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Intelligences in the Classroom

Howard Gardner has been interviewed for an article in the September 20th edition of the Spanish magazine Espacio de Pensamiento e Innovación Educativa (Space Thinking and Educational Innovation). 

Discussing the meaning of intelligence and the practices of individuation and personalization in the MI-conscious classroom, Gardner addresses some of the frequent problems faced by teachers who seek more personalized education for students. He also responds directly to criticism of multiple intelligences theory. 

Click here to read the Spanish (pg. 2) and English (pg. 10) texts as a single PDF. The English interview questions and answers have also been reprinted below.

1. What features must be present in a class based on multiple intelligences?

The most important educational implications of MI theory are individuation and pluralization.

Individuation means knowing as much as you can about each student, giving each student the chance to learn
in a way that is most comfortable and to demonstrate learning and understanding in ways that are comfortable.
Of course, this is easier to do when you have a smaller class. But you cannot let a large class size defeat the idea of
personalized learning, and digital technology makes individualized education a possibility for all students.

Pluralization means deciding what is really important for students to know, learn, and understand and then to convey
that information to students in a variety of formats and media, thereby addressing the multiple intelligences. I’ve never encountered anything of importance that can only be taught in one way. And when you teach pluralistically, you not only reach more students; you also show what it is like to really understand something when you can represent that knowledge in several forms/formats.

2. What problems have been encountered when this is put into practice in a class?

One problem is that teachers worry about every student. That’s not necessary. Many students are flexible and can learn in many ways. It’s not necessary to devote time to those students; in fact, sometimes they can be drawn upon to help those students who have difficulty with the content.

Another problem, alluded to in the answer to the first question, is that it is more difficult to individualize when you have large classes. In that case, one has to be flexible and innovative, making use of various technologies, bringing other teachers into the room, asking older and more sophisticated students to share the job of the teacher… and to use what I have to call ‘pedagogical intelligence.’

Another problem is taking the theory of MI too literally: there is no need to teach everything in 7 or 8 ways. It’s important to teach a topic in more than one way, but even two ways is genuine progress.

And yet another problem is using the intelligences superficially. It may be a bit easier to learn a poem if you sing it, but that is not musical intelligence. Musical intelligence would involve focusing on the interpretation of the text and making choices that make musical sense as well. Similarly, dancing a poem is not bodily-kinesthetic intelligence unless you actually pay attention to the quality of the bodily movement.

3. What do you think about the criticism that your theories are based more on intuition than on the results of empirical research?

The criticism is wrong! The theory is based entirely on scientific evidence, taken from psychology, anthropology, and biology (originally neurosciences, but increasingly now from genetics). What the critics SHOULD say is that theory is not based on experiments. Much of science cannot be investigated experimentally (for example, geology, astronomy, the theory of evolution, etc.).

Not only is my theory based on evidence from science; it can and will be changed on the basis of new scientific evidence. Fifteen years ago I would not have spoken of pedagogical intelligence, but evidence is accruing that the ability to teach is a distinctly human capacity which begins to develop in the first years of life.

4. What are the differences between the intelligences and skills?

I use the word intelligence to designate a broad capacity to compute certain kinds of information in certain kinds of ways. Linguistic intelligence deals with language, whether it is heard or read; spatial intelligence deals with the capacity to locate oneself or objects in space, which can be a small space (like a chess board or a piece of sculpture) or a much larger space, the realm of navigators or architects. Each of these intelligences involves a multitude of skills. There is no tension between ‘intelligence’ and ‘skills.’ It is a question of grain-size: many skills can constitute an intelligence.

People often ask about the relation between intelligences and talents. You can use either term, but I use intelligence, because it is important to indicate that being good with music or with understanding other people is every bit as important, and quite separate from, the ability to do math or to use ordinary language to communicate.

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