Recently, I have been studying Howard Gardner’s theory of mulitple intelligences. Gardner is a noted scholar in the Harvard University School of Education. This has been an eye-opening, “Aha!” experience for me. Although I have received a lot of formal education, and indeed I have delivered a lot of formal education to hundreds of students in my career, I must say I now feel cheated in not knowing more about how other people learn. After all, I have my particular ways and preferences for how I learn. Shouldn’t I expect my students to learn what I teach in the same way as I would prefer to learn?
Gardner has convinced me otherwise, with an emphatic “No!” He has proposed that people develop no less than eight intelligence arenas, and most of us tend to operate in and out of more than one of them at any given learning moment. And we each have one or more that are our preferred intelligence(s).
So what does this mean for a teacher who doesn’t understand this reality? Well, many of us learned what we know, at least in our formal educations, by reading a lot and listening to lectures about what we were reading about. So that’s the best way to teach, right? Well, maybe (actually, probably) not.
Gardner has proposed there are eight intelligences:
According to Gardner, each person has developed a profile of intelligences that is manifested as different areas of strength.
In the following short video (8 minutes), listen to how Gardner explains the importance of realizing this. Also, in the context of this blog, listen to him describe what role technology can play in helping us optimize how we teach to those multiple intelligences.
I discovered this fairly recent interview with Dr. Gardner that helped me put this all in perspective. You can also listen to it and read the article by following this link.
On technology and multiple intelligences.
If we know that one child has a very spatial or visual-spatial way of learning, another child has a very hands-on way of learning, a third child likes to ask deep philosophical questions, the fourth child likes stories, we don’t have to talk very fast as a teacher. We can actually provide software, we can provide materials, we can provide resources that present material to a child in a way in which the child will find interesting and will be able to use his or her intelligences productively and, to the extent that the technology is interactive, the child will actually be able to show his or her understanding in a way that’s comfortable to the child.
We have this myth that the only way to learn something is to read it in a textbook or hear a lecture on it. And the only way to show that we’ve understood something is to take a short-answer test or maybe occasionally with an essay question thrown in. But that’s nonsense. Everything can be taught in more than one way. And anything that’s understood can be shown in more than one way. I don’t believe because there are eight intelligences we have to teach things eight ways. I think that’s silly. But we always ought to be asking ourselves, “Are we reaching every child, and, if not, are there other ways in which we can do it?”