Howard Gardner jokes that his work in multiple intelligences has brought him his fifteen minutes of fame, but truly, his name has been on the minds of teachers for twenty years. Although Gardner says that he is a psychologist and was not thinking in terms of classroom instruction, many teachers are his greatest fans. When he proposed that humans have an entire set of intellectual strengths and weakness, as opposed to the earlier thinking of intelligence as a singular ability, he opened the door for thinking about different ways of learning.
For educators, Gardner’s work in multiple intelligences seems like a natural step in the direction of differentiated instruction. In fact, it offers a framework for developing lesson plans and activities that will include all types of learners. So, it amazes me that he was amazed that teachers took an interest in his work. His earlier studies of people with brain injuries were certainly useful to the clinicians who help those patients relearn the skills that they once had.
Gardner may not have invented differentiated instruction, but his research gives us insight into the many ways that students can be receptive to learning. The effective teacher plans accordingly when she understands those variations in learning styles. For example, knowing that some of her students have strengths in music and spatial intelligence, she will create a song and dance that includes the learning content. She knows that the student with strong interpersonal skills will enjoy and succeed in group work, while the one with strong intrapersonal skills may need more support in the group. When the MI-intelligent teacher plans a lesson with the intent to vary presentation, product, and assessment according to the individual needs of the students, then she is in the right frame of mind for success.