TEFL Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a renowned author; his theory of multiple intelligences is a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence that can be assessed by standard psychometric instruments.

Multiple intelligences theory proposes that it is more efficient to describe an individual´s cognitive capacity in terms of several relatively independent but interacting cognitive capacities rather than in terms of a single "general" intelligence. Gardner suggests that there are at least nine different or distinct intelligences:

1.Linguistic: the capacity to use language to express what´s on your mind and to understand other people. Any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or other person for whom language is an important stock in trade has great linguistic intelligence.

2.Logical/Mathematical: the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or to manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.

3.Musical Rhythmic: the capacity to think in music; to be able to hear patterns, recognize them, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have strong musical intelligence don´t just remember music easily, they can´t get it out of their minds, it´s so omnipresent.

4.Bodily/Kinesthetic: the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body (your hands, your fingers, your arms) to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of production. The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dancing or acting.

5.Spatial: the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind -- the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.

6.Naturalist: the ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. 7.Intrapersonal: having an understanding of yourself; knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves. They tend to know what they can and can´t do, and to know where to go if they need help.

8.Interpersonal: the ability to understand other people. It´s an ability we all need, but is especially important for teachers, clinicians, salespersons, or politicians -- anybody who deals with other people.

9.Existential: the ability and proclivity to pose (and ponder) questions about life, death, and ultimate realities.

(Gardner, 2006)(, 2007)

Other intelligences have been suggested or explored by Gardner and his colleagues, including spiritual and moral intelligence. Gardner excluded spiritual intelligence due to its failure to meet a number of his criteria. Moral capacities were excluded because they are normative rather than descriptive. (Wikipedia, 2007)

Generally, the subject is much debated and a very large body of literature exists. Among scientists, the theory has its strong supporters and its strong detractors. In education, however, the theory is largely accepted; the potential of the multiple intelligences approach to education derives from the concept of intelligence profiling. The assumption underlying that concept is that most people overall ability is made of a combination of relative strengths and weaknesses among their different intelligences; a condition that enables them to process some types of information better than some other types of information.

Practically, the profile approach to multiple intelligences instruction provides teachers with better diagnostic information to help a particular student who is having difficulty. Of course, before providing assistance, we need to know why that student is having difficulty. And that, from our perspective as teachers, is the challenging part; how do we know what our students? strengths and weaknesses are? Fortunately, very practical and successful efforts at understanding and interpreting strengths were made and reported candidly and in layman?s terms by teachers and field researchers as Terri Coustan and Lezlie Rocka:

Intelligences by themselves cannot be observed, but can be inferred by analyzing individual strengths. In our classrooms, we were able to view areas in which we thought our students had strengths, but it was not possible for us - or necessary - to define anyone´s intelligence profile. Instead of guiding students´ towards what we saw as activities that suited their intelligences, we decided it was best to supply, within lessons, an array of choices and opportunities through which students could express their different intelligence strengths. We thought that this would allow students to explore receiving and communicating information in ways that suited them best. We saw students´ strengths and preferences reflected through the activities they selected, the length of time they devoted to the activities, their body language during the activities, and what they said about the activities both during and after doing them. These strengths and preferences emerged as we observed students choosing the same activities or types of activities over and over. (NCSALL, 1999)

And that is what we need. As teachers, once we know what our students? strengths and weaknesses are, we can accentuate their strengths through advanced opportunities to develop their gifts and bolster their weak areas through remediation.

Moreover, the multiple intelligences theory encourages collaboration across students, prepares students with diversity skills, help develop their ability to work with others who have other ways of learning and communicating. Students with compatible profiles (exhibiting the same patterns of strengths and weaknesses) can work together to solidify and build on strengths. Students with complementary profiles (in which one students weak areas are another student´s strengths) can work together to compensate for one another. (Vygotsky, 1978) References

Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. New York: BasicBooks.

NCSALL (1999). Focus On Basics: Volume 3, Issue A Putting Theory into Practice Applying MI in the classroom meant enhancing, rather than replacing, techniques we value by Terri Coustan and Lezlie Rocka URL: (2007). Educational resources: Howard Gardner?s Multiple Intelligences Theory URL:

Vygotsky, L S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wikipedia (2007) Theory of multiple intelligences: Other intelligences URL: s

Author: Robert J. Stern

Date of post: 2007-04-18