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The Value of Multiple Intelligence Theory

By Christopher Luciani

The use of learning theories by teachers has the capacity to enhance the education of the
students they encounter. This paper will investigate Howard Gardners theory of Multiple
Intelligence as a practical inclusive method to improve learning in the classroom. This theory
has eight identified categories of intelligence which are inherent in all people, but
hypothesizes that they only excel in one or two categories. This is useful in education as it
takes an inclusive and wide view of intelligence which recognises students are diverse and
have their own strengths. The implementation of multiple intelligence theory in the classroom
allows teachers to use a variety of learning techniques such as collaborative learning, self-
reflection or problem solving. This was also observed during placement where certain
students were able to demonstrate higher levels of focus and understanding in diverse
settings. Whilst this theory is quite broad and open to interpretation it ultimately highlights
the different strengths and weaknesses of students which can be improved through an
exposure to different types of modes of learning.

The Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory was first proposed by developmental psychologist
Howard Gardner in 1980 in response to his analysis of the I.Q. test, which Gardner (2006,
p.4) describes as a one-dimensional view of how to assess peoples minds. Gardner (2006)
also relates this to the school setting which he calls the uniform view, which features a core
curriculum with very few electives which use assessments similar to the I.Q. test. This
meritocratic method essentially ranks each student according to their results where some do
better than others, but ultimately fails to recognise other forms of intelligence. The MI theory
was developed in response to this belief as the theory suggests that intelligences are a set of
abilities, talents or mental skills which normal individuals possess at a variable rate (Gardner
2006). There are eight identified categories of intelligence in the MI theory which are
linguistic, mathematical/logical, naturalistic, spatial, bodily/kinaesthetic, musical,
interpersonal and intrapersonal (Adcock 2014). Each of these intelligences comes with their
own abilities, such as the linguistic intelligence which allows for an enhanced capacity for
using words and language (Adcock 2014). The theory suggests that all people possess core
abilities for these intelligences but only excel in a select one or two, and if teachers recognise
those abilities they can tailor their method to the child who in response shall learn better
(Adcock 2014). This can be achieved through the use of interactive teaching and assessment
strategies such as using alternative methods of assessment or stimulating different types of
intelligences (Boaca et al. 2014).

The use of MI theory allows students to make a personal connection and thus is more
comprehensible to more students as each student has a different experience with their leaning
(Adcock 2014). However the theory has been criticised for not providing a clear program for
educators to use, as well as the categories being arbitrary and ambiguous (Hanafin 2014).
Conversely curriculum which is not aligned with the MI theory generally has an emphasis on
two types of intelligences such as literacy and numeracy. Whilst these intelligences are
important it constrains learning opportunities as well as teaching practices as it only caters to
students who perform strongly in these areas (Hanafin 2014). This may have negative
consequences for those students who perform better in other subjects entailing spatial and
musical intelligence as they are limited to subjects favouring linguistic and logical-
mathematical intelligence (Hanafin 2014). This may result in underperformance and these
students may not be seen as capable as others because their strengths do not favour the
emphasized modes of intelligence. Some critics of MI theory also say that ability in music
and art are talents and not intelligences, however Gardner states that if these are regard as
talents then language and mathematics should also be considered talents (Barrington 2004).
MI theory helps recognise students strengths and weaknesses which can provide
opportunities for the student to improve and thrive in their more capable areas.

The application of the MI theory in schools requires teachers to look at each student as an
individual with their own set of strengths and abilities. The theory provides a framework for
understanding behaviour and actions of students by identifying their specific abilities
(Nicolini 2010). Although most children may learn well with other methods such as direct
instruction, the use of MI in education gives more students the opportunity to learn better as
it helps them learn in the way they personally learn best (Adcock 2014). The classroom thus
needs to be thought of as a variety of students with different rhythms and should not expect
all students to align to the same level (Boaca et al. 2014). This will also require teachers to
use the theory to teach using a variety of different methods such through music, drawing,
writing or movement (Boaca et al. 2014). For example to appeal to the interpersonal
intelligence the teacher may assign group work which gives students roles and helps them
work within a team. Another example relating to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence may be to
create a dance or act out a historical event. This method focuses not only on the information
that is being taught, but also the process in which students are receiving the information
(Adcock 2014). This may be useful in seeing how students learn best and when they are most
engaged with the information they are receiving which would help them be more involved in
the class.

During my placement at the Hume Valley School (Special Settings), the value of Gardners
MI theory was evident in many classes. One particular student who suffered from mild
autism would enjoy the movement around the classroom and seemed to be more engaged
with activities requiring movement such as using cheerleading pom poms. This aligns with
the bodily/kinesthetic intelligence which involves the use of the body to solve problems such
as athletic performances (Nicolini 2010). Other students were also more engaged when using
musical instruments such as drums or the guitar and seemed to be more focused and calm in
this setting. This is an example of musical intelligence which facilitates performance and an
appreciation of musical patterns (Nicolini 2010). The students would often have activities
which would require them to use these intelligences and these classes would often
demonstrate who performs better in a more musical or kinesthetic environment.

The MI theory was developed as a response to uniform assessment which only recognized
few forms of intelligence. However, MI describes 8 forms of intelligence that it hypothesizes
all individuals possess but only excel in one or two. The implementation of this theory in the
classroom through interactive teaching and assessment strategies may enable more inclusive
teaching practices. This is because it will allow more students to learn in a variety of ways
which will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each child. Whilst there has been
criticism that these theories are too broad and do not provide a comprehensive curriculum,
the use of different modes of learning has demonstrated positive results. Teachers may use
drawing, music, writing or movement tasks to teach certain aspects of the curriculum which
would benefit various students depending on their capabilities. Whilst some would argue that
these abilities are more aligned with talents, MI theory argues that any strong performance in
a particular area such as math or English would also be regarded as a talent. Thus the use of
MI theory allows for inclusive practices as a range of students presents opportunities for them
to thrive in the classroom by allowing them to engage in the way they learn best.
Reference List

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Barrington, E 2004, Teaching to student diversity in higher education: how Multiple


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Gardner, H 2006, Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons, Basic Books.

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Nicolini, P 2010, Training Teachers to Observation: An Approach Through Multiple


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