Web links

Curriculum Design

Educational Policy

Educational Technology

New Dimensions


Teachers In India

Assesment and Evalution

Classroom Management

Classroom Management

Multiple Intelligences Enter the School

Multiple Intelligences Enter the School

by Howard Gardner

In the decade since Frames of Mind was published (Gardner, 1983), my colleagues and I have been involved in three major activities, each growing out of the theory of multiple intelligences. First of all, we have made some adjustments in the theory itself, clarifying the scope of an intelligence and developing the notion of intelligences as contextualized (see, for example, Gardner, 1990). Second of all, we have undertaken a set of initiatives in precollegiate education; these initiatives have covered a variety of aspects of schooling, with much of our effort focusing on the development of appropriate means of assessing the various intelligences in context (Gardner, 1991, 1993). finally, we have been in touch with, and some cases provided logistical support for, teachers and administrators all over the country, who have expressed interest in incorporating aspects of the theory of multiple intelligences into their school programs.

As I have indicated elsewhere (Gardner, 1993b), the theory of multiple intelligences was developed as a contribution of psychology and, most especially, as a counterweight to the predominant notion of a single intelligence, that is putatively measured adequately by a single short-answer instrument. I have not had extensive experience in precollegiate education, and the chapters in Frames of Mind on the education of the intelligences were largely speculative and programmatic. I was pleasantly surprised--indeed, quite excited--by the interest shown by educators in the theory; I have tried to encourage and support the marvelous energy that I've encountered around the country and even abroad. But at the same time I have always stressed that I did not have a specific Multiple Intelligences School in mind, and that I expected to learn at least as much from educators as they might learn from me.

During recent years, a number of colleagues from Project Zero and I have had the privilege of visiting schools that have ad some experience in the implementation of ideas entailed in the theory of multiple intelligences. We have observed a variety of practices, some of which could have been readily anticipated by a reader of Frames of Mind, others of which have come as a distinct surprise (see Gardner, Hoerr, Krechesvsky; Kornhaber and Kreshevsky).

This experience has convinced me that, in a sense, the theory of multiple intelligences is like a Rorschach test for educators. As educators read about and ponder the ideas, they can pursue them in a variety of directions, some of which actually conflict with other possible scenarios. Nor is it the case that one application is "right" and the other "wrong." As often as not, both can be justified and each might prove appropriate for its context. In this brief essay, I will describe some of the major "choice points" encountered in the transporting of MI ideas from the ivory town into the classroom. for convenience sake I have grouped them under familiar school headings; but it should be evident that each of these choices could be described in a number of ways and placed under various rubrics.


Most educators attracted to the idea of multiple intelligences have specific educational purposes in mind. Among the principle missions are these:

a. To secure an education that is more personalized;
b. to promote an education that leads to more "flow" experiences for students (Csikszentimihalyi, 1990);
c. To have an education that addresses youngsters who are "missed" by a traditional academic curriculum.
d. To justify the inclusion of the arts centrally in the curriculum;
e. To find a way to bring faculty, or faculty and parents, closer together;
f. To promote project-based learning and/or an interdisciplinary curriculum;
g. To promote more authentic modes of assessment.

It is of course possible to have more than one goal in mind, and sometimes a variety of goals nestle comfortably with one another. However, it is important that the purposes be made explicit, lest educators within the school find that they are proceeding at cross-purposes.


A focus on multiple intelligences can be consistent with a variety of approaches to curriculum. From the vantage point of some educators, MI theory provides a justification for a wider variety of courses (ranging from computing to choreography). These courses can be either required or offered as options.

Other educators may favor a traditional curriculum, one that features the classical subjects. In the latter case, multiple intelligences offers a variety of ways "into" particular subject matter. On this view, everyone should study history and everyone should study geometry. However, there can be a variety of entry points with some students embracing a narrative approach while others crave a "hands-on" entry.


An analogous set of options exists from the perspective of pedagogy. It is possible for each teacher to highlight a particular intelligence, with youngsters gaining from exposure to several teachers, each of whom "specializes" in a particular intelligence. It is also possible for each teacher to vary his or her approach, the process of exhibiting a number of different intelligences. Instructors can also co-teach, with each member of the team cultivating a particular intelligence.

Multiple intelligences can also be served by the media and resources that are available or constructed. Independent of a teacher's own preferred style or styles, instructional materials can be introduced that "speak" to different intelligences and combinations of intelligences. Indeed, in the future, it may be possible to offer students quite individualized approaches to the "same" curricular concepts or frameworks.


In part, because it has been of particular significance to our research groups at Project Zero, many educators have become interested in how multiple intelligences intersects with the assessment of student learning. While it is clear that multiple intelligences is not consistent with reliance on a single, short-answer kind of assessment, there are many possible ways in which assessment can proceed.

One approach is to attempt to assess intelligences in context, by creating environments in which on can observe particular [intelligences] or groups of intelligences at work. Another is to feature student projects or exhibitions, where students have options of selecting the ways in which they can exhibit mastery of curricular materials. Even when one uses traditional summative instruments,l it is possible to tilt toward multiple intelligences, by varying the mode of presentation and the mode of response. New kinds of report cards, use of video portfolios, the accomplishment of records of achievement are all ways of documenting students' profiles of intelligence and the way that there have been used to learn material and to "perform" one's understandings in appropriate ways (Gardner, 1991; Gardner and Boix-Mansilla, 1994).

While MI theory and assessment have been closely allied in our work, there is not necessary coupling in schools. Some schools have promoted MI curricular approaches while continuing to use standard local and national assessment instruments. Others, in tried-and-true progressive fashion, have eschewed formal assessment altogether (Gardner, 1994). Our own experience has indicated that it is usually a mistake to being the "MI-zation" of a school with a focus on assessment. However, the passage of time, an interest in assessment evolves naturally, from effectiveness of academic innovations.


MI theory assumes that all students have available, for stimulation, the entire array of human intelligences. Each intelligence can be cultivated. At the same time, it is recognized that, for a variety of reasons, students exhibit different profiles of intelligences, and that certain intelligences will be more "at promise" in each student.

This situation leads to one of the most intriguing and controversial aspects of MI theory. It has always fascinated me that individual can read Frames of Mind and draw quite opposite educational goals for students. Some see the theory as pointing to the broadest possible education, with each student having the opportunity to develop the full spectrum of intelligences. Others, based on the same text, see MI theory as an argument for early specialization. On this view, one should uncover a student's area of promise or talent as soon as possible and develop that strength as fully as possible.

It is possible to assume a more nuanced position as well. Some educators recommend a broader exposure during the early grades of school, with increasing specialization as one heads toward secondary school and college. Still others believe that the decision about breadth vs. specialization is a value judgment, one best left to the child and his or her family.

Another point of contention concerns the focus of an MI approach. It is possible to adopt an MI approach that takes as its goal the optimal development of areas of student strength. However, it is equally legitimate to identify areas of weakness, and to devote special resources to the bolstering of these less developed intelligences. At issue here is whether one wants, in the end, to have students who have relatively "flat" profiles of intelligence, or profiles with peaks, and the concomitant valleys.

In addition to each student exhibiting a particular profile of intelligences in isolation, students also demonstrate intelligences when they are working with their peers. Indeed, when one peer has an exceptionally strong intelligence, others may yield to him or her and instead demonstrate or cultivate other intelligences. Groups of "cooperative" learning provide an excellent milieu in which students can both discover their peculiar strengths and learn to work effectively with others to multiply the collective intelligence of the group.

Target Audience

For the most part, educators have seen the theory of multiple intelligences as a means of changing--one hopes, for the better--the kind of education achieved by all children. However, the theory has also held appeal for educators who work with more specific target audiences. Early in the life of the theory, teacher of the gifted and teachers of students with learning deficits were attracted to the theory; perhaps that is because they are especially familiar with students who exhibit unusual profiles ow strengths and deficits.

More recently, other educators have also found the theory to be useful. Among those who have embraced the theory are those who work with populations from many different cultures and those who are working toward a broader definition of giftedness, especially in minority groups. There has also been interest among educators at the collegiate level, educators who work with older individuals, and educators whose responsibility centers on the work place. It remains to be determined whether a general approach can reach these diverse populations, or whether it is advisable to construct more targeted kinds of curricula, instructional materials, and modes of assessment.


These, then are but some of the conundra that arise when on attempts to extract an educational regimen from the theory of multiple intelligences. It happens that in a number of these cases, I have my own thoughts about which course of application is more profitable. But this is not the place to put forth my own recommendations, which, in any event, have changed over time and will probably continue to change as I have the chance to observe, and to participate in, various experiments.

It is important to stress the following point. Any set of educators who is considering the adoption of multiple intelligences in their classrooms or schools ought to discuss these issues and others like them, fully. Rounded and balanced discussion of the issues is probably at least as important as the particular resolution reached, particularly since that resolution may well change once actual efforts at implementation have begun.

It is also extremely useful to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with others who have had experience in implementing MI in their schools. In the Appendices to Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993) I have listed many individuals who have had such experience. The Project Zero office at Harvard keeps an up-to-date list of MI aficionados from all over the country. Other organizations such as David Lazear's New Dimensions of Learning and Dee Dickinson's New Horizons for Learning can provide useful sets of contacts. Finally, each year various regional and national conference center on multiple intelligences and these offer an excellent opportunity to confer with other practitioners.

©Howard Gardner, 1993

Howard Gardner is co-director of Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the definitive work on the theory of multiple intelligences, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow. New York: Harper/Collins.
Gardner, H. (1991). The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think, How Schools Should Teach. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1993a). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1994). "Progressivism in a New Key." Paper delivered at the Conference on Education and Democracy, Jerusalem, June 1993.
Gardner, H. and Boix-Mansilla, V. (1994). "Teaching for Understanding in the Disciplines and Beyond." Paper delivered at the Conference on Education and Democracy, Jerusalem, June 1993.
Gardner, H., Hoerr, T., and Krechevsky, M. "Complementary Energies: Multiple Intelligences in the Lab and the Field." In J. Oakes (Ed.), Yearbook of the nation Society for the Study of Education.
Kornhaber, M. and Krechevsky, M. "Expanding Definitions of Learning and Teaching: Notes from the MI Underground." In P. Cookson (Ed.), Creating School Policy: Trends, Dilemmas, and Prospects.
Kornhaber, M., Krechevsky, M., and Gardner, H. "Engaging Intelligence." Educational Psychologist 25 (3 & 4), pp. 177-199.

Go Back
Home   |     |   Our Programs   |   Resources   |   Partners   |  Privacy Policy   | Contact Us   |   Search Jobs