Multiple Intelligences: Assessment Tips & Theory

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education

Intelligence is often thought to be synonymous with being smart or a high achiever, but modern education models look at intelligence in a new, different way. This lesson covers multiple intelligences theory and offers some relevant assessment tips.

What Is Multiple Intelligence Theory?

In 1983, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner published his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In this book, Gardner outlines his theory suggesting that all people learn in different ways and have different 'intelligences.' Often confused as learning styles, there is a nuanced yet distinct difference. Multiple intelligence theory is not a method of how humans learn, but rather a model of human intelligences that work together. So, how does Gardner define human intelligence?

Multiple Intelligences
multiple intelligences

To answer that question, let's look at how Gardner lays out his theory. Multiple intelligences theory states that we all experience and make sense of the world through differing lenses (details on them below). The strengths each individual possesses are different, as are the ways we use them to solve problems. Gardner further categorizes intelligence into three categories -- one's ability to create a product of service valuable to society; a skill set used to problem solve; and one's potential to learn and find creative solutions.

The Eight Intelligences

When Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was published in 1983, Gardner proposed seven intelligences: musical, visual-spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, body-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Gardner later added the naturalistic domain. Understanding each of these is important in determining a student's strengths and weaknesses when learning. Keep in mind that no one person is staunchly in one domain; rather, each of us possesses a unique blend of differing intelligences, which we use in our own style. For example, strength may surface in the areas of visual-spatial, musical, and intrapersonal intelligences.

What Kind of Learner?

Educators wanting to incorporate the theory of multiple intelligences can use specific, formulated assessments to determine students' strengths and weaknesses. However, while many quizzes, tests, and assessments exist, Howard Gardner himself advises against using one to determine an intelligence. To get an accurate measure of a student's intelligence, observation, data collection, and conversations with the student should be conducted by many professionals who then come together to determine an outcome. Using this type of performance measurement, in which the student demonstrates his or her ability to use and apply intelligence, is the method accepted by Howard Gardner.

Because every student is different, no one approach to assessment is possible to determine which intelligences work for a student. Instead of thinking of testing in the traditional way, approach the topic as a multiple intelligence theorist -- with the goal of matching the assessments to the learning style.

Assessment Tips

Assessing multiple intelligences should be as diverse as the learning styles themselves. Teachers should be aware that testing in one way, such as an essay, will naturally play to the strength of some learners, such as linguistics, and weakness of others, such as spatial learners. Consider eliminating traditional methods of testing when determining multiple intelligences of your students, and instead supplement with authentic assessments.

Keep the following in mind when considering assessments:

  • Variety - Because your learners are unique, their response to testing will be also. Use different tools, procedures, and instruments to assess.
  • Give it time - Look at this process as a gathering of evidence, not a one-and-done assessment.
  • You're never finished - Think you've figured out which learning style a student is? Chances are, he or she has characteristics of many and will show those strengths during differing tasks.
  • Build a team - Having a team of professionals who are part of the process gives opportunities for many objective eyes to determine strengths and weaknesses.

Creating Your Own Assessments

To use the theory of multiple intelligences successfully, teachers must first understand what type of intelligence students are. Each domain has particular characteristics teachers can use to determine how to best instruct students.

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