Multiple intelligences

The bulk of this document describes Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. At the end of the description, there is a section on how this applies to educators and, particularly, to assessment. Lastly, there are examples of different spelling activities, based on the different intelligences. Skim through to find the parts of the document which are likely to be most useful to you.

As you read, remember that this theory describes different intelligences as if they are different categories, in order to provide a model for us to understand the whole person. In reality, each person is a unique blend of characteristics, and uses their
‘intelligence’ as a whole, blending aspects of the different ‘intelligences’ identified here. We cannot use theories to put people into fixed categories of intelligence. We can use theories to better understand the complex and dynamic nature of human
intelligence and thinking. This can help to inform our teaching and assessment, and to make it more varied and authentic.

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Some theorists believe believe that intelligence is a basic ability that affects performance on all cognitively oriented tasks. Consequently, an "intelligent" person will do well in computing mathematical problems, in analysing poetry, in taking history essay examinations, and in solving riddles.

Evidence for this position comes from correlational evaluations of intelligence tests.
J.P. Guilford (1967) and Howard Gardner (1983) are the most prominent proponents of multiple cognitive abilities.

Guilford has suggested that there are three (3) basic categories, or faces of intellect:
mental operations - the process of thinking; contents - what we think about; products - the end results of our thinking.

Mental operations are further divided into five different subcategories:

cognition - recognising old information and discovering new; convergent thinking - where there is only one answer or solution; divergent thinking - used when many answers may be appropriate; evaluation - decisions about how good, accurate, or suitable something is; memory - remembering previous information given or experienced.

Guilford's model of intelligence has several advantages as well as one major disadvantage.

The model broadens our view of the nature of intelligence by adding such factors as those related to social judgement (the evaluation of others' behaviour) and creativity (divergent thinking).
Certainly, human mental abilities must be complex, but Guilford's model may be too complex to serve as a guide for predicting behaviour in real situations or for planning instruction.
In addition the problem of explaining the persistent correlations among all these "separate" mental abilities remains.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner has proposed a "theory of multiple intelligences" in which he suggests that people possess at least seven (eight since 1997) different forms of intelligence.

He claims that the capacity of individuals to acquire and advance knowledge reflects the priorities and opportunities that society presents in a cultural domain.

In this framework, intelligence is seen as a flexible, culturally dependent construct and as such it reflects a social constructivist perspective.

Each of the seven intelligences, listed below, are characterised by core components such as sensitivity to the sounds, rhythms, and meanings of words and capacities to discern and respond appropriately to the moods, temperaments, motivations and desires of other people.

An example of this is:
"a surgeon who needs both the acuity of spatial intelligence to guide
the scalpel and the dexterity of the bodily kinaesthetic intelligence to handle it."

The Multiple Intelligences are not subject specific and can be related to many different learning areas.

Gardner's own definitions of the Intelligences are seen below :-

1.Linguistic intelligence is the capacity to use language, your native language, and perhaps other languages, to express what's on your mind and to understand other people. Poets really specialise in linguistic intelligence, but any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or a person for whom language is an important stock in trade highlights linguistic intelligence.

2. People with a highly developed logical-mathematical intelligence understand the underlying principles of some kind of a causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or can manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.

3. Visual spatial intelligence refers to the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind--the way a sailor or aeroplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences. If you are spatially intelligent and oriented toward the arts, you are more likely to become a painter or a sculptor or an architect than, say, a musician or a writer. Similarly, certain sciences like anatomy or topology emphasise spatial intelligence.

4. Bodily kinaesthetic intelligence is the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body--your hand, your fingers, your arms--to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of a production. The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dance or acting.

5. Musical intelligence is the capacity to think in music, to be able to hear patterns, recognise them, remember them, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have a strong musical intelligence don't just remember music easily--they can't get it out of their minds, it's so omnipresent. Now, some people will say, "Yes, music is important, but it's a talent, not an intelligence." And I say, "Fine, let's call it a talent." But, then we have to leave the word intelligent out of all discussions of human abilities. You know, Mozart was damned smart!

6. Interpersonal intelligence is understanding other people. It's an ability we all need, but is at a premium if you are a teacher, clinician, salesperson, or politician. Anybody who deals with other people has to be skilled in the interpersonal sphere.

7. Intrapersonal intelligence refers to having an understanding of yourself, of knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves because those people tend not to screw up. They tend to know what they can do. They tend to know what they can't do. And they tend to know where to go if they need help.

8. Naturalist intelligence designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. I also speculate that much of our consumer society exploits the naturalist intelligences, which can be mobilised in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of makeup, and the like. The kind of pattern recognition valued in certain of the sciences may also draw upon naturalist intelligence.

Gardner's view of intelligences affects the way in which we teach in our classrooms. He challenges our ideas of what is intelligent behaviour, in particular, the emphasis in schools on the development of verbal and mathematical abilities of children to the exclusion of a broader range of intelligent behaviours.

The essentials of a multiple intelligence perspective for education:

For teachers

Present material to be learnt in authentic environments. Encourage all children to develop competencies across all intelligences. Utilise mentoring and apprenticeships with experts in the area of development. Develop an interdisciplinary curriculum to facilitate the interconnections between the intelligences. Encourage the cooperation of parents and community in students' education. Ground education in the cultural institutions and practices of our society

Implications for assessment

Integrate curriculum and assessment. Be flexible in assessment practices to allow individuals to demonstrate their various competencies. Develop authentic assessments. Develop alternative assessments such as portfolios and work samples. Develop intrinsically interesting assessments. Set fair assessments that do not depend on other competencies as intermediaries.

Below is an example of Spelling Activities based on Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

Verbal Linguistic: Select words from the text Say them - Look - Say - Cover - Write - Check Make - crosswords - wonderwords - jumbled words Add - endings - prefixes - suffixes Dictionary work - alphabetical order
Logical Mathematical: Write your words in code Do word webs Identify patterns in your list words Rank your words in terms of - length - difficulty Classify your words in several different ways
Visual/Spatial: Draw the words - illustrate the meaning Write the word in fancy lettering styles Play "Pictionary" Arrange your words into - chains - ladders Draw the words as they sound
Body Kinaesthetic: Act out the words Play charades Say your words in sign language - deaf alphabet Dance out the meaning of the word Clap out the syllables of the words
Musical/Rhythmic: Tap out the syllables Create a rap incorporating the list words Learn Morse code and tap out the words Write a song and sing the words Play the sound of the words on a musical instrument
Interpersonal: Work with a partner to say/spell words Do mimes of list words Form peer coaching teams to help learn words Play word games in small groups Games - Scrabble - Memory - Hangman - Boggle - Up Words
Intrapersonal: Look at your spelling work - do a P.M.I. Set goals for improving one aspect of your work Think about the ways you learn best - what helps/hinders you? How do you feel about school subjects? Where do you rate spelling? look back over your spelling assignments - do a self-evaluation


Much of the information on this page has been adapted from either

McInerney, D.M. and McInerney, V. Educational Psychology: Constructed Learning (Second Edition)

(Australia: Prentice Hall, 1998)


Woolfolk, A. Educational Psychology (Fourth Edition)

(Englewood Cliffs, USA: Prentice Hall, 1990)

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