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Multiple Ways of Knowing: Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences Extend and Enhance Student Learning
By Marian Beckman, Ed.D.

I was watching the children moving from center to center, busy, intent on their learning. A few of the children were at the art center drawing, painting, and cutting out snowflakes from pieces of folded paper. One boy was listening to recorded music and swaying to the beat and another child sat at an old keyboard picking out notes to a mystery tune displayed above the keys. Several other children were reading, playing word games, and doing math and science activities.

It had been a few months since Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences had been introduced into my 2/3 multi-age classroom, and the rewards had far outweighed any of the frustrations that had been encountered in preparing the centers. MI theory is good for kids and good for teachers in classrooms.

Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences has been grasped by the education community as a wonderful and meaningful way to account for the knowledge that: "we are not all the same, we do not all have the same kinds of minds, and education works most effectively for most individuals if...human differences are taken seriously" (Gardner, 1995, p.208).

Underlying Frameworks

Bruner identified three major classes of knowing: iconic, enactive, and symbolic (Bruner, et al., 1967). Iconic was linked to the ways of knowing central to the visual and spatial arts; enactive knowing framed the wisdom of movement, kinesthetic action, and dance; and symbolic represented the realm of reason and reductive logic (Samples, 1992). Schools have depended primarily on the symbolic and have measured intelligence in terms of achievement in this realm.

Bruner was not strongly supported at the time of this revelation, but Bateson (1979 and 1987) later maintained that "aesthetics, in his view, offer a wholly different dimension because it is the inherent expression of nature's plan. By approaching the connectedness of aesthetics, Bateson felt that one could sense the unity of nature and the human mind."

With this is mind we have an obligation to support learners who 'see' in terms of pattern and form as well as those who 'see' reason. We need to recognize all modalities as vital to the learning process.

Howard Gardner has embodied this thinking in his theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner defines intelligence as "the ability to find and solve problems and create products of value in one's culture" (Campbell, 1992, p. 197). The seven intelligences include: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Each person possesses all seven and each can be developed to an adequate extent. The underlying framework for the use of MI in the classroom is knowing and being aware of these different learning modes and these different ways of viewing children and the ways in which they exhibit intelligence.

This needs to be evident in lesson planning as the teacher strives to address multiple aspects in the presentation of a particular concept. For example, when teaching geometric shapes (logical-mathematical) the teacher can demonstrate and talk about the different shapes (linguistic), show and allow the children to feel wooden shapes or form shapes with their bodies (bodily-kinesthetic), children can work in groups (interpersonal) to find these shapes in the environment and share their findings with the class, do a paper and pencil task to identify shapes (intrapersonal) and / or make three-dimensional shapes from straws and clay or from toothpicks and marshmallows (spatial and bodily-kinesthetic) and write a riddle (linguistic) for others to guess the shape's name or put the riddle into the form of a rap or song (musical). In this way the concept is represented in a variety of ways which allows for individual differences and provides greater opportunity for learning and success.

Not only should content material be presented through these different modalities, but classroom learning centers can provide for the enrichment and extension of these many learning modes.

Centers for Success

The 2/3 Classroom (seven and eight year old students) at the Miller Research Learning Center on the campus of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, has 'centers' as designated areas where materials are available to extend student learning through a variety of activities within a specific intelligence. For example, the Linguistic center consists of word games, many books and dictionaries, a picture file, and an abundance of teacher made packets which contain manipulatives and activities in the areas of spelling, comprehension, discrimination, and phonology.

The Logical-Mathematical center has science experiments, math manipulatives, legos, gears, and teacher-made packets with activities relating to math and science concepts. The Music center is filled with records and a record player, a tape player and a keyboard (discarded by the music teacher) where children can play familiar songs, compose on music paper, or pick out a mystery tune which is displayed as different shapes and colors for notes which are also marked on the keyboard keys. This center is right next to the Bodily-Kinesthetic center where children can move to the music. There are also puppets and dress-up clothes for dramatic play as well as an opportunity to learn sign language.

In a quiet corner, there is a reading carrel where students can work alone (Intrapersonal center). A set of non-working earphones provides the opportunity for students to close out additional sound. Here a student can be alone and work in a less distracting environment.

In the Interpersonal center there are games such as chess and mastermind, and again, a bin of teacher-made folder games and packets which students can play together.

In the Spatial (art) center, one can find multicolored construction paper, paints, glue, markers, colored chalk, scissors, beads, yarn, clay, and weaving boards.

Preparing these centers takes planning and time and effort, but using what is available and adding a variety of teacher-made activities keeps any expense to a minimum. These materials do not have to be expensive or elaborate. Many may already be in a classroom or can be borrowed from or contributed by parents and co-workers.

This theory gives students and teachers a different perspective on intelligence, to step back and change perceptions...perceptions of self and perceptions of others. To recognize the gifts we bring to the learning situation and to appreciate the gifts which others bring to share. This is very evident as children work in the centers and it is very evident when we come to the culmination of a unit of study.


The culmination of a unit of study is modeled after what Thomas Armstrong (1994) terms a "Celebration of Learning". The students are asked, "How can you show me what you have learned about ___?" In this case land forms, states, and / or Native Americans. The students then look at a list of choices which includes such things as making a model, creating a mural, a dance, a song/rap, an experiment, a picture display, a video, a report, keep a journal, give a talk, etc. What they decide to do and how they will accomplish the goal is recorded by the teacher. Students can work on these 'celebrations' in school or at home.

When the day arrives for sharing the celebrations everyone is anticipating the joy of the moment. Each child comes forth to share what they've learned and it is exciting and captivating to behold.

This day brought a model of the United States completely formed of clay and about fifteen inches by twenty-four inches square with sharp pointed clay for the Rocky Mountain range and rounded forms for the Appalachians, as well as blue clay rivers and lakes and the site of the Grand Canyon delineated.

Another child cut pictures from calendars and magazines and labeled all of the land forms and wrote a short piece about each one. One boy researched and wrote a lengthy, detailed report about Alaska and the many land forms present there. Another boy journaled while he traveled to relatives who lived seven states away from home. He described the states and the land forms he saw and told about the people and the activities in which he took part. His journal was a snapshot of his observation skills as well as his knowledge of the states and the land forms we had studied.

Yet another boy brought in a model of a volcano with which he staged a simulated eruption by combining baking soda and vinegar. Then there was the handcrafted Native American bow and arrow as well as a detailed model of a Longhouse constructed of playdough, straw, and evergreen pieces.

Probably the celebration which brought the theory closest to my intentions was the one where two little girls created a song / rap about Native Americans and danced to the beat. The whole class listened intently and then as they returned to their seats, a classmate said, "Boy, that was awesome! Could I have a copy of that?".

What better evaluation than to have students creating context-rich products of their learning. What better affirmation of learning than to have a fellow classmate admire the work and want to share in it.

A Way of Thinking

The beauty of incorporating Howard Gardner's Seven Intelligences into the classroom is that it allows for all children to learn through their strengths and to share their expertise. To be appreciated for the gifts they possess and to appreciate others for their gifts. This was a marvelous outcome of the incorporation of MI theory in the classroom. The camaraderie that developed among students and the appreciation and respect for each other's strengths were some of the most clear changes that could be noted.

When viewing the classroom through the framework of MI theory, teachers can better identify children's strengths and present instruction to students which incorporates the Seven Intelligences into their lessons. Children are then afforded a variety of experiences which can be translated into greater learning outcomes.

It is of the utmost importance that we recognize and nurture all of the varied human intelligences, and all of the combinations of intelligences. We are all so different, largely because we all have different combinations of intelligences. If we recognize this, I think we will have at least a better chance of dealing appropriately with the many problems that we face in the world (Gardner, 1987).

MI theory is a way of thinking, it is an attitude about people which allows for similarities and differences. It allows for inclusion and enrichment, for self-esteem building and the development of respect for each individual and the gifts they bring to the classroom.

Whether it be a classroom environment or a world congress, each individual brings strengths to the situation, each individual brings gifts to share. When we listen and observe and show appreciation for these gifts we make a better 'whole', for truly, we are better together. We each bring a piece to the puzzle, a piece which adds color and beauty to the final product.

"If education is to give a gift to the future, then that gift must be one of wholeness - wholeness that is inherent in our design and our experience on this planet (Sample, 1992, p. 66). We must back away from narrowness and standardized accountability and move towards wholeness, connectedness, and meaningfulness in the learning experience.

Introducing Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences into the classroom provides opportunities for meaningful learning and gives the gift of wholeness to all who pass this way.

Marian Beckman, Ed.D., is a professor at Edinboro University of PA. As a teacher in the Miller Research Learning Center, she is in the process of validating several instruments which can be used to identify children's strength areas. She is conducting an extensive research project using Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences as a framework for curriculum delivery in the classroom.


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