A number of researchers in educational psychology have come to defend the concept of multiple intelligences as opposed to identifying one intelligence quotient. Thus teachers must be aware that it is not accurate to think of students as being "smart" or "not smart"; students with high performance in one area may not have high performance in another. The debate continues on the number of distinct intelligences and the definitions of those intelligences. Sternberg (1994) defines 3, and Guilford (1967) defines as many as 180 intelligences. The number is not important, but rather the seminal idea is that we must not categorize students according to ability on a narrow set of criteria. The theory of multiple intelligences that has received the most attention from practitioners is that of Howard Gardner (1983,1999).
Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
A phrase appearing throughout the Standards is "mathematics for all students." It requires us to use a variety of ways to interest students who differ in abilities. A relevant theory, the theory of multiple intelligences developed by Howard Gardner, came from a psychobiological perspective along two lines of research that he has pursued for some years. One is the development of gifted and normal young persons. The other is research on individuals who have had brain damage that affects their cognitive abilities. Gardner defines intelligence as a set of skills that enables an individual to "resolve genuine problems or difficulties that he or she encounters and, when appropriate, to create an effective product...thereby laying the groundwork for the acquisition of new knowledge" (1983, p. 60).
Although Gardner states that there cannot be any one irrefutable set of intelligences, nevertheless he has a stringent set of criteria for selecting them. The eight he selected are briefly outlined here:
- Linguistic intelligence is involved in four main aspects of linguistic knowledge: the ability to use words to convince others, to use words as a mnemonic device, to use words to explain concepts, to use words to reflect upon language and the ability to learn languages.
- Musical intelligence deals with musical composition, the basic elements of music (pitch, rhythm, and tone), the power to evoke an emotional response, and skill in performance.
- Logical-Mathematical intelligence requires logically analyzing problems, investigating problems scientifically, and carrying out mathematical operations in dealing with pattern making.
- Spatial intelligence is orienting oneself to differing views of an object; achieving a painting with tension, balance, and good composition; seeing similarities in seemingly disparate forms; and manipulating wide space and confined space.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence entails parts of the whole of one's own body to solve problems or make products.
- Intrapersonal intelligence requires access of one's own feelings and the ability to draw on these feelings to guide one's own behavior, which is basically inwardly directed.
- Interpersonal intelligence is outward toward other persons. This is the ability to read and move others and work effectively with other people.
- Naturalist intelligence involves the definition of natural kinds, uses extensive linguistic and taxonomic systems, and recognizes naturalistic patterns.
Although there may be some overlap such that the intelligences are not completely independent of one another, Gardner cites extensive and broad research to support his choice of these eight divisions (Gardner, 1983,1999).
The term intelligence is used purposely to denote an innate propensity, but whether an ability develops depends on culture and experiences. Gardner notes that standard testing and our formal schooling primarily lie in the two fields of linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. This may also be a cultural issue. "Logical-mathematical intelligence has been of singular importance in the history of the West, and its importance shows no sign of diminishing" (1983, p. 167). He finds the logical-mathematical skill to be one way of thinking that is neither superior nor inferior to any other in the sets of intelligences. Gardner advises against schools trying to test for specific intelligences or labeling students in terms of their intelligences. He suggests three foundational propositions: "We are not all the same; we do not all have the same type of minds (Gardner, 1999, p. 91)" and that education works best when these differences are considered. Certainly with the diversity of our current student populations, these are important concepts to keep in mind.
A primary goal of the NCTM Standards is to help all students develop mathematical power. The theory of multiple intelligences (MI) can provide teachers with a perspective to invent methods of teaching mathematics to appeal to students with differing capabilities. If you wish to use this theory as an element in designing lessons, we suggest reading further on the subject. Gardner (1995, 1999) discusses myths concerning his theory and some elements of current practice that purport to embody his theory but do not. The 1994 Yearbook of the Association for Supervisors and Curriculum Development, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, includes many suggestions for teachers to introduce MI theory in curriculum, teaching strategies, classroom environment, and assessment (Armstrong, 1994). Teachers should not expect to find a set number of alternative approaches reflecting different intelligences, but should strive for multiple representations when they assist a range of students to make sense of the mathematical concept under study. The inclusion of mathematical manipulatives, communication about mathematics, use of group work, and connections to other disciplines are a few of the different avenues teachers can employ to help students tap into their unique strengths to learn mathematics.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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