A Case for Multiple Intelligences Based Classroom Instruction
Although many high school age students tend to think and learn in nontraditional ways, American schools still base their instruction primarily on the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. As a result, many students who are not strong in these traditional intelligences develop poor attitudes toward school and their academic achievement suffers.
According to psychologist Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, intelligences change with age and with experience. Since our culture places so much importance on the traditional intelligences and since so many high school students have strengths in the nontraditional intelligences, it makes sense to incorporate the multiple intelligences into classroom instruction in order to provide experiences that will change students' intelligences for the better.
This is not to say that the development of linguistic and analytical skills should be abandoned in favor of nontraditional approaches to education. Rather, traditional and nontraditional approaches should be combined to formulate a method of education that is best suited to the students who populate our classrooms. The multiple intelligences offer a balance which teaches students what they need to know in order to be successful in our society in a way that compliments the unique abilities that each individual possesses.
All students should have the opportunity to not only further develop their dominant intelligences, but should also have the opportunity to develop their weaker intelligences. Students who are weak in the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences will certainly be at a disadvantage in a culture that places so much emphasis on the traditional intelligences. Despite their weaknesses, however, students who are given the opportunity to succeed using an intelligence in which they can excel demonstrate that they are capable of developing their verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences.
Because MI based instruction is designed to reach a combination of intelligences, the multiple intelligences classroom is perceived by students as a place where everyone can do something well, instead of as a place where some students are "smart" and others are not. MI focuses on students' strengths and uses those strengths to build up weaker areas. According to Jie-Qi Chen & Gardner the multiple intelligences can bridge the gap from an area of success to an area of difficulty because "the sense of success in one area may make the student more likely to engage in areas where they feel less comfortable." Since students are not made to feel as though they are stupid because they do not know something, a change in attitude takes place which effectively removes the "block" which once prevented learning.
Multiple intelligences based instruction is effective because it provides a comfort zone by allowing students to think in ways that are comfortable for them. It also helps them develop thought processes that they do not normally use by providing them with a positive environment in which they can experiment without feeling that they are not "intelligent." Students who are strong in nontraditional intelligences often are made to feel that they don't measure up to the rest of their classmates. Multiple intelligences based instruction provides all students with the opportunities they need to succeed, and students who have been successful are better equipped to attempt more challenging work.
In short, multiple intelligences based instruction has the potential to eliminate (or at least reduce) the number of American students who are currently stumbling blindly through our systems of education. These students can be provided with the opportunities that they need in order to succeed in school while they are improving the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences that they will require in order to be successful in our society.
Chen, J. Q., & Gardner, H. (1997). Alternative assessment from a multiple intelligences perspective. In B. Torff (ed.), Multiple intelligences and assessment: A collection of articles, 27-54. Arlington Heights, IL: IRI/Skylight Training and Publications, Inc.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1995a). Multiple intelligences as a catalyst. English Journal, 84 (8), 16-18.
Gardner, H. (1995b). Reflections on multiple intelligences: Myths and messages. Expanded Academic ASAP [on-line database]. Original Publication: Phi Delta Kappan, 77 (3).
Teele, A. (1996). Redesigning the educational system to enable all students to succeed. NASSP Bulletin, (80) 583, 65-75. Michele R. Acosta is a freelance writer, a former English teacher, and the mother of three boys. She spends her time writing and teaching others to write.