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Literature Review
Engaging Student Learning through the Lens of Multiple Intelligences
Kristina Ebner
The Masters College
Summer 2013


Engaging Student Learning through the Lens of Multiple Intelligences
The idea that human beings have different areas of intelligences in their brain and the
ability to possess more than one type was the assertion made by Howard Gardner in 1983. This
theory has had a great impact on education and the idea that people can be smart in many
different ways and there is not simply one form of intelligence or IQ (Howard Gardner, 1983).
According to Howard Gardner a person has the ability to have eight different intelligences and
display strengths and weaknesses within the different types. The multiple intelligences he labeled
are, visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, musical,
interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. One person may possess them all, but will show a
more prominent intelligence in certain ones which will differ in every person (Howard Gardner,
2013). This is one reason knowing students multiple intelligence strengths will help a teacher
determine the best pedagogies to utilize when instructing and creating lesson formats.
The theory of multiple intelligences has had a significant impact on the type of
instruction used at many elementary schools already. Some put a great focus on teaching one
concept from many different avenues and make it a base of their curriculum. Other schools dont
use much if any of the ideas presented in the theory. However, in the challenging world of
education today the theory of multiple intelligences seems to only aid in differentiating for the
ever growing and changing needs of present day classrooms (McFarlane, Spring 2011). What
would curriculum created around the multiple intelligence theory change and how could it help
students become lifelong learners and strengthen their educational abilities. Is there a
relationship between the use of multiple intelligence based curriculum and increased enduring
understanding that would offer students a way to engage and absorb information in a whole new

There is a high number of educators that claim multiple intelligence based curriculum
greatly changes curriculum design for the better (Abiola, 2012). However, there hasnt been a
great deal of sound research found in order to bring about country-wide change. This is for
several reasons, but the most critical is the amount of variables present in this type of study. It is
very difficult for a school to have an even control group and test group within a certain grade or
subject in order to record enough sound data (Armstrong, 2009). However, one study done by
John Hopkins University showed great results in their use of multiple intelligence based
curriculum (Cambell, 2004). Since Gardner first introduced the theory in 1983, there has been a
great deal of interest and use of his ideas in classrooms. Those ideas when present in a classroom
here in Southern California would have a great impact on student learning. Teachers who find
innovative new ways to teach and use pedagogies that connect students to learning the results
can only be positive and beneficial to kids (Spring 2011).
Despite the difficulty of recording quality research about the changes multiple
intelligence learning brings to classroom lessons there has been a great deal of support. It has
been proven that kids retain information better when they are actively involved in learning.
Providing curriculum that includes logical problem solving activities, musical numbers with
hand motions to help with memory of facts and opportunities to present your knowledge on a
subject and the item you created are all ways to engage learners and help them retain necessary
information. Therefore why wouldnt good teachers want to use these practices in their
classrooms (Temur, 2007). On the second page of Temurs article, there is a perfect quote
regarding the use of Multiple Intelligence based curriculum in classrooms despite the research so
far. It says, Since all children do not learn with the same method, it will be possible to reach
more children using this approach meaning that teaching students content from several different

methods, or in our case intelligence focuses, you are much more likely to help to students create
enduring understanding . According to Howard Gardner, this way of teaching is creating
different windows into the same room (2007).
The Brains Abilities
The vast differences between peoples brains can account for many struggles we
encounter in children learning. If a teacher is not speaking in their language of learning it is
difficult to reach them and create an enduring understanding of a subject. There has been a great
deal of research not only on multiple intelligences, but on the brains ability to learn and retain
things over the past few decades. All this new information has helped teachers reach more
students within one classroom, differentiate instruction in order to help each individual
specifically and help children learn better in their brains natural learning process (Madrazo
Jr, 2005). The acceptance and use of the multiple intelligence theory can also be attributed to the
research done on brain based learning. The more information we come across as educators in
connection to the brain the better we can instruct and the more students we will help.
The brain organizes information through different pathways. By engaging more than one
pathway while students are learning, teachers have a much better chance of creating long lasting
memory about the subject at hand (Connell, 2009). This is directly connected to the theory of
multiple intelligences and teaching using different strategies. Creating lessons that address
certain standards and subjects from many different avenues ensures students will more likely
understand the curriculum. Teaching a specific piece of content through something musical,
solve a problem involving the information and then present their findings means students have
three times to engage in the curriculum and learn (Dillihunt, 2006).


Test Scores, Examples and Criticisms
One of the major criticisms of the multiple intelligence theory is the lack of evidence for
its claims. This has been a criticism for many alternative ways of educating such as learning
styles as well. Brain Based Learning was one focus of education in recent times that broke the
criticism for good research and had a great deal of scientific research to back its claims (Duman,
2010). One claim critics of multiple intelligence theory make involves the need for people today
to claim intelligence of some kind. There are many who feel the theory is simply a desirable
thought because it means every person is smart in some one. Another words, children just have
strengths and weaknesses but are not better than each other (Ferguson, 2009). There has been a
great push in the last decade for equality not only among people groups, but in education as well.
Some scientist and scholars want to maintain that intelligence is only one entity or g as they
refer to it as and a person either has a high IQ or they dont (2009). These two ideas have battled
for several decades and the argument will most likely continue for some time. However, there
has been no proof that the idea of multiple intelligence theory has hurt teaching practices either.
One would assume that a theory so hotly debated would have research attempting to
debunk its hypothesis. This is not the case from what could be found. There is simply a lack of
good, scientific research either way. By using multiple intelligence theory in the classroom to
help increase enduring understanding in students educators are not hindering student learning
and therefore can only be helping it. One of the greatest defenses was from Gardner himself. In
response to much criticism surrounding his theory he wrote to Wilson Quarterly saying,
"multiple intelligences were developed as a theory of the mind, not as an educational
intervention. But he supported the notion that the theory holds out hope that students can be
reached in different ways (Mathews, 2004). His goal through his research and the presentation

of his theory was not to change education as a whole, or alter curriculum and the system in place
for American students. While he and many other scientifically minded men and women see great
benefit from including this theory in the classroom, it is not the end all answer to the education
needs of all students. The theory is simply a way to differentiate and reach childrens ability to
learn from varying pathways and areas of intelligence in their brain (2005).
Connection of Theory and Learning
The idea of multiple intelligence based learning is not something new. There are many
schools across the United States that contain a framework built on the multiple intelligence
theory. Yet, there are still many critiques that the theory actually has relevance. There is a great
deal of support for further investment into the ideas associate with multiple intelligences in the
classroom and research that proves the connection between the theory and a greater enduring
understanding in students (Bernard, 2009). One study that provides a great deal of scientific
research was done by Harvard University and has been an ongoing research subject for their
education program. There is great evidence coming out of their work that teaching students with
a focus on their strengths of intelligence in learning is proving beneficial for their educational
carriers (Krechevsky, 2013). Researching schools with an emphasis on the multiple intelligences
provides a great deal of information for further investigation. These schools have exemplified
worthy results of success for further growth in this area (Moore, 2013). Other schools across the
country have begun to take notice and attempt to put multiple intelligence theory practices into
place as well. The more research that is done, the stronger the case grows for multiple
intelligence based curriculum in schools.


Through the research this project provides, teachers and administrators will advance in
their abilities to plan curriculum for multiple student needs within one classroom (Howard
Gardner, 2010). Presenting sound information about how the theory works and in what ways it
will assist students will help many more teachers join the movement for a more solid education.
The connection to brain-based learning, another strong area of scientific research into childrens
minds and the way they learn only strengthens the need for more classroom based multiple
intelligence research (2009). Test scores have risen, students have stronger connections to
curriculum, and theyre ability to retain information has grown through multiple intelligence
based curriculum. It is in the best interest of educators and administrators to listen to the research
on this theory and start using it to reap the benefits of teaching to the many differentiated needs
that our students present today.


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