Looking Back at Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

It’s funny how Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences seemed like a  ground breaking discovery at the time in the early eighties  when his first book Frames of Mind came out. Now, I think most people take it for granted. Anyone who works with kids can tell you that they are unique and that their brains are all wired differently. they also all have different strengths and challenges. Because of this instruction needs to be tailored to the students’ needs.

While reading a couple of articles on Edutopia, one of my favorite education sites, they featured a look back at Gardner’s theory. You can read the article here. One thing I found very interesting was that his interview, taken in 1997 focused on the following which still feel very relevant today:

  • On the importance of engaging students actively in what they are studying.
  • On the characteristics of student-directed learning.
  • On the theory of multiple intelligences.
  • On technology and multiple intelligences.
  • On the need for fundamental change in the curriculum.
  • On how assessment in school differs from assessment in other arenas such as sports or music.
  • On the need for a new approach to assessment in schools.
  • On what needs to happen in order that long-standing change occurs in public education.
  • Those topics above were the main focus of his interview. What I wrote in red above really resonates with me even today. Students need to like what they are doing. They have to be motivated and engaged. Providing them with some autonomy is not a bad thing, it gives them a drive to do something interesting. I also truly believe that technology has the potential to increase student achievement, but it has to be done correctly. How many times have you sat through a presentation where someone just reads the bullet points off their slide? That’s not effective use of technology. If it doesn’t enhance your objective don’t use it. But often there are many ways in which technology does. Also, the curricula needs to change to some degree. When I first started teaching, there was little time to stop and work on social-emotional skills, for example. There’s no way to teach every objective written in the standards of every discipline without finding ways to integrate. Finally, assessments need to be mostly formative: simply a snapshot of where that child is. That information should be used to then inform you how you teach that child. I think that holds true with teacher evaluations, rather than the assessment be summative, it should be formative and used for opportunities of growth.

    Below is the interview, and if you want to take a quick test to see your own learning style, you can click here. It doesn’t surprise me that intrapersonal learning is my strongest style and kinesthetic is my weakest. Years ago I  sort of wrote his theory off as something that was simply obvious, but it’s good to reflect on the past sometimes as I think I learned something this time around. This reflection on our practice will help us attend to the needs of our kids more.


    One thought on “Looking Back at Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

    1. Wow what an interesting interview. I learnt briefly about Gardner while studying (where I had to learn theory, name and date) and a bit more when I went into a school as a Student Teacher that was set up based around some of his theories. At the time I found it interesting but like it should be common sense, well of course people learn in different ways (I’m dyslexic I learn in my own special ways, but at the time did not know this) . Having taught for a few years now, I see how hard to can be to put successfully into a classroom because of the systems that keep schools running. Though I must say New Zealand has given it a pretty good go, now if they could just reduce the class sizes…

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