Monday, April 28, 2008

Multiple Intelligences

As most educators know, Howard Gardner is well known for his research on multiple intelligences. In fact, as educators, Gardner's theories infiltrated much of our psychology and methods courses as pre-teachers. Today, as "real teachers," his theory of M.I. is frequently mentioned during teacher planning, staff development and faculty room banter. But did you ever wonder how Gardner felt about educators using his theory of M.I. in your classroom? As an educator, I just assumed he had shared his theory freely with educators since his name was so prevalent in the field of education. That however, was not his initial intent.

In some of his writing Gardner has stated, "to the surprise of many, including me [Howard Garder], the theory of multiple intelligences has become influential in educational circles. It is often assimilated, inappropriately, in my view, into work on cognitive or learning styles. Educators have sought to determine the intellectual strengths (the intelligence profiles) of their students through a variety of informal, jerry-built methods. They have also drawn a multitude of often inconsistent inferences about practice from the theory. These range from teaching seven or eight different subjects, each centering on a particular intelligence; to organizing groups of students based on their favored intelligences; to building curricula that focus on specific intelligences; to teaching subjects in seven or eight different ways."

Can you believe that? Where was the tipping point in Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences in which the educators proclaimed his initial research as gospel and left the researcher himself out of the loop? When I read this I was much more than surprised, I was shocked. Why did my professors, administrators and faculty peers stress his theories so, when the researcher himself originally stated that as educators, we're interpreting his research incorrectly? This is a conflict. Why this selective deafness on the part of the pedagogs? Why didn't I discover this until now?

According to Mindy L. Kornhaber (2001: 276), a researcher involved with Project Zero, there are a number of reasons why teachers and policymakers in North America have responded positively to Howard Gardner's presentation of multiple intelligences. Among these are that "the theory validates educators' everyday experience: students think and learn in many different ways. It also provides educators with a conceptual framework for organizing and reflecting on curriculum assessment and pedagogical practices. In turn, this reflection has led many educators to develop new approaches that might better meet the needs of the range of learners in their classrooms."

Alright, I am one of those North American teachers interested in understanding Gardner's research on multiple intelligences. Yet, Howard Gardner will remind you and me that psychology does not directly dictate education, 'it merely helps one to understand the conditions within which education takes place.'

As an inclusion teacher, I differentiate on a number of different levels based on the ever-changing conditions of my classroom and the individual needs of my students. Sometimes I interpret this to include learning style, but it could also fall under Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. In my opinion, there are certain teaching styles that lend themselves to certain lessons and there are certain intelligences that lend themselves to certain concepts and rather than pigeonholing children into their favored or specific intelligence, I find it important to teach with all intelligences in mind. It is also important to me to expose students to all of Gardner's proposed intelligences in an attempt to broaden their understanding, even if they have an area of weakness in one or more area.

In reaction to Han S. Paik's article, One Intelligence or Many? Alternative Approaches to Cognitive Abilities, it doesn't surprise me that the true definition of intelligence is still debated. There are too many factors to consider when trying to define the intelligence of a child. Children are unique based on their hereditary, culture, experience, and even the unmentioned area of disability.

At a recent conference, Howard Gardner indicated that his theory of multiple intelligences could not be accomplished in the face of No Child Left Behind and standards-based education. I would agree. While there is a need for assessment to track the progress of students, the assessment proposed through NCLB and state tests is not broad enough to include all of Gardner's intelligences. The pencil, paper, scantron tests of today are limiting and do not reflect the potential strengths of those children who encompass strengths in some or all of Gardner's nine intelligences.

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