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Overview of Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

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Table of Contents

  • Concept of Entry Points to Learning
  • Create A Performance of Understanding
  • Implications for My Teaching
  • Implications for Student Learning

The theory of multiple intelligences was proposed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the established notion of intellect as a single general intelligence based on IQ testing was too limited. In addition, the theory refutes the idea that a person was born with a fixed level of intelligence, remaining unchanged throughout their lives. Gardner advocates that intelligence was instead a composite of individual capacities working together to deliver unpredicted results. In contrast to traditional views measuring problem-solving skills alone, Gardner considers intelligence concerning culture and the skills required to thrive in everyday life. Thus, his definition is as follows: intelligence is “the bio-psychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve a problem or fashion a product that is valued in one or more community or cultural settings” (ref).

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Gardner describes eight different bits of intelligence to account for a broader range of potential in adults and children. This intelligence are described as follows:

  1. Linguistic intelligence/”word smart”
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence/”number/reasoning smart”
  3. Spatial intelligence/”picture smart”
  4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence/”body smart”
  5. Musical intelligence/”music smart”
  6. Interpersonal intelligence/”people smart”
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence/”self smart”
  8. Naturalist intelligence/”nature smart”

While it may be easy to confuse these multiple intelligences as learning styles, Gardner stresses it is important to differentiate the two. A learning style is an approach a student may adopt when completing a task. In contrast, intelligence is a computational ability varying across individuals. Different bits of intelligence can be employed in several disciplines, with varying levels of strength. Furthermore, the level of intelligence is dynamic: it can be developed depending on the character and the learning environment. As per Gardner, a person should not be described in terms of a particular intelligence; we all share the whole spectrum of intelligence and intellectual strengths evolve depending on experience and practice. This is in stark contrast to traditional IQ testing for intelligence. The IQ test is linear, solely examining problem-based skills. It is essentially a one-dimensional test for intellect, whilst the MI theory is dynamic and full of depth.

Concept of Entry Points to Learning

The concept of Entry Points to Learning relates to Gardner’s idea of engaging student thinking by placing them at the core of the subject and ensuring their “cognitive commitment”. This strategy encourages student exploration of a topic through as many as seven avenues:

  1. Narrational: presenting a story
  2. Logical: deductive reasoning e.g. testing a hypothesis
  3. Quantitative: using numbers or comparison
  4. Foundational: using philosophy and vocabulary, values, meaning
  5. Aesthetic: focusing on sensory features
  6. Experimental: hands-on, practical demonstrations
  7. Interpersonal: accessing the top through social experience

Each of these entry points has a strong role in tertiary learning in the classroom. For example, conventional linguistic entry points to learning would encompass reading textbooks or lecture slides. This has the potential to develop into a narrational style to present a story or anecdote appropriate to the content. Testing a null hypothesis embodies a logical approach to learning. Similarly, utilizing numbers and formulae to prove a given hypothesis suggests a quantitative approach. Of course, a hypothesis can also be tested by physical means, such as experimentation or hands-on demonstrations. Personally, I associate the aesthetic entry point of learning as being more suited to the practical component of classroom work, such as discovering new instruments through touch by handling it, sound by listening to the noise it makes, or indeed texture and weight. This is particularly pertinent in the discipline of dentistry. A foundational entry point to learning facilitates peer review and teacher-guided discussion on the information using philosophy, vocabulary, and debate. Finally, I feel the interpersonal entry point incorporates group work, peer-review, and self-reflection in learning. This is an undervalued entry point in my opinion, as allowing discussion and debate between classmates can inspire motivation in the group. It is obvious, therefore, that the use of Entry Points of Learning expands our arsenal of teaching tools beyond the conventional linguistic and logical methods used by most establishments (e.g. lectures, formulae, writing assignments, etc).

Create A Performance of Understanding

Understanding is the ability to use knowledge in thought-provoking ways to explain, interpret, and discern relevant connections among unrelated facts and ideas (ref). Performances of understanding are tasks through which students demonstrate and grow their understanding of important knowledge and skills. Good performances of understanding relate directly to the learning objectives, develop and apply understanding through practice, and engage multiple learning styles and forms of expression. In light of this, I decided to apply the concept of the “experimental” entry point to learning in my classroom. This allowed me to create a portfolio style Performance of Understanding for my students.

Dentistry is an area that facilitates the theory of multiple intelligences and allows for several entry points to be utilized for effective learning. A manual subject at its core, I decided to include a practical demonstration of a novel technique for cementing crowns for a patient in a recent clinical session. This plan appealed to those with a bodily-kinesthetic intelligence in developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. In addition, I felt completing a clinical demonstration of the technique would also suit students with spatial intelligence, allowing them to visualize a task being carried out. Furthermore, those with strong interpersonal intelligence would be proficient in dealing with the patient in the dental chair, and how the work implicated them.

In brief, I demonstrated to 4th Year dental students how to use a new cement for aesthetic anterior crowns in a young adult female patient. I then used this entry point to create a performance of understanding in the form of a learning portfolio. I asked the students to find a patient with a similar demographic and treatment need and to try using the new technique demonstrated within a one-month time period. The student was then to write a reflective passage in a portfolio on their experience with this cement, and to self-assess their competency using it. This portfolio was to be submitted at the four-week mark, and I would assess the entry with a rubric similar to that on this teaching and learning course. The student would be assigned an appropriate mark contributing to their overall end-of-year clinical percentage.

The entry point to learning in this instance worked well for me. I felt this performance of understanding promoted student reflection in a challenging manner. I felt the clinical demonstration was completed at a time when my student group was becoming more comfortable with the conventional methods for crown cementation. Introducing a new technique to them through a practical demonstration would be an appropriately timed challenge for them. The deadline assigned to them to complete their portfolio on the case was sufficient given their weekly number of patient contact hours. As I have discussed in previous assignments, I usually teach through a classroom-based tutorial format. Certainly, this demonstration was a change from the norm for both me and the students. Whilst I do also try to include several media in my tutorial sessions like YouTube videos, worksheets, and group debate, this entry point afforded me a unique opportunity to perform a practical task and facilitate real-time questions from the students. It added value in that the students experienced a clinical situation in real life, and were able to visualize the entire process from start to finish, playing on their bodily-kinesthetic and spatial intelligence. This is in contrast to appeasing the visual and logical intelligence of traditional lecture slides and journal articles in a tutorial session. It also helped to facilitate further conversation on cement types and various techniques not previously covered in the curriculum with students asking off-the-cuff questions. In addition, I asked the patient for feedback on the demonstration, and any questions she had for the students afterward. This was a unique feature of the course for sure.

Assigning the students a portfolio-style performance task was a new experience for me also. There was initially a mixed response from the students when it was first raised. I felt the linguistic students jumped at the chance of writing a reflective piece. However, I did encourage those visually-minded scholars with a more creative thought process to include clinical photographs or diagrams of their work in the portfolio to spark their interest. One student submitted a portfolio with twenty-seven clinical photographs attached, sufficient proof it had opened up the conversation on the topic for her! Certainly, demonstrating a task to the students and facilitating questions thereafter exemplifies the MI concept. By allowing the students to then practice the technique on their own patients within a defined time frame allowed them to make mistakes, before reflecting and improving upon it all at their own pace. Several students reported that they had enjoyed the process more than the usual tutorial session we share. The popular opinion stated that while it is beneficial to watch video material of a technique in the classroom setting, there is no comparison to completing a practical task in person – “This made me realize how I had misinterpreted an entire lecture given to us on crowns”.

Implications for My Teaching

The concepts of the theory of multiple intelligences and entry points to learning have huge implications for my teaching. Gardner’s MI theory is invaluable in the classroom setting, as it does not advocate any one method of teaching, but rather facilitates an array of methodologies to facilitate effective learning. It is akin to a new set of tools for my teaching toolbox with which to deliver material to a wider range of students in the classroom. If I find myself struggling to convey the material through the more traditional linguistic methods of instruction, I can remind myself that the MI theory suggests there are several others ways the information can be presented to facilitate learning. I am realising that different students learn in different ways and that I, as the teacher, must adopt a variety of entry points to learning if the needs of all students are to be met. An awareness of MI has encouraged me not to cater only to students strong in logical and linguistic intelligence alone. Moving forward, I hope to vary the media I utilize in the classroom to include visual, numerical, literary, and sensory content. I have assigned myself a personal aim to include at least three different entry points to learning every week. At the next tutorial session with these fourth-year students, for example, I plan on different types of cement to pass around to compound their knowledge in this area.

It is also critical that I remain conscious that a student’s understanding of the key concepts is more important than the volume of material covered. I must remind myself that the goal is to teach for understanding, and not for the sheer volume of material. To make it work in the classroom, I need to apply it and acknowledge that there is no one right way to achieve this. I must realize that several bits of intelligence are at play at once when we engage with solving any problem in and beyond the classroom or clinical site.

Implications for Student Learning

MI theory is a way of enhancing a topic for students and provides new ways to allow them to explore the central concepts of the course. MI is a tool for students to achieve the learning goals for the lesson, as defined by the outcomes and objectives. It can be seen as a cognitive tool: a student has cognitive strengths, and each entry point plays into this. The use of a variety of entry points by the teacher is an inclusive approach pandering to the different profiles and personalities of the class. It allows the student to speak to the teacher as directly and personally as possible.

Many students find themselves in courses that do not nurture their highly developed intelligence. For example, the highly bodily-kinesthetic individual, who may be extremely suitable for a practical subject such as dentistry, may be stuck in a linguistic or logical desk job. The theory of MI gives students a whole new way to look at their learning, examining potential intelligence they may have developed during childhood such as a love for art or drama, and now have the opportunity to utilize those attributes in other programs of learning and self-development. The theory of multiple intelligences in essence facilitates students to learn effectively, play to their strengths and achieve their full potential.

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