Multiple Intelligences Summary

Excerpted and adapted from: Teaching For Multiple Intelligences by David G. Lazear, ASCD Fastback Number 342, 1992, ISBN 0-87367-342-5

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Biologist and former lion trainer Steven Austad, wrote in a book review titled “Herbophilia” (published in Natural History, July, 1996, page 6), reviewing the book Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany, by Michael J. Balick and Paul Alan Cox (Scientific American Library 1996):

“Once, through stupidity of epic magnitude, I managed to get completely lost in a trackless stretch of rain forest in Papua New Guinea. For several hours, in darkness and heavy rain, I thrashed through the bush, desperately looking for familiar landmarks. Earlier in the day, I had refused an offer to be escorted into the forest by village hunters accompanying our expedition. `Don’t worry about me,` I’d told them, `I’ve got an excellent sense of direction.` As I settled under a small canopy of fig roots to wait for morning, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or weep at my hubris.

“Before long I heard shouts. I shouted back. Surprise! Relief! I was found! The hunters who had been waiting for me back at camp had managed to follow my spoor over rocks, through streams and thickets, and down mud slides in the dark!

“I probably wouldn’t have been so surprised by their ability to read the signs of the forest if I hadn’t been such a skeptic in the first place. These hunters were always telling me about things that I couldn’t see. Looking up and down a tree trunk, they would say that a large animal had come down the tree just after dark. `It ran across to there,` they would add, pointing. `Then something frightened it, and it hid among those roots before heading to that stream for a drink.` Previously I had always chuckled to myself about how gullible they thought I was. But now I am a believer. These people, whose ancestors have walked and wandered in these forests for thousands of years, indeed see and feel and understand things about their forest that I will never be able to see or feel or understand.”

The following is excerpted from: Teaching For Multiple Intelligences by David G. Lazear (1992)

This ASCD Fastback is sponsored by the Ohio State University Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 92-61017, ISBN 0-87367-342-5

David G. Lazear is the founder of New Dimensions of Learning, an organization in Chicago that offers training programs and materials for educators on classroom applications of the theory of multiple intelligences, the topic of this fastback. His international experience includes designing and conducting staff-development programs in some 25 nations. He also is facilitator of the ASCD Multiple Intelligences Network, a group that links educators around the world interested in learning about and sharing ideas on applications of multiple intelligences in the classroom.

Lazear and his family have lived for extended periods in Africa, India, Italy, and Korea, where he provided leadership in implementing human development projects in rural villages. This exposure to different cultures, with often very different ways of knowing and perceiving, was a major factor leading to his interest in the theory of multiple intelligences.

Note: in addition to the material in this handout, the Fastback booklet includes chapters on:
* Teaching for Multiple Intelligences: A New Look at the Curriculum
* How “Intelligent” Is Your Curriculum?
* New Instructional Methods for Teaching with Multiple Intelligences
* Integrating the Multiple Intelligences into Lessons
* Teaching About Multiple Intelligences: Re-inventing the Learning Process
* Meta-Intelligence: Four Levels of Learning
* A Multi-Modal Approach to Assessment
* Assessing Academic Progress Using Multiple Intelligences
* Assessing Your Own Teaching for Multiple Intelligences
* Selected Bibliography
* Research Base of Multiple Intelligences

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Have you ever wondered what might be possible if we could access more of the brain’s potential? Over the last 50 years a number of brain researchers have stated that we probably use less than 1% of our brain’s potential. This statement has been the catalyst for researchers from many disciplines to join in the exploration of the capacities of the human brain/mind system. These explorations have produced some astonishing discoveries that have called into question traditional notions about learning and human potential. And the research findings about human intelligence (how we know what we know, how we perceive, understand, and learn) have transformed almost all of our previous definitions of intelligence. Let us examine what this research tells us.

Key Findings in Intelligence Research

Intelligence is not a fixed or static reality. In the past, it was thought that one’s intelligence was more or less set at birth by heredity and could be assessed through tests yielding a quantifiable intelligence quotient or IQ. The IQ, it was thought, would reveal what an individual’s intelligence capabilities were. However, this idea of fixed intelligence did not take into account the wide variety of environmental, cultural, and socialization factors that affect the development of intellectual capacities. Many researchers now feel that intelligence may have been defined too narrowly and that it is a far more flexible/plastic phenomenon than previously thought. In fact, these researchers now are looking at intelligence as a capability that can be enhanced and amplified, something that is continually expanding and changing throughout one’s life!

Intelligence can be learned and taught. Because intelligence capabilities have a neuro-biological base, mental functioning can be improved at any age and almost any ability level.

There are a wide variety of exercises one can perform to strengthen and enhance intelligence skills, much like what we do to improve and expand any skill (parallel parking, making a pie crust, or doing a jackknife dive). Generally, the more we practice the better we become. We can learn to be more intelligent in more ways and on more levels of our being than we ever thought possible!

Intelligence is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that occurs at multiple levels of our brain/mind/body system. There are many ways by which we know, perceive, learn, and process information. Howard Gardner, director of Harvard University’s Project Zero, coined the phrase “multiple intelligences” to describe these multi-knowing capacities. His research suggests that we all possess at least seven intelligence areas or seven ways of knowing. Moreover, he believes there are probably many others we have not yet been able to test!

This fastback is based primarily on Gardner’s research reported in his book, Frames of Mind (1985). Gardner’s working definition of intelligence is:

“An intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting. The problem-solving skill allows one to approach a situation in which a goal is to be obtained and to locate the appropriate route to that goal. The creation of a cultural product is crucial to capturing and transmitting knowledge or expressing one’s views or feelings. The problems to be solved range from creating an end to a story to anticipating a mating move in chess to repairing a quilt. Products range from scientific theories to musical composition to successful political campaigns.”

The good news is that each of us has all of these intelligences (and probably many more), but not all of them are developed equally and thus we do not use them effectively. In fact, it is usually the case that one or two intelligences are stronger and more fully developed than the others. But this need not be a permanent condition. We have within ourselves the capacity to activate all of our intelligences. In so doing, extended worlds of sensing, feeling, and knowing are opened to us!

Seven Ways Of Knowing

(Note: As of 2000, Howard Gardner and other multiple intelligence researchers have found eight Intelligences: Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal.)

Intelligence: Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence
This intelligence deals with words and language, both written and spoken. This form of intelligence dominates most Western educational systems.

Intelligence: Intrapersonal Intelligence
This intelligence deals with inner states of being, self-reflection, metacognition, and awareness of spiritual realities.

Intelligence: Logical/Mathematical Intelligence
Often called scientific thinking, this intelligence deals with deductive thinking/ reasoning, numbers, and the recognition of abstract patterns.

Intelligence: Visual/Spatial Intelligence
This intelligence deals with the sense of sight and being able to visualize an object and create internal mental images/pictures.

Intelligence: Body/Kinesthetic Intelligence
This intelligence deals with physical movement and the knowings/wisdom of the body, including the brain’s motor cortex, which controls bodily motion.

Intelligence: Interpersonal Intelligence
This intelligence operates primarily through person-to-person relationships and communication. It relies on all the other intelligences.

Intelligence: Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence
This intelligence deals with the recognition of tonal patterns, including various environmental sounds, and a sensitivity to rhythm and beats.

Overview of the Seven Intelligences

In this chapter we shall examine each of the intelligences in more detail, noting especially various ways to activate the full spectrum of our intelligence capacities.

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence

We use our verbal/linguistic intelligence when we speak to each other, whether through a formal speech or informal conversation. We use it when we put our thoughts down on paper, create poetry, or simply write a letter to a friend. Verbal/linguistic intelligence is involved in story-telling and creating, in all forms of humor involving puns and other play on words, the unexpected ending in a joke, and various funny twists of language. It is involved in any use of metaphors, similes, and analogies, and, of course, in learning proper grammar and syntax in speaking and writing.

Exercises to Activate Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence:

Learn the meaning of one interesting new word each day and practice using it in normal conversation with others.

Get a book of word games and puzzles (crosswords, jumbles, etc.) or play language-oriented table games (Scrabble, Hangman, etc.).

Watch a TV drama or detective story, then write your own sequel or tell what happens in the next episode.

Talk with someone about his/her ideas or opinions. Ask questions, have a discussion, or engage in friendly debate.

Make a presentation on a topic that interests and excites you a great deal (a hobby, a political viewpoint, a book you’ve read, or someone you know).

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence

You can see logical/mathematical intelligence in operation most clearly when you are involved in a situation that requires problem-solving or meeting a new challenge. It often is associated with what we call “scientific thinking.” We use our logical/mathematical intelligence when we recognize abstract patterns, such as counting by twos or knowing if you’ve received the right change at the supermarket. It is used when we find connections or see relationships between seemingly separate and distinct pieces of information. Logical/ mathematical intelligence is operating in the various patterns of thinking we use in our daily lives, such as list-making, setting priorities, or planning something for the future.

Exercises to Activate Logical/Mathematical Intelligence:

Classify a group of 12 randomly gathered objects. See if you can create a rationale for organizing them; for example, by shape, colors, size, use, etc.

Do a project that requires following step-by-step directions; for example, building something or cooking from scratch.

Create a four-point outline telling about a movie you have seen with each of the points having four subpoints, and each subpoint having four more subpoints.

Create a convincing, rational argument for something that is totally absurd; for example, the benefits of roller skates with square wheels.

Create a sequence of numbers that have a hidden pattern. See if someone else can discover the pattern.

Visual/Spatial Intelligence

Visual/spatial intelligence can be seen in its purest form in the imagination of children, in such activities as day-dreaming, pretending to make oneself invisible, or imagining oneself to be on a journey to a faraway place. It is employed when we draw pictures to express thoughts/feelings or when we paint a room to create a certain mood. We use it when we successfully get someplace we want to go by using a map. Visual/spatial intelligence helps us win at chess, enables us to turn a blueprint on paper into a real object (a bookshelf or a dress), and allows us to visualize things we want, for example, new curtains and wallpaper for a bedroom.

Exercises to Activate Visual/Spatial Intelligence:

Look at the clouds with a group of friends and see if you can find such things as animals, faces, or other objects hidden in the formations.

Use your imagination and describe what it would be like living in a different period of history or pretend you are having a conversation with your hero/heroine, a character from literature, or a historical figure.

Try to express an idea or feeling with clay, paints, or felt-tip markers. Use different images, shapes, patterns, designs, textures, and colors.

Plan a scavenger hunt with friends. Make complex and interesting maps for each other to follow that will lead to the “treasure.”

Create a montage on a theme or idea that interests you by cutting out pictures from magazines and arranging them to convey what you want to say.

Body/Kinesthetic Intelligence

Body/kinesthetic intelligence could be seen in operation if you were given a typewriter with no markings on the keys and asked to type a letter.

If you previously have learned how to type, your fingers would “know” the keyboard; and you would produce the letter with little or no effort. The body knows how to do many things that are not necessarily known by the conscious mind; for example, riding a bike, parking a car, catching a football, or walking on a balance beam. Body/kinesthetic intelligence also involves the ability to use the body to express emotion through dance and other body movement or to convey ideas through charades and mime.

Exercises to Activate Body/Kinesthetic Intelligence:

After a presentation, have everyone in the group express reactions to the presentation through a physical gesture or movement, body posture, or other form of body language.

As you perform an everyday physical task, such as shoveling snow, washing dishes, or starting your lawnmower, see if you can become aware of what your body “knows” how to do and how it functions.

Perform different physical activities, such as walking, dancing, or jogging, in a way that matches your mood. How would the physical activity change for a different mood?

Practice using your non-dominant hand to perform any routine task, such as brushing your teeth, eating, buttoning a shirt, etc. See if you can “train” it to function better.

Try using mime or charades to express an idea, opinion, or feeling.

Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence

We use our musical/rhythmic intelligence when we play music to calm ourselves when stressed or to stimulate ourselves when bored or when we have the “blahs.” Many of us use the beat of music to attain a steady rhythm when jogging, vacuuming a rug, or typing a letter. Musical/rhythmic intelligence is involved when you hear a jingle on the radio and find yourself humming it over and over throughout the day. It is active when we use tones and rhythmic patterns (instrumental, environmental, and human sounds) to communicate how we are feeling.

Examples are the sounds associated with intense joy, fear, and excitement or with expressions of religious devotion and patriotism.

Exercises to Activate Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence:

Make a list of different types of recorded music you own or have access to. Listen to several minutes of each type and note how each affects you (feelings, images evoked, memories sparked, etc.).

Think of something you want to remember or something you want to teach someone. Choose a well-known tune and write some simple lyrics to convey the information to be remembered or taught.

Try expressing your feelings (fear, contentment, anger, exhaustion, exhilaration, etc.) through vocal sounds alone (not words). Experiment with different volumes, pitches, tones, and noises to communicate your feelings.

Listen to the natural rhythmic patterns of your environment (coffee brewing, traffic flowing, wind blowing, rain beating on the window, etc.). Express what you feel from listening to these rhythms and beats.

Read a story and embellish it with various sound effects, using music, rhythmic beats, and other sounds like the old-time radio shows used to do.

Interpersonal Intelligence

We experience interpersonal intelligence most directly whenever we are part of a team effort, whether it be a sports activity, a church committee, or a community task force. This intelligence utilizes our ability to engage in verbal and non-verbal communication and to notice distinctions among group members with regard to contrasts in mood, temperament, motivations, and intentions. Interpersonal intelligence allows us to develop a genuine sense of empathy and caring for each other.

Through interpersonal intelligence we “stand in another’s shoes,” so to speak. It is a person-to-person way of knowing through which we maintain our individual identity but also become more than ourselves as we identify with and become a part of others.

Exercises to Activate Interpersonal Intelligence:

With a partner sitting back to back with you, ask him or her to try to reproduce a complex shape or design you have drawn. Use the following rules: 1) you can give your partner only verbal instructions; 2) your partner may not look at your drawing; 3) your partner may ask you any question; and 4) you may not look at what your partner is drawing.

Try different ways to express encouragement and support for other people; for example, by facial expressions, body posture, gestures, sounds, words, and phrases. Practice giving encouragement and support to others around you each day.

Practice listening intently to another person. Cut off the “mind chatter” that usually occurs and force yourself to stay focused on what the person is saying. Ask relevant questions, make appropriate comments, paraphrase the person’s thoughts to check your own understanding.

Volunteer to be part of any kind of team effort and watch for examples of positive and negative team behavior. Positive behavior would be things that help the team work together and be successful.

Try “disciplined people-watching,” that is, speculating about what others are thinking and feeling, their background, profession, etc., based on such non-verbal clues as dress, gestures, voice tone, etc. If appropriate, check your accuracy with the person.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence is the capacity to be introspective and self-reflective, that is, being able to step back and watch ourselves, almost like an outside observer. As far as we know, human beings are the only creatures with this capacity. Intrapersonal intelligence involves an awareness of the internal aspects of self, such as feelings, thinking processes, intuition, or spirituality. Both self-identity and the ability to transcend self are part of intrapersonal intelligence. When we experience a sense of unity, have an intuitive sense of our connection with the larger order of things, experience higher states of consciousness, feel the lure of the future, or dream of heretofore unrealized potentials in our lives, it is the result of our intrapersonal way of knowing.

Exercises to Activate Intrapersonal Intelligence:

Make a “mood graph” showing the high points and low points, as well as points in between, of your day. Note the external events that contributed to the different moods.

Evaluate your thinking strategies or patterns in different situations. For example, a problem arises when you are carrying out a well-thought-through plan, or a crisis occurs and you have to make a decision as to which of several options to follow.

In the midst of a routine activity, attempt to be intensely aware of everything that is going on—your thoughts, feelings, physical movements, and inner states of being.

Keep a daily reflective log in which you record your thoughts, feelings, ideas, insights, and important events of your day. Try a variety of media for recording your reflections, such as writing, drawing, singing, acting out, painting, or sculpting.

Pretend you are an outside observer watching your thoughts, feelings, and moods. Notice different patterns that seem to kick in for certain situations: the anger pattern, the playfulness pattern, or the anxiety pattern.

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The following is excerpted from: Open to Interpretation: Multiple Intelligences Theory in Adult Literacy Education: Findings from the Adult Multiple Intelligences Study
Silja Kallenbach, World Education
Julie Viens, Harvard Project Zero
NCSALL Reports Number 21, May 2002.
National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL), Harvard University Graduate School of Education
101 Nichols House, Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138



The Adult Multiple Intelligences (AMI) Study was the first systematic effort related to multiple intelligences (MI) theory in adult literacy education. It was conceived in response to the lack of MI research, practices, and resources in adult literacy and in light of the positive experiences with MI theory at the pre-K-12 level.

MI theory is a definition and conceptualization of human intelligence. It is not and does not prescribe a particular approach or set of activities. Instead, MI theory offers a specific conceptualization of intelligence, elements of which have implications for classroom practices. Introduced by Dr. Howard Gardner, MI theory includes the concepts that intelligence is pluralistic, encompassing at least eight intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, interpersonal, and intrapersonal); intelligences operate in combination; and every individual has a unique profile of intelligences that is manifested as different areas of strength.

The overall purpose of the AMI Study was to improve adult literacy practice. It was prompted by four well-documented needs and conditions in the adult literacy field:

* A high incidence of learning difficulties among adult learners

* Low self-efficacy among adult literacy learners

* The need to improve learner retention rates

* Limited professional development opportunities for adult literacy educators

The AMI Study investigated the following question: How can MI theory support instruction and assessment in Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)? It was designed to provide professional development for adult literacy educators and to recruit and support a small group of these educators as research partners. We wanted them to consider MI theory and develop MI-based practices for their own contexts, with our active support and guidance.


Through the AMI Study, we examined the application of MI theory across different adult learning contexts and produced understanding and tools to support future MI-related research and practice in the field.

The study design incorporated two interwoven qualitative research projects focused on applying MI theory in practice. The first involved 10 studies, which teachers conducted and the AMI co-directors facilitated. The second was a study across those 10 contexts, conducted by the co-directors. This report focuses on the latter of the two studies.

Our naturalistic approach—involving research of real practices in real classrooms—invited analyses and comparison of specific applications of MI theory across different instructional contexts and with different teacher and learner populations. Our methods included on-site observations, qualitative interviews, and teacher journals.


In our analysis of the AMI data, we identified two broad categories of teachers’ interpretation, which we termed MI-Inspired Instruction and MI Reflections. MI-Inspired Instruction focused on classroom practices and materials, whereas the MI Reflections focused on using MI to engage students in reflecting about their own strengths, weaknesses, interests, and preferences.

The AMI findings suggest that the teachers’ MI efforts paid off with high levels of student engagement. Among the MI-inspired instructional practices, projects resulted in the highest levels of authentic instruction. Even if the projects were of limited scope, they related directly to students’ experiences. MI theory also made topics that were not grounded in students’ lives more meaningful and relevant because students could approach activities from their preferred and strongest intelligences. Choice-based activities, prominent in the AMI settings, were instrumental in increasing the relevance and meaning of lessons and in reducing teacher directedness. Choices allowed students to identify, use, and demonstrate their particular areas of strength. This made learners more confident about taking greater control of their own learning, and it pushed teachers to allow that to happen.

The AMI Study affirmed the value of student reflection in building self-confidence and learning-to-learn skills. However, our experience also strongly suggests that developing adult literacy learners’ associated metacognitive skills—their ability to think about and assess their learning processes and preferences-takes active work on the part of both teachers and students.

Nine of the 10 teachers implemented some form of MI Reflections, such as introducing the theory, uncovering and celebrating students’ strengths, exploring careers, or identifying effective learning strategies with students. Six teachers ultimately positioned MI Reflections as a significant part of their teaching practice. The range of the teachers’ experiences and the differences and similarities among them tell us two things about MI Reflections. First, it is important to connect explicitly for students the purposes of MI Reflection activities and broader learning goals. At the same time, our experience also suggests that no matter how carefully planned, relevant, and wonderful the activities, we often cannot predict what will work with a particular group of students.


Implications for Practice

The AMI Study illustrated how MI theory can be used well and substantively in adult literacy education. There is now a foundation of MI practice in adult literacy that can serve other practitioners in the field. However, individual teachers need certain knowledge and skills, including an understanding of the theory and access to and willingness to implement a diverse body of learning activities. To implement a curriculum that offers students at the beginning literacy levels multiple pathways to learning a particular skill, concept, or subject also requires the educator to develop the students’ metacognitive skills. At the same time, teachers need to anticipate that not all students will necessarily embrace MI-inspired lessons or reflections. Teachers also need to be willing to get to know their students in a more holistic way, as adults who not only possess academic strengths and weaknesses, but also have talents, interests, and life experiences that teachers can consider when they plan lessons.

Over the course of the AMI Study, we learned that teachers need their literacy program’s support to engage in and sustain MI-based practices. Programs can express institutional support by ensuring that teachers have adequate paid preparation time, access to staff development, permission to purchase a wide variety of supplies, and the ability to change the physical learning environment so it is conducive to different types of activities and groupings.

Implications for Policy

A policy and accountability system that speaks to what we learned would capture a broader range of goals and more multidimensional ways to gauge student progress than currently found in the federal government’s National Reporting System criteria. For example, improvement in students’ sense of self-efficacy or metacognitive skills could be considered legitimate secondary outcomes, joining such criteria as registering to vote, reading to one’s children, and getting off welfare.

Implications for Research

More definitive research is needed to investigate learning gains and other impacts of MI-based practice. As an exploratory qualitative study, the AMI Study sets the stage for this further research. Studies that look at the impact of specific MI-based interventions would be a logical outgrowth of the AMI Study. How MI-inspired practices improve students’ self-efficacy is another area that merits more investigation. Another potentially fruitful area of study is teacher change. In addition, it would be instructive to do a follow-up study with the same teachers to ascertain the extent to which they made lasting changes in their teaching practice as a result of their participation in the AMI Study.


The AMI Study

In 1993, learning differences and disabilities emerged as the leading staff development interest among New England adult literacy educators, according to a needs assessment the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC) conducted. The Adult Multiple Intelligences (AMI) Study grew out of NELRC’s subsequent efforts to address this need.

In 1995, NELRC director Silja Kallenbach convened a working group of adult literacy educators and professional development providers from the New England states to discuss and explore how multiple intelligences (MI) theory could be applied in adult literacy education. The group agreed that MI theory had the potential to improve teaching and learning in adult literacy education through the window of learning differences that the theory represented.

The group also discovered that applying MI theory in adult literacy education was uncharted territory. The published literature on MI theory was almost exclusively for pre-K-8 educators (Campbell & Campbell, 1999; Chen et al., 1998; Kornhaber & Fierros, 2000; Kornhaber & Krechevsky, 1995; Viens & Kallenbach, in press). A literature search did not produce a single study or teaching guide for applying MI theory in adult literacy. Three years later, a more thorough literature search yielded the same results.

The AMI Study was conceived in response to the lack of MI research, practices, and resources in adult literacy and in light of the positive experiences with MI theory at the pre-K-12 level. The AMI Study was the first systematic effort related to MI theory in adult literacy education.

Kallenbach approached Project Zero, co-directed by Dr. Howard Gardner at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, about collaborating on a joint study of how MI theory could support and enhance adult literacy education. Gardner introduced MI theory in 1983 and had directed MI-based research studies since that time. However, until 1996, Project Zero had not done any work in adult literacy education. Julie Viens, a researcher at Project Zero, took an interest in the idea and joined Kallenbach in conceptualizing the AMI Study. As a long-time researcher and professional development provider, Viens was intrigued by MI-centered staff development and the opportunity to bring MI theory to adult literacy education. The AMI Study was developed as a collaboration between Harvard’s Project Zero and the NELRC at World Education, under the auspices of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The overall purpose of the AMI Study was to improve adult literacy practice. The study was designed to provide professional development for adult literacy educators and to recruit and support a small group of these educators as research partners. Rather then propose that teachers simply adapt existing (K-12) MI-based interventions, we wanted adult literacy educators to consider MI theory and develop MI-based practices for their own contexts, according to their best professional judgment and with our active support and guidance. We (Kallenbach and Viens) felt strongly that adult literacy teachers’ participation as researchers was indispensable to the study, which led to a relatively complex project design. Our 10 teacher research partners would conduct independent studies of their choosing about an aspect of applying MI theory. Therefore, we would facilitate professional learning opportunities for the AMI teachers on the subject of MI theory and teacher research, support their research efforts, and conduct a cross-site study of their efforts.

The bulk of this research report focuses on the AMI cross-site study. Details regarding the individual teacher research projects can be found in a bound collection of their research reports (Kallenbach & Viens, 2000). We begin this report by examining the AMI Study’s theoretical and historical backdrop, MI theory, and adult literacy education, following this with our rationale for embarking on the study. In the Research Methods section, we introduce teacher research and give an overview of the AMI teacher research studies. We describe our data collection and data analysis activities and consider validity issues related to the cross-site study. Findings focus on how the AMI teachers interpreted-that is, understood and applied-MI theory. We present the key factors that impinged on how the AMI teachers used MI theory in their contexts. We conclude this research report with the implications of the AMI Study for practice, policy, and research.

The Eight Intelligences: Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal.

MI theory was a stark contrast to the common understanding of intelligence, which was defined by the Intelligent Quotient (IQ) early in the 20th century. At the request of the French Ministry of Education in the early 1900s, Alfred Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon had developed a test that identified children at risk for school failure. The test was effective for that purpose, but it was soon used as the basis for the psychometric measurement of individuals’ general capabilities or intelligence. Since that time, intelligence tests have been heavily weighted toward the types of highly predictive abilities Binet measured in his test, including verbal memory, verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, and appreciation of logical sequences.

In 1912, German psychologist Wilhelm Stern came up with the Intelligence Quotient, or “IQ,” which represents the ratio of one’s mental age to one’s chronological age, as measured by intelligence tests. In the early 1920s, Lewis Terman, an American psychometrician, introduced the Stanford-Binet IQ tests, the first paper-and-pencil, group-administered versions of the test. Largely because of Terman’s work, the intelligence test quickly became a standard part of the U.S. educational landscape. Since that time, most people have equated intelligence with this psycho-metric view. Terman’s work also had a significant role in the development of two additional beliefs about intelligence: It is inherited and largely unchangeable. Thus, current wisdom about intelligence gives it three immutable characteristics: Intelligence is testable, genetic, and unitary (Gardner, 1993; Gould, 1981).

Although current wisdom still equates intelligence with IQ test scores, actual IQ testing nowadays is primarily limited to special situations, such as when a learning disability is suspected or when selecting entrants into a gifted program (Gardner, 1999). The line of thinking to which intelligence testing gave rise maintains a powerful presence. Most academic measures—the SATs and the like—are, in fact, thinly disguised intelligence tests (Gardner, 1993). The traditional view of intelligence has been long internalized in U.S. schools, and it is the foundation on which much of our instruction, curriculum, and assessment practices and policies rest. In adult education, the tests of General Educational Development (GED) and test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL) are examples of such assessment practices.

Long-held societal views of intelligence have direct implications for our teaching and learning practices. The traditional view of intelligence has played a significant role in determining standard school fare, perhaps best described as seatwork, with its emphasis on the same narrow set of language and math skills that hearken back to intelligence test items. Core curricula and our most common tools for assessing disability and giftedness are grounded in this limited view of intelligence (Baum, Viens, & Slatin, in press).

Gardner (1993) initially had little to say about MI theory’s classroom application. He intended and expected MI theory to find an audience in the field of psychology, where intelligence is a realm of study. Yet educators were and continue to be most drawn to the idea of multiple intelligences.

The impact of IQ on teaching and learning practices suggests potentially far-reaching implications of MI theory for education, and for educators and students of all stripes. In stark contrast to the traditional view of intelligences, MI theory suggests a need for active, authentic, problem-based instructional approaches and performance-based, real-world assessments (Gardner, 1993 & 1999; Kornhaber & Krechevsky, 1995).

Since approximately 1988, MI theory has inspired hundreds of MI-informed programs, schools, and classrooms. These research and practice efforts have been undertaken primarily at the elementary school level (Baum et al., in press; Campbell & Campbell, 1999; Chen et al., 1998; Kornhaber & Fierros, 2000; Kornhaber & Krechevsky, 1995). The existing research suggests that MI-based initiatives can have a range of positive effects on students, parents, teachers, and schools, including more self-directed, confident students (Chen et al., 1998); fewer disciplinary problems; higher achievement; more parent involvement (Campbell & Campbell, 1999; Fierros & Kornhaber, 2000); and positive affective changes and organizational restructuring (Kornhaber & Krechevsky, 1995).

MI theory is a formal theory based on empirical research (Gardner, 1993 & 2000). It validates what many teachers already know and do when they use diverse classroom practices. MI theory complements or organizes teachers’ pre-existing approaches, such as whole language or cooperative learning. Teachers note that MI theory supplies a framework to support teaching and a language for collaboration and discussion with colleagues (Kornhaber & Krechevsky, 1995). Scores of teachers and programs across the United States and abroad have used MI theory as the basis for improving their practices. It continues to be the organizing framework for dozens of school-change efforts (Baum, Viens, & Slatin, in press; Campbell & Campbell, 1999; Gardner, 2000).

The Adult Literacy Context and the AMI Study

Although we did not set out to measure how particular applications of MI theory could solve specific problems, the AMI Study was prompted by four well-documented needs and conditions in the adult literacy field that still exist today:

1. A high incidence of learning difficulties among adult learners

2. Low self-efficacy among adult literacy learners

3. The need to improve learner retention rates

4. Limited professional learning opportunities for adult literacy educators

Many adult literacy learners have difficulties learning academic content and skills through the field’s prevailing methods of instruction, which include completing workbook exercises, responding to comprehension questions about a reading or presentation, and writing in responses to prompts. For some, these difficulties were what had driven them out of the K-12 system as youngsters. The Academy for Educational Development states:

“Varying estimates of the number of American adults with learning disabilities range from 3 to 15 percent of the general population. An even greater incidence of learning disabilities is likely to be just what that proportion is; the estimates range from 30 to 80 percent.” (1999)

Through research, experience, and the comments of numerous teachers, we knew that many adult literacy learners have little confidence in their ability to learn and do not feel competent or intelligent in academic settings. Whether or not they have a diagnosed learning disability, many have a low sense of self-efficacy when it comes to mastering reading, writing, or math. Adult literacy learners often describe pervasive feelings of shame, embarrassment, and self-consciousness related to literacy (Fingeret & Drennon, 1997). At the same time, they often look upon themselves as competent workers, parents, citizens, and friends. This dissonance creates an internal tension for many adults who have limited literacy skills. This tension often is unwittingly exacerbated by educators and by the general public, who remain bound to a skills or task-based conception of literacy.

Improving student retention rates continues to be a long-standing issue in the adult literacy field. The National Evaluation of Adult Education programs found that 50 percent of adults who enroll in adult basic education (ABE) classes drop out before completing 35 hours (Young, Fleischman, Fitzgerald, & Morgan, 1994). More recent research by Comings and his colleagues (1999) suggests that improved self-efficacy is one crucial support for retention, which they describe as learner persistence.

Another indisputable need in adult literacy that shapes the AMI Study design is the lack of adequate professional development opportunities and supports for adult literacy educators. Smith et al. (2001) found that “although the majority of the teachers in our study had taught in the K-12 system, 57 percent had not taken a single undergraduate course related to teaching adults” (p. 4). Forty observations of 20 classes demonstrated that teaching in ABE is by and large teacher directed and that teachers presumably teach the way they were taught (Beder, 2001). When we consider this in conjunction with Smith et al.’s finding, we can reasonably assume that teacher directedness results at least partially from a lack of training and professional development. Therefore, we wanted to make our study a vehicle for professional development on MI theory and teacher research.

The AMI Study was implemented in a field in which most educators’ working conditions are limited in many respects:

It is hard to imagine how the field of adult learning and literacy will be able to provide the type of instructional services learners need when teachers—most of whom are part-time and do not receive benefits or salaries commensurate with their K-12 counterparts—are faced with working conditions and environmental factors that make it difficult for them to learn about and deliver quality instruction. (Smith, Hofer, & Gillespie, 2001)

A recent Jobs for the Future (2001) study of ABE in five New England states corroborated Smith et al.’s conclusion that resources are so limited, facilities are so inadequate, and teacher training is so poor that the “task [of improving adult literacy instruction and the overall system] is alarming” (p. 1). Although the AMI Study did not offer a solution to the widespread systemic problems that encumber the adult literacy field, it provided an intensive professional development opportunity for the participating teachers, details of which are discussed in the following pages (see Teacher Research Activities, p. 15).


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