Multiple IntelligencesThe theory of multiple intelligences was created by psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983, as an alternative to the conventional view of intelligence as a single linear variable. He found the standard concept of intelligence to be too limited, since it failed to explain how students could excel in one area whilst performing poorly in another, and also because he considered intelligence tests to generally only measure a very small spectrum of human ability. Thus he proposed that there were eight separate kinds of intelligence, with different individuals possessing different endowments of each (Gardner 1983).
Eight different intelligences were proposed by Gardner. Spatial, which describes ability at visualization and mental measures of space/distance. Linguistic, which refers to ability with written and spoken language, strong verbal memory and skill at understanding grammar. Musical, which refers to aptitude with musical pitch, composition and audio memory/imagination. Logical-mathematical, which refers to the intellectual abilities generally covered by the conventional notion of intelligence. Bodily-kinaesthetic, which refers to the ability to learn through use of the body, by doing things physically, and skill at kinaesthetic tasks. Interpersonal, which refers to talent at interacting with other people, extraversion, and outgoingness. Intrapersonal intelligence, which refers to self-awareness and capacity for self-contemplation and introspection, and finally Naturalistic intelligence, which refers to someone’s ability to connect with and understand nature and the world around them (Gardner 1983).
In terms of teaching, these multiple intelligences lead Gardner to suggest that students had different learning needs based on their dominant intelligence, and that no one style of teaching was appropriate to all. Thus teachers were encouraged to use teaching styles that addressed a variety intelligences in their classrooms, to allow all students a chance for their particular intelligence to shine. For instance, a lesson might incorporate a song and dance based activity, to stimulate students with dominant musical and bodily-kinaesthetic intelligences, then follow with a nature-based activity outside, to allow students with strong naturalistic intelligences to learn, the intrapersonal types to converse and the intrapersonal types to introspect (Gardner 1993).
The theory of multiple intelligences has however faced some criticism. Empirical evidence tends to suggest a high degree of correlation between aptitude at various different tasks, as opposed to the low degree suggested by Gardner’s theory. People with skill at logico-mathematical and linguistic abilities, for instance, tend to also be more competent at musical pursuits. High IQ generally correlates with faster reflex responses, going against the notion that conventional intelligence and things like bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence are completely separate. There is also little scientific or neurobiological evidence in favour of the theory (Klein 1997 & 1998, Lohman 2001).
In spite of criticisms of the theoretical basis of Gardner’s theory, even many of its critics agree that it can be quite effective in practice. A study led by Harvard on a selection of schools
using Multiple Intelligence theory in their teaching found
"a culture of hard work, respect, and caring; a faculty that collaborated and learned from each other; classrooms that engaged students through constrained but meaningful choices, and a sharp focus on enabling students to produce high-quality work." (Kornhaber 2004)
Thus regardless of the strength of the theoretical underpinning of Gardner’s theory, in practice it leads to positive outcomes due to the respect it encourages for diversity in student abilities – as opposed to viewing them through the limited lens of linear intelligence, which might lead teachers to consider some students as intrinsically inferior to others.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is therefore a useful teaching tool for the TEFL classroom, in that it helps promotes respect and positive interaction between students and teachers, and allows for interesting activities that engage all manner of students. It may lack a strong empirical grounding, but this doesn’t detract from the positive contribution that the varied and inclusive activities its methodology promotes can make to the TEFL environment.
Gardner, Howard. (1983) "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences." New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, Howard. (1993) "Multiple Intelligences: The Theory In Practice." New York:Basic Books.
Klein, Perry, D. (1997) "Multiplying the problems of intelligence by eight: A critique of Gardner's theory", canadian
Journal of Education, 22(4), 377-394.
Klein, Perry, D. (1998) "A response to Howard Gardner: Falsifiability, empirical evidence, and pedagogical usefulness in educational psychology" Canadian Journal of Education, 23(1), 103-112.
Kornhaber, Mindy. (2004) "Psychometric Superiority? Check the Facts"
Lohman, D. F.(2001). "Fluid intelligence, inductive reasoning, and working memory: Where the theory of Multiple Intelligences falls short." In N. Colangelo & S. Assouline (Eds.), Talent Development IV: Proceedings from the 1998 Henry B. & Jocelyn Wallace National Research Symposium on talent development (pp. 219-228). Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press.