In the decade since
Frames of Mind was published (Gardner, 1983), my colleagues and I have
been involved in three major activities, each growing out of the
theory of multiple intelligences. First of all, we have made some
adjustments in the theory itself, clarifying the scope of an
intelligence and developing the notion of intelligences as
contextualized (see, for example, Gardner, 1990). Second of all, we
have undertaken a set of initiatives in pre-collegiate education;
these initiatives have covered a variety of aspects of schooling, with
much of our effort focusing on the development of appropriate means of
assessing the various intelligences in context (Gardner, 1991, 1993).
finally, we have been in touch with, and some cases provided
logistical support for, teachers and administrators all over the
country, who have expressed interest in incorporating aspects of the
theory of multiple intelligences into their school programs.
As I have indicated
elsewhere (Gardner, 1993b), the theory of multiple intelligences was
developed as a contribution of psychology and, most especially, as a
counterweight to the predominant notion of a single intelligence, that
is putatively measured adequately by a single short-answer instrument.
I have not had extensive experience in precollegiate education, and
the chapters in Frames of Mind on the education of the intelligences
were largely speculative and programmatic. I was pleasantly
surprised--indeed, quite excited--by the interest shown by educators
in the theory; I have tried to encourage and support the marvelous
energy that I've encountered around the country and even abroad. But
at the same time I have always stressed that I did not have a specific
Multiple Intelligences School in mind, and that I expected to learn at
least as much from educators as they might learn from me.
During recent years,
a number of colleagues from Project Zero and I have had the privilege
of visiting schools that have ad some experience in the implementation
of ideas entailed in the theory of multiple intelligences. We have
observed a variety of practices, some of which could have been readily
anticipated by a reader of Frames of Mind, others of which have come
as a distinct surprise (see Gardner, Hoerr, Krechesvsky; Kornhaber and
This experience has
convinced me that, in a sense, the theory of multiple intelligences is
like a Rorschach test for educators. As educators read about and
ponder the ideas, they can pursue them in a variety of directions,
some of which actually conflict with other possible scenarios. Nor is
it the case that one application is "right" and the other "wrong." As
often as not, both can be justified and each might prove appropriate
for its context. In this brief essay, I will describe some of the
major "choice points" encountered in the transporting of MI ideas from
the ivory town into the classroom. for convenience sake I have grouped
them under familiar school headings; but it should be evident that
each of these choices could be described in a number of ways and
placed under various rubrics.
Most educators attracted to the idea of multiple intelligences have
specific educational purposes in mind. Among the principle missions
a. To secure an
education that is more personalized;
b. to promote an education that leads to more "flow" experiences for
students (Csikszentimihalyi, 1990);
c. To have an education that addresses youngsters who are "missed"
by a traditional academic curriculum.
d. To justify the inclusion of the arts centrally in the curriculum;
e. To find a way to bring faculty, or faculty and parents, closer
f. To promote project-based learning and/or an interdisciplinary
g. To promote more authentic modes of assessment.
It is of course
possible to have more than one goal in mind, and sometimes a variety
of goals nestle comfortably with one another. However, it is important
that the purposes be made explicit, lest educators within the school
find that they are proceeding at cross-purposes.
A focus on multiple intelligences can be consistent with a variety of
approaches to curriculum. From the vantage point of some educators, MI
theory provides a justification for a wider variety of courses
(ranging from computing to choreography). These courses can be either
required or offered as options.
Other educators may
favor a traditional curriculum, one that features the classical
subjects. In the latter case, multiple intelligences offers a variety
of ways "into" particular subject matter. On this view, everyone
should study history and everyone should study geometry. However,
there can be a variety of entry points with some students embracing a
narrative approach while others crave a "hands-on" entry.
An analogous set of options exists from the perspective of pedagogy.
It is possible for each teacher to highlight a particular
intelligence, with youngsters gaining from exposure to several
teachers, each of whom "specializes" in a particular intelligence. It
is also possible for each teacher to vary his or her approach, the
process of exhibiting a number of different intelligences. Instructors
can also co-teach, with each member of the team cultivating a
intelligences can also be served by the media and resources that are
available or constructed. Independent of a teacher's own preferred
style or styles, instructional materials can be introduced that
"speak" to different intelligences and combinations of intelligences.
Indeed, in the future, it may be possible to offer students quite
individualized approaches to the "same" curricular concepts or
In part, because it has been of particular significance to our
research groups at Project Zero, many educators have become interested
in how multiple intelligences intersects with the assessment of
student learning. While it is clear that multiple intelligences is not
consistent with reliance on a single, short-answer kind of assessment,
there are many possible ways in which assessment can proceed.
One approach is to
attempt to assess intelligences in context, by creating environments
in which on can observe particular [intelligences] or groups of
intelligences at work. Another is to feature student projects or
exhibitions, where students have options of selecting the ways in
which they can exhibit mastery of curricular materials. Even when one
uses traditional summative instruments,l it is possible to tilt toward
multiple intelligences, by varying the mode of presentation and the
mode of response. New kinds of report cards, use of video portfolios,
the accomplishment of records of achievement are all ways of
documenting students' profiles of intelligence and the way that there
have been used to learn material and to "perform" one's understandings
in appropriate ways (Gardner, 1991; Gardner and Boix-Mansilla, 1994).
While MI theory and
assessment have been closely allied in our work, there is not
necessary coupling in schools. Some schools have promoted MI
curricular approaches while continuing to use standard local and
national assessment instruments. Others, in tried-and-true progressive
fashion, have eschewed formal assessment altogether (Gardner, 1994).
Our own experience has indicated that it is usually a mistake to being
the "MI-zation" of a school with a focus on assessment. However, the
passage of time, an interest in assessment evolves naturally, from
effectiveness of academic innovations.
MI theory assumes that all students have available, for stimulation,
the entire array of human intelligences. Each intelligence can be
cultivated. At the same time, it is recognized that, for a variety of
reasons, students exhibit different profiles of intelligences, and
that certain intelligences will be more "at promise" in each student.
This situation leads
to one of the most intriguing and controversial aspects of MI theory.
It has always fascinated me that individual can read Frames of Mind
and draw quite opposite educational goals for students. Some see the
theory as pointing to the broadest possible education, with each
student having the opportunity to develop the full spectrum of
intelligences. Others, based on the same text, see MI theory as an
argument for early specialization. On this view, one should uncover a
student's area of promise or talent as soon as possible and develop
that strength as fully as possible.
It is possible to
assume a more nuanced position as well. Some educators recommend a
broader exposure during the early grades of school, with increasing
specialization as one heads toward secondary school and college. Still
others believe that the decision about breadth vs. specialization is a
value judgment, one best left to the child and his or her family.
Another point of
contention concerns the focus of an MI approach. It is possible to
adopt an MI approach that takes as its goal the optimal development of
areas of student strength. However, it is equally legitimate to
identify areas of weakness, and to devote special resources to the
bolstering of these less developed intelligences. At issue here is
whether one wants, in the end, to have students who have relatively
"flat" profiles of intelligence, or profiles with peaks, and the
In addition to each
student exhibiting a particular profile of intelligences in isolation,
students also demonstrate intelligences when they are working with
their peers. Indeed, when one peer has an exceptionally strong
intelligence, others may yield to him or her and instead demonstrate
or cultivate other intelligences. Groups of "cooperative" learning
provide an excellent milieu in which students can both discover their
peculiar strengths and learn to work effectively with others to
multiply the collective intelligence of the group.
For the most part, educators have seen the theory of multiple
intelligences as a means of changing--one hopes, for the better--the
kind of education achieved by all children. However, the theory has
also held appeal for educators who work with more specific target
audiences. Early in the life of the theory, teacher of the gifted and
teachers of students with learning deficits were attracted to the
theory; perhaps that is because they are especially familiar with
students who exhibit unusual profiles ow strengths and deficits.
More recently, other
educators have also found the theory to be useful. Among those who
have embraced the theory are those who work with populations from many
different cultures and those who are working toward a broader
definition of giftedness, especially in minority groups. There has
also been interest among educators at the collegiate level, educators
who work with older individuals, and educators whose responsibility
centers on the work place. It remains to be determined whether a
general approach can reach these diverse populations, or whether it is
advisable to construct more targeted kinds of curricula, instructional
materials, and modes of assessment.
These, then are but some of the conundra that arise when on attempts
to extract an educational regimen from the theory of multiple
intelligences. It happens that in a number of these cases, I have my
own thoughts about which course of application is more profitable. But
this is not the place to put forth my own recommendations, which, in
any event, have changed over time and will probably continue to change
as I have the chance to observe, and to participate in, various
It is important to
stress the following point. Any set of educators who is considering
the adoption of multiple intelligences in their classrooms or schools
ought to discuss these issues and others like them, fully. Rounded and
balanced discussion of the issues is probably at least as important as
the particular resolution reached, particularly since that resolution
may well change once actual efforts at implementation have begun.
It is also extremely
useful to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with others who
have had experience in implementing MI in their schools. In the
Appendices to Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993) I
have listed many individuals who have had such experience. The Project
Zero office at Harvard keeps an up-to-date list of MI aficionados from
all over the country. Other organizations such as David Lazear's New
Dimensions of Learning and Dee Dickinson's New Horizons for Learning
can provide useful sets of contacts. Finally, each year various
regional and national conference center on multiple intelligences and
these offer an excellent opportunity to confer with other
Howard Gardner is co-director of
Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of
the definitive work on the theory of multiple intelligences, Frames
of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
(1990). Flow. New York: Harper/Collins.
Gardner, H. (1991).
The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think, How Schools Should Teach. New
York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1993a).
Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1994).
"Progressivism in a New Key." Paper delivered at the Conference on
Education and Democracy, Jerusalem, June 1993.
Gardner, H. and
Boix-Mansilla, V. (1994). "Teaching for Understanding in the
Disciplines and Beyond." Paper delivered at the Conference on
Education and Democracy, Jerusalem, June 1993.
Gardner, H., Hoerr,
T., and Krechevsky, M. "Complementary Energies: Multiple Intelligences
in the Lab and the Field." In J. Oakes (Ed.), Yearbook of the nation
Society for the Study of Education.
Kornhaber, M. and
Krechevsky, M. "Expanding Definitions of Learning and Teaching: Notes
from the MI Underground." In P. Cookson (Ed.), Creating School Policy:
Trends, Dilemmas, and Prospects.
Krechevsky, M., and Gardner, H. "Engaging Intelligence." Educational
Psychologist 25 (3 & 4), pp. 177-199.