Gardner's Seven Intelligence
9/23/2011 2:05 AM
Introducting Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner's work around multiple intelligences has had a profound impact on thinking and practice in education - especially in the United States. Here we explore the theory of multiple intelligences; why it has found a ready audience amongst educationalists; and some of the issues around its conceptualization and realization.
"I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do... Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill."
(Howard Gardner 1999: 180-181)
Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences - the initial listing
Howard Gardner viewed intelligence as 'the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting' (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). He reviewed the literature using eight criteria or 'signs' of an intelligence:
- Potential isolation by brain damage.
- The existence of idiots savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals.
An identifiable core operation or set of operations.
A distinctive development history, along with a definable set of 'end-state' performances.
An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility.
Support from experimental psychological tasks.
Support from psychometric findings.
Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system. (Howard Gardner 1983: 62-69)
Candidates for the title 'an intelligence' had to satisfy a range of these criteria and must include, as a prerequisite, the ability to resolve 'genuine problems or difficulties' (ibid.: 60) within certain cultural settings. Making judgements about this was, however, 'reminiscent more of an artistic judgement than of a scientific assessment' (ibid.: 62).
Howard Gardner initially formulated a list of seven intelligences. His listing was provisional. The first two have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final two are what Howard Gardner called 'personal intelligences' (Gardner 1999: 41-43).
Gardner's Initial List of Seven Intelligences
Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.
Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner's words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.
Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. According to Howard Gardner musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related.
Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.
Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counsellors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.
Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.
In Frames of MindHoward Gardner treated the personal intelligences 'as a piece'. Because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together. However, he still argues that it makes sense to think of two forms of personal intelligence. Gardner claimed that the seven intelligences rarely operate independently. They are used at the same time and tend to complement each other as people develop skills or solve problems.
In essence Howard Gardner argued that he was making two essential claims about multiple intelligences. That:
The theory is an account of human cognition in its fullness. The intelligences provided 'a new definition of human nature, cognitively speaking' (Gardner 1999: 44). Human beings are organisms who possess a basic set of intelligences.
People have a unique blend of intelligences. Howard Gardner argues that the big challenge facing the deployment of human resources 'is how to best take advantage of the uniqueness conferred on us as a species exhibiting several intelligences' (ibid.: 45).
These intelligences, according to Howard Gardner, are amoral - they can be put to constructive or destructive use.
The appeal of multiple intelligences to educators
Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has not been readily accepted within academic psychology. However, it has met with a strongly positive response from many educators. It has been embraced by a range of educational theorists and, significantly, applied by teachers and policymakers to the problems of schooling. A number of schools in North America have looked to structure curricula according to the intelligences, and to design classrooms and even whole schools to reflect the understandings that Howard Gardner develops. The theory can also be found in use within pre-school, higher, vocational and adult education initiatives.
This appeal was not, at first, obvious.
At first blush, this diagnosis would appear to sound a death knell for formal education. It is hard to teach one intelligence; what if there are seven? It is hard to enough to teach even when anything can be taught; what to do if there are distinct limits and strong constraints on human cognition and learning? (Howard Gardner 1993: xxiii)
Howard Gardner responds to his questions by first making the point that psychology does not directly dictate education, 'it merely helps one to understand the conditions within which education takes place'. What is more:
Seven kinds of intelligence would allow seven ways to teach, rather than one. And powerful constraints that exist in the mind can be mobilized to introduce a particular concept (or whole system of thinking) in a way that children are most likely to learn it and least likely to distort it. Paradoxically, constraints can be suggestive and ultimately freeing. (op. cit.)
Mindy L. Kornhaber (2001: 276), a researcher involved with Project Zero, has identified 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.
The response to Howard Gardner is paralleled by the adoption of Kolb'smodel of experiential learning by adult and informal educators. While significant criticism can be made of the formulation (see below) it does provide a useful set of questions and 'rules of thumb' to help educators to think about their practice. The way in which Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has been translated into policy and practice has been very varied. Howard Gardner did not, initially, spell out the implications of his theory for educators in any detail. Subsequently, he has looked more closely at what the theory might mean for schooling practice (e.g. in The Unschooled Mind, Intelligence Reframed, and The Disciplined Mind). From this work three particular aspects of Gardner's thinking need noting here as they allow for hope, and an alternative way of thinking, for those educators who feel out of step with the current, dominant product orientation to curriculumand educational policy. The approach entails:
A broad vision of education. All seven intelligences are needed to live life well. Teachers, therefore, need to attend to all intelligences, not just the first two that have been their tradition concern. As Kornhaber (2001: 276) has noted it involves educators opting 'for depth over breadth'. Understanding entails taking knowledge gained in one setting and using it in another. 'Students must have extended opportunities to work on a topic' (op. cit.).
Developing local and flexible programmes. Howard Gardner's interest in 'deep understanding', performance, exploration and creativity are not easily accommodated within an orientation to the 'delivery' of a detailed curriculum planned outside of the immediate educational context. 'An "MI setting" can be undone if the curriculum is too rigid or if there is but a single form of assessment' (Gardner 1999: 147). In this respect the educational implications of Howard Gardner's work stands in a direct line from the work of John Dewey.
Looking to morality. 'We must figure out how intelligence and morality can work together', Howard Gardner argues, 'to create a world in which a great variety of people will want to live' (Gardner 1999: 4). While there are considerable benefits to developing understanding in relation to the disciplines, something more is needed.
While there may be some significant questions and issues around Howard Gardner's notion of multiple intelligences, it still has had utility in education. It has helped a significant number of educators to question their work and to encourage them to look beyond the narrow confines of the dominant discourses of skilling, curriculum, and testing. For example, Mindy Kornhaber and her colleagues at the Project SUMIT (Schools Using Multiple Intelligences Theory) have examined the performance of a number of schools and concluded that there have been significant gains in respect of SATs scores, parental participation, and discipline (with the schools themselves attributing this to MI theory). To the extent that Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory has helped educators to reflect on their practice, and given them a basis to broaden their focus and to attend to what might assist people to live their lives well, then it has to be judged a useful addition.
Project SUMIT (2000) uses the metaphor of Compass Points -'routes that educators using the theory have taken and which appear to benefit students'. They have identified the following markers that characterize schools with some success in implementing practices that attend to multiple intelligences theory.
Culture: support for diverse learners and hard work. Acting on a value system which maintains that diverse students can learn and succeed, that learning is exciting, and that hard work by teachers is necessary.
Readiness: awareness-building for implementing MI. Building staff awareness of MI and of the different ways that students learn.
Tool: MI is a means to foster high quality work. Using MI as a tool to promote high quality student work rather than using the theory as an end in and of itself.
Collaboration: informal and formal exchanges. Sharing ideas and constructive suggestions by the staff in formal and informal exchanges.
Choice: meaningful curriculum and assessment options. Embedding curriculum and assessment in activities that are valued both by students and the wider culture.
Arts. Employing the arts to develop children's skills and understanding within and across disciplines.
Informal educators can usefully look at this listing in respect of their projects and agencies. The multiple intelligences themselves also provide a good focus for reflection. Arguably, informal educators have traditionally been concerned with the domains of the interpersonal and the intrapersonal, with a sprinkling of the intelligences that Howard Gardner identifies with the arts. Looking to naturalist linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences could help enhance their practice.
Further reading and references
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