Multiple Intelligences

This topic arose indirectly in a couple of entries, most notably in the reviews of the performances of the National Dance Institute and Arts Integration & Multiple Intelligences (“I’m a Believer,” July 31, 2009) and “Singing and Dancing with Frida and Diego.”

These performances integrate the theories of multiple intelligences to produce stellar work by young people. I’ve been meaning to write about MI for some time, and choose to do it now because the idea is under attack again.

Howard Gardner developed the theory in the 1980s. The web site contains much geek-speak for teachers but is still informative.

Gardner examined the idea that the only type of intelligence that humans possess is the type measured by standard IQ tests – logic, linguistic skills and the like. He decided that the construct was inherently limiting and offered the theory that many people learn in different ways. He offered seven types of intelligence. He and others have since changed and expanded the list.

Another authority Thomas Armstrong (I thought he was the Ragin’ Cajun chef in Hartford) has tweaked the list and came up with the following:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”):
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”) – now “aural”
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

The idea is that we of course all use bits and pieces of these “intelligences,” even when we are stronger in one or another, but overall most people have one area in which they are stronger than others. My students in the English 101-prep class at the community college all knew which category they fell in and how to tailor their study skills to maximize the benefit.

Critics of the theory have arisen before, but this time someone has decided that these various types of intelligence simply don’t exist. The video debunk makes some sense, though the college prof does acknowledge that the placebo effect may drive the results. I was buying the argument until he moved Algeria. (Guess he’s not a visual learner.)

Our Learning Curve has a more thoughtful analysis of Gardner, Armstrong and the debunkers. And I love the brain map at the beginning.

So do I believe that “learning styles” exist? Maybe it’s the terminology that’s the problem. People do process information in different ways, though I don’t think it’s possible to put any of us into a single category. Just because we haven’t yet worked out the exact way the process happens doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to pursue the concept.


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