Gardner defends personalized learning and stakes his claim on transmitting through different formats and media in order to address multiple intelligences.
Howard Gardner conceived the MI theory as a psychological theory, one that also drew on brain and genetic knowledge in the early 1980s. But Gardner was surprised that the principal interest in the theory came not from psychologists but from educators. And that has remained largely true until today. Initially, he did not have strong ideas about how to apply MI theory to education. But, finally, its application to Education has come to increase student achievement.
What changes must occur in a class based on multiple intelligences?
The most important educational implications of MI theory are individuation and pluralization. Individuation means knowing as much as you can about each student and giving each student the chance to learn in a way that is most comfortable and to demonstrate learning and understanding in ways that are comfortable. Of course, this is easier to do when you have a smaller class. But you cannot let the large class defeat the idea of personalized learning, and digital technology makes individualized Education a possibility for all students.
And the pluralization?
Pluralization means deciding what is really important for students to know, learn, understand and then to convey that information to students in a variety of formats and media, thereby addressing the multiple intelligences. I’ve never encountered anything of importance that can only be taught in one way. And when you teach pluralistically, you not only reach more students; you also show what it is like to really understand something –you can represent that knowledge in several forms/formats–.
What problems have been encountered when put into practice in a class?
One problem is that teachers worry about every student. That’s not necessary. Many students are flexible and can learn in many ways. It’s not necessary to devote time to those students; in fact, sometimes they can be drawn upon to help those students who have difficulty with the content. Another problem, alluded to in the previous answers, is that it is more difficult to individualize when you have large classes. In that case one has to be flexible and innovative, making use of various technologies, bringing other teachers into the room, asking older and more sophisticated students to share the job of the teacher… to use what I have to call ‘pedagogical intelligence’.
Another problem is taking the theory too literally: no need to teach everything in seven or eight ways. It’s important to teach a topic in more than one way, but even two ways is genuine progress. Another problem: using the intelligence superficially. It may be a bit easier to learn a poem if you sing it, but that is not musical intelligence. Musical intelligence would involve focusing on the interpretation of the text and making choices that make musical sense as well. Similarly , dancing a poem is not bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, unless you actually pay attention to the quality of the bodily movement.
What do you think about the criticism that your theories are based more on intuition than on the results of empirical research?
The criticism is wrong! The theory is based entirely on scientific evidence, taken from psychology, anthropology, biology (originally neurosciences, but increasingly now from genetics). What the critics should say is that theory is not based on experiments. Much of science cannot be investigated experimentally –for example, geology, astronomy, the theory of evolution etc.–. Not only is my theory based on evidence from science; it can and will be changed on the basis of new scientific evidence. Fifteen years ago I would not have spoken of pedagogical intelligence but evidence is accruing that the ability to teach is a distinctly human capacity which begins to develop in the first years of life.
What are the differences between the intelligences and skills?
I use the word ‘intelligence’ to designate a broad capacity to compute certain kinds of information in certain kinds of ways. Linguistic intelligence deals with language, whether it is heard, or read; spatial intelligence deals with the capacity to locate oneself or objects in space, which can be a small space (like a chess board or apiece of sculpture) or a much larger space, the realm of navigators or architects. Each of these intelligences involves a multitude of skills. There is no tension between ‘intelligence’ and ‘skills’. It is a question of grain-size: many skills can constitute an intelligence. People often ask about the relation between intelligences and talents. You can use either term, but I use intelligence, because it is important to indicate that being good with music or with understanding other people is every bit as important, and quite separate from the ability to do math or to use ordinary language to communicate.
How might your multiple intelligences have a positive impact on public schools?
Briefly, my theory can reinforce the idea that individuals have many talents that can be of use to society; that a single measure (like a high stake test) is inappropriate for determining graduation, access to college, etc.; and that important materials can be taught in many ways, thereby activating a range of intelligences.
Should students spend time as apprentices or interns gaining experience instead of listening to a lecture?
I love school and indeed I have never left. I am delighted at those who like to learn in an academic way. But that is not for everyone, and it is certainly not for every 16 year old. I am much more interested in youngsters being productive and learning something well than remaining in school when they want to be elsewhere. When they are ready to return to school and to learn what you learn best in school –whether they are 17 or 70– that is the time to return.
Do you think we should be able to freely choose what courses we take? Or do you favor a uniform curriculum for all students?
In general at the secondary level, everyone should study some history, science, mathematics, and the arts. It is not important to me which science is taught –I am much more interested in students learning to think scientifically–. Similarly, it does not matter that much which history students learn, though they certainly ought to be acquainted with their own country. What matters is that the student acquires some sense of how historical studies are carried out; what kinds of evidence are used; how history differs from literature on the one hand, and from science, on the other; why each generation rewrites history and there can never be a definitive history.
You prefer depth over breadth. Do you think students might not learn enough with this approach, and graduate with major gaps in their knowledge?
It is more important that students learn how to think like a historian, and how historians handle data and draw conclusions. This can only come from in depth study of a manageable number of topics. The problem now is that a student might study the American Revolution four times and never learn about the French or Russian revolutions at all.
Can you recommend techniques for teachers to identify their students’ strengths?
If you want to get to know your students intelligences during the first weeks of school, I have two suggestions: 1. Take them to a children’s museum a few times (or some other kind of rich experience like a playground with many kinds of games) and watch them carefully. This will complement what you observe in class. 2. Give a small questionnaire about their strengths to the students themselves and their parents and, if possible, last year’s teacher. To the extent that all three report the same strengths and weaknesses, you are on pretty safe ground. I don’t trust self-reports unless they are corroborated.