than one intelligence in each lesson. They can also harness the power of nontraditional intelligences to help students strengthen areas of intellectual limitation. For example, educators might incorporate the arts into some lessons on non-artistic subjects, allowing students to express themselves with musical or spatial skills in order to better comprehend science and history lessons.
Teachers might also employ multisensory learning techniques, which emphasize learning activities that involve more than one sense. Engaging students’ senses is also engaging their intelligences. Students with high levels of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, for instance, might engage better with activities that appeal to their tactile senses. In contrast, students who are very musically intelligent are likely to respond very well to activities that engage their auditory senses. Promising research in this area suggests that video games hold great potential for involving multiple senses, playing to students’ strengths as they play and learn.
Armed with an understanding of multiple intelligences, educators can better understand their students and allow them to grow intellectually and personally. Every student should have access to differentiated instruction that works with their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Research Gate: Multiple Intelligence Theory Can Help Promote Inclusive Education for Children With Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disorders: Historical Reviews of Intelligence Theory, Measurement Methods, and Suggestions for Inclusive Education