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Should We Include Gardner’s ‘8 ½th Intelligence’ in Classroom Applications?

Multiple Intelligence Theory in ELT: Thorny Issues 1

Should we include Gardner’s ‘8 ½th intelligence’ in classroom applications?

The most recently proposed addition to the cannon of Multiple Intelligences, ‘existential’ intelligence, ‘entails the human capacity to pose and ponder the biggest questions: “Who are we? Why are we here? What is going to happen to us? Why do we die? What is it all about?” (Gardner, 2004, pp40-41).

Initially examining whether a ‘spiritual’ intelligence may be a candidate, Gardner concluded that, ‘Existential intelligence, or a concern with “ultimate” issues, seems the most unambiguously cognitive strand of the spiritual.’ (Gardner, 1999, p60)

To substantiate the existence of an intelligence, Gardner suggests that the following criteria must apply: the potential for brain isolation by brain damage, 
a place in evolutionary history, 
the presence of core operations, 
susceptibility to encoding, 
a distinct developmental progression, the existence of idiot-savants, prodigies and other exceptional people, 
support from experimental psychology, and support from psychometric findings (Gardner, 1999)

It was particularly in relation to both the second and final descriptors that spiritual intelligence as a ‘whole’ was harder to pin down; Gardner admitting that, ‘…we do not have convincing evidence that “existential intelligence” draws on dedicated neural or brain centres or has a distinctive evolutionary history.’ (Gardner, 2004, p41) Though it in fact scores reasonably well on the last criteria, Gardner admits the following conundrum: evidence is sparse, but what evidence there is would not contradict the idea of an existential intelligence (Gardner, 1999,p64). In this respect, Gardner is hesitant to fully proclaim a ‘9th Intelligence’, preferring, cautiously, to refer to ‘8 ½ Intelligences’.

Implications for ELT

I would suggest that, during the absence of this latest discernment of intelligence, aspects of existential intelligence have been incorrectly attributed to intrapersonal intelligence within ELT materials and methodology. Throughout his work, Gardner is careful to refer to intrapersonal intelligence always in relation to interpersonal intelligence – the two aspects of the personal intelligences. However, the frequent distortion of the nature of intrapersonal intelligence has in turn lead to two erroneous interpretations of MI theory:

1) elements of existential intelligence are attributed to intrapersonal intelligence, which leads to…

2) intrapersonal intelligence being seen as something contrary rather than complementary to interpersonal intelligence.

Error 1 leads to a somewhat ‘mystical’ interpretation of intrapersonal intelligence. An article, for example in the English Teaching Professional describes the intrapersonal as ‘dreaming’, ‘meditating’ and being ‘deeply inside’ (Wingate, 1997, 28-30), while more pop sources offer such misconceptions as the intrapersonal being symbolized in the figure of a ‘monk’ (Knight, 2003)

Gardner suggests that intrapersonal intelligence is no more (or no less) that that which enables a person to have, ‘a good working model of herself; … identify personal feelings, goals, fears, strengths and weaknesses; and …, in the happiest circumstance, use that model to make judicious decisions about herself.’ (Gardner, 2004, p39)

The addition of an existentialist intelligence should therefore help to move the interpretation of intrapersonal intelligence (with its resulting implications for classroom application) back within the realms proposed by Gardner. Interestingly, the same evolution can be seen within Gardner’s work with such overlaps as:

(On intrapersonal intelligence in 1983)

‘It seems legitimate to construe rituals, religious codes, mythic and totemic systems as symbolic codes that capture and convey crucial aspects of personal intelligence.’ (1983, p234)

(On existential intelligence in 1999)

‘Major cognitive activities among early humans was a grappling with these existential issues and that much early art, dance, myth, and drama dealt implicitly or explicitly with cosmic themes.’ (1999, p62)

An interesting piece of research possibly adds further light to error 1. Although practitioners should treat any ‘multiple intelligence test’ with care (see articles 4 and 5 in this series), C. Branton Shearer’s rigorously developed ‘MIDAS’ test revealed that within groups of professions tested, those scoring highest in the ‘intrapersonal’ category were pilots while the lowest were writers. When teachers were tested, the highest were music and phys. ed teachers and the lowest were English teachers (Branton Shearer, 2004). If this evidence is to be trusted, it would seem to substantiate the more grounded interpretation of intrapersonal intelligence, and suggest that ‘dreaming’ and ‘meditating’ lie elsewhere.

The usual implication of error 2 is that intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences become associated with the (layperson’s) polarized conception of introversion and extroversion, resulting, for example, in the following website claims:

‘This intelligence makes you quiet and introvert.’

‘The sensitive introvert : Intrapersonal’

‘The Extrovert-Introvert criterion of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is contextually comparable with the Interpersonal or Intrapersonal definitions of Multiple Intelligence Inventory.’

Such claims are based on a basic misunderstanding of MI theory, and the idea that someone ‘is’ an intelligence type in the same way as, say, they may be a ‘Keirsey’ type (Champion, Crafter, etc) (Keirsey, 1984). Indeed, at times, representations of intelligences read like Zodiac profiles, and, for that matter, you don’t have to look long on the internet before finding claims like:

‘This shift in psychology towards multiple intelligences brings it one step closer to convergence with the astrological perception of skills’

In fact, an individual has a ‘profile’ of intelligences. It is quite possible for someone to have a similar quota of intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence that they can draw upon or through which they interpret and interact with the world around them. As such then, the conception of intrapersonal as introvert and interpersonal as extrovert is misleading and is nowhere mentioned by Gardner, who rather states, ‘these two forms of knowledge are intimately intermingled in any culture, with knowledge of one’s own person perennially dependent upon the ability to apply lessons learned from the observations of other people, while knowledge of others draws upon the internal discriminations the individual routinely makes.’ (1983, p241)

To conclude then, prior to the ‘announcement’ of existential intelligence, existential elements of classroom tasks or activities seem to have been applied by educators to intrapersonal intelligence. This has in turn lead to a misunderstanding of the relationship between intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. For these reasons I would suggest, where possible, that existential intelligence should be included within ELT applications of Multiple Intelligence theory, despite Gardner’s cautious approach to the 8 ½th intelligence.


Branton Shearer, C. (2004), “Using a Multiple Intelligences Assessment to Promote Teacher Development and Student Achievement”, Teachers College Record 106:1C. p147

Gardner, H. (1983), Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences.

New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999), Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2004), Changing Minds. Harvard Business School Press

Keirsey, D. and Bates, M. (1984), Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, Prometheus Nemesis.

Knight M.N. (2003), .

Wingate, M (1997), “Multiple Intelligences and Lesson Planning”, English Teaching Professional, 2:28-30

Research on Multiple Intelligences…Look Out it’s a Dissertation…

How can Multiple Intelligence Theory be used to foster teacher development, support, and informed curriculum supplementation?


The application of Multiple Intelligences Theory in English Language Teaching frequently relies, it would seem, more on a leap of faith than on grounded research. This research seeks to examine the use of Multiple Intelligence Theory within a six-month teacher development project in a faculty of twenty teachers at a private language school in Vancouver, Canada.

Initially the development project sought to initiate, foster and track knowledge transfer between teachers by grouping teachers with contrasting Multiple Intelligence profiles and encouraging peer planning, observation and feedback. Ironically, this intention was based on the common assumption that teachers teach to their own intelligences which was in turn found to be, in itself, a groundless leap of faith. This led to a reframing of the project and ultimately an attempt to suggest how Multiple Intelligence can be more successfully applied to English Language teaching.

While the teacher development project was being assessed qualitatively through open questionnaires, quantitative research was conducted into the reliability of Multiple Intelligence quick-tests. This was attempted via inter-observer and alternate-form testing.

The final, and most revealing, strand of the study was to analyze, the intelligence bias inherent both in coursebook and teacher supplementary material.

A strong degree of correlation was found between the chosen Multiple Intelligence quick-test and the alternate form instruments. The inter-observer process revealed an 83.2% correlation, and while such tests should be used cautiously, a basic indication of reliability was established.

The coursebook and teacher supplement analysis highlighted the sheer weight of logic based activities in the coursebook and while linguistic, logical, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences as well catered for, the remaining five intelligences usually comprise less than 25% of activities, and it is argued that in most ESL contexts this balance is unsatisfactory.  More surprisingly, supplementary activities chosen or created by the teachers follow precisely the pattern found in coursebooks indicating that teachers teach to an unspoken yet pervasive common standard that outweighs personal proclivities. This tendency may be counter-balanced by an understanding of how Multiple Intelligence Theory may be activated in the ESL classroom by an attention to the integral, thematic, dynamic and activityapplications of each intelligence.

The research challenges existing literature on Multiple Intelligences in ELT that  exaggerates rather than balance the existing intelligence bias in published materials and teacher training; and also challenges the assumption that ‘teachers teach to their intelligences’. The research attempts to provide a clear model for immediate classroom application and looks towards a synthesis of Multiple Intelligence Theory with Task-Based Learning.

Download Dissertation here:


How Should Naturalist intelligence be Activated in the Classroom?

Neil Hammond, 2009

Multiple Intelligence Theory in ELT: Thorny Issues 2

How should naturalist intelligence be activated in the classroom?

Gardner defines an individual with high naturalist intelligence as someone who ‘demonstrates expertise in the recognition and classification of the numerous species – the flora and fauna – of his or her environment.’ (Gardner, 1999, p.48). Roles that attract, or result from, naturalist intelligence would be the biologist or herbalist, ‘hunters to fisherman to farmers to gardeners to cooks’ and ‘those who generally exhibit, an early fascination with plants and animals and a drive to identify, classify, and interact with them’ (Gardner, 1999,p.48).

In respect to how this intelligence manifests in the urbanized world, Gardner comments on ‘…the extent to which to which our consumer society is built on naturalist intelligence’:

The ability to distinguish one sneaker or sweater from another, to discriminate among brands of automobiles, airplanes, bicycles, scooters, and the like, draw on pattern-detecting capacities that in earlier eras were used to distinguish varieties of lizards, bushes, or rocks from one another. (Gardner, 2004, p37)

While including the natural world may warrant specific thematic choices on the materials level, the choice of how a teacher may seek to stimulate naturalist intelligence seems to be a question that perplexes practitioners. Suggestions seem to fall into the environmental: those that would activate the natural world in the classroom, and the implied: concentrating on the applicable skills that naturalist intelligence may generalize into ‘non-natural’ contexts

Environmental suggestions would include:

‘Learners listen to sound inside and outside the classroom and discuss what they have heard/Learners work with a text on environmental issues/Learners write a text describing a natural scene/Learners discuss an environmental issue /Learners do an activity associated with nature (e.g., walk by the sea and write a story in the past tense about it)/Learners make a mind map with a word related to nature (e.g., bird, tree).

Learners read descriptions of nature in a novel and then write their own.’

(Tanner, 2001 pp 40-41)

On the other hand, the ‘implied’ view of indirect naturalistic applications can be seen in the following statement:

‘Naturalist Intelligence can be catered for in the ELT classroom by noticing relationships. Categorizing and classifying. Observing plants and animals or collecting rocks would not appear to be immediately relevant and neither would listening to the sounds created in the natural world.’ (Berman, 1998, p153)

This leads to confusion between naturalist and verbal-linguistic intelligence as we can see in Berman’s suggested activities for the stimulation of naturalist intelligences which involve:

a) categorizing of separate story strands in a jumbled text and sorting vocabulary

into categories.

b) categorizing tense in a narrative

c) categorizing vocabulary according to theme

(Berman, 1998)

Indeed, are these activities actually logical-mathematical rather than naturalistic in appeal?

Gardner ponders this overlap. He suggests that while the ability to classify ‘can appear as just an exercise of our logical-mathematical intelligence’, the actual discrimination is ‘prior to their classification, and, indeed, any biological classification scheme is always secondary to some set of perceived criteria’. He suggests the following sequence:

1) objects are perceived through combination of senses

2) naturalist intelligence employed to make consequential distinctions

3) specific logical criteria used to classify distinctions

(Gardner, 2004, pp36-38)

Gardner would therefore seem to suggest that naturalist intelligence manifests in the discernment of specific and subtle distinctions. As such, Berman’s categorizing puzzles are first and foremost logical–mathematical in nature.

For example, Darwin’s naturalist intelligence lead him to perceive the concept and need for his theory of evolution, but he used his mathematical-logical intelligence to hammer his perceptions into a coherent theory.

Suggested language teaching applications

This leaves us with the question of how naturalist intelligence can manifest in the language classroom. The direct environmental approach may be more apt, though the suggestions that Tanner makes are largely (though not exclusively) theme dependent and may not always be applicable to a pre-set thematic syllabus. In this view, the naturalist intelligences will be largely neglected until the coursebook hits on an appropriate, probably environmental, theme.

Fortunately Gardner suggests that, ‘urban dwellers who have never glimpsed a farm or a forest may well draw on, even exploit, their naturalistic intelligence in their capacities as vendors, purchasers…’ (Gardner, 2004, p37). He suggests that consumer society is built on naturalist intelligence to the extent that the ability to distinguish between varieties of natural phenomenon is the same ability that we engage in the ‘market place’ when judging the value and merit of, for example, competing brands. This then would seem to broaden those themes that may engage naturalistic intelligence.

In addition, the heightened ability of the naturally intelligent to discern patterns in nature is based strongly on the keenness of particular sensory organs: hands, ears, nose, eyes, mouth.

A recent case in point I observed personally would be the acute aural skills that a computer technician employed when listening intently to the almost imperceptible

noises that a computer processor was making, in order to determine the remedial action needed.

In this sense, it may well be that teaching that takes into account the ‘VAK(OG)’ (visual, aural, kinesthetic etc) learning styles, not as an end in itself, but with particular application to tasks that require the learner to ‘discern’, the classic EFL comparing and contrasting for example, may be instrumental in activating natural intelligence. Activities involving classification or categorizing of non-sensory abstract concepts such as grammar or vocabulary, would not seem to fall within the frame of naturalist intelligence.

Berman, M (1998), A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT, Crown House

Gardner, H. (1999), Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2004), Changing Minds. Harvard Business School Press

Tanner, R. (2001) “Teaching Intelligently”, English Teaching Professional. 20:40-41

The Tangling of Multiple Intelligences Theory and Learning Style Theories

Multiple Intelligence Theory in ELT: Thorny Issues 3

The tangling of Multiple Intelligences Theory and Learning Style Theories

‘By the middle 1990s, I had noticed a number of misinterpretations of the theory, for example the confusion of intelligences with learning styles.’ (Gardner, 2003, p8)

While Multiple Intelligences Theory (MIT) has been applied to learning, it is not a theory about learning. Gardner describes an intelligence as ‘a biopsychological potential to process specific forms of information in certain kinds of ways…that allow them to solve problems or to fashion products.’ (Gardner, 2004, p29) As such, MIT focuses on the content and products (Silver et al, 1997) whereas learning styles theories, having generally emerged out of psychoanalysis rather than cognitive science, favour a focus on different approaches to the process of learning.

As to the correlation between learning styles theories and MIT, Gardner states, ‘The relation between my concept of intelligence and the various conceptions of style needs to be worked out empirically, on a style by style basis. And indeed there are many styles.’ (1999, p84)

There is a tendency within ELT to think of an intelligence as a learning style or preference. This not only fails to address the intelligence profiles of students (and perhaps just as crucially, teachers) but has frequently lead teachers to believe that they are teaching to intelligences when in fact they are far from it.

Though not currently evident in ELT, educational theorists is the US have perhaps gone far further than their counterparts elsewhere to synthesize MIT and learning styles theories, most notably Silver, Strong and Perini’s synthesis of their rendering of Myers’ (rendering of Jungian) personlity types to MI theory which is certainly worth a read (see So Each May Learn (2000) ASCD). They claim:

‘Without multiple intelligence theory, style is rather abstract, and it generally undervalues context. Without learning styles, multiple intelligence theory proves unable to describe different processes of thought and feeling. Each theory responds to the weaknesses of the other; together, they form an integrated picture of intelligence and difference.’ (Silver et al, 1997,p24)

Of particular relevance to the ELT classroom, their Learning Styles Inventory ‘assessment products’ clearly present specific student activities that will appeal to particular intelligences/types and manages to clearly identify concrete classroom activities within each intelligence that will involve the student in the content of that intelligence.

On the other hand, the most popular learning style approach in the UK stems from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Bandler and Grindler , 1974). The ‘VAKOG’ approach seeks to stimulate the students’ preferred sensory style, whether visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory or gustatory. As the last two are rather harder to stimulate in the ELT classroom the theory, or perhaps strategy, commonly boils down to ‘VAK’.

Upon examination VAK tends to describe things that the teacher should do, rather than prescribe true student-based activities and this is the heart of the difference between VAK and MIT. Indeed the two theories have become confusingly tangled, frequently leading practitioners to blur the distinctions between students’ intelligences and their learning styles or preferences.

This is frequently in evidence in ELT materials:

‘In his second article on Multiple Intelligences, Jim Wingate looks at the effect of different learning styles on teaching’ (ETP, 1997, p1,p28)

‘…and cater for individual learning styles, ie. a Multiple Intelligences Teaching Approach.’ (A Fresco, SM Howell, 2003 p1)

‘… the existence of different learning styles, we can more successfully organize activities for our students according their orientation to learning, thus improving their education by concentrating on their multiple intelligences.’

(M Di Maio,2003,p2)

Curiously, Berman opens A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom with a discussion and test for learning styles with no apparent attempt to synthesize this with the otherwise engaging MI topic of the book. (Berman, 1998, p1)

Despite the inherent difference (VAK learning styles providing ideas for how a teacher should present rather than suggesting content related ‘products’) there are certain overlaps with MI:

It is hard to argue, for example, that particular visual LS techniques would not resonate with spatial intelligence (using charts, illustrations, flip charts , diagrams, envisioning) and that kinesthetic intelligence would not be stimulated by certain kinesthetic learning style techniques (getting students up and moving, tactile props, mime etc). However, while by no means decrying the effectiveness of VAK learning styles, such techniques are a drop in the ocean of MI theory which requires the students to be involved in the activity, using that intelligence to problem solve or produce, and not merely be stimulated by a pretty flashcard.

In addition, there is confusion between the auditory learning style and musical intelligence. The two should barely be connected. The auditory learning style would actually seem to have more in common with elements of verbal-linguistic intelligence: musical intelligence is not connected to listening to audio of people talking, nor with pronunciation activities.

Once again this confusion has arisen from the fact that MI was not, first and foremost, a learning theory. As we have seen, when it was applied to ELT, many practitioners seemed to have assumed that it worked in a similar way to the then more prevalent VAK styles, and the similarity of certain terminology certainly added to the confusion. They are, however, quite separate. While basic VAK techniques should be a natural part of a practitioner’s daily repertoire for presenting and engaging students, they are frequently not sufficient to satisfactorily activate and involve students’ main intelligences. A flashcard may certainly not go unnoticed by a student with strong spatial intelligence, but spatial intelligence is activated by enabling the student to explore a topic or task through spatial channels – comparing or creating visual or artistic representations, considering space, shape and movement etc. Just as a flashcard is easier to produce than a scheme of work that will engage spatially strong students, so is the application of VAK learning styles are easier to grasp than the application of MIT.

So within ELT, the VAK approach is much easier to conceptualize than MIT, and perhaps more instantly incorporated by teachers in schools with short courses and continuous enrolment. They are certainly more inclusive in a teacher’s improvisational repertoire for inclusion in the quick lesson plan, or mid-lesson choice of direction.

As such MIT may play more of a role at the syllabus-planning or materials-design level, and by teachers in assessing how to supplement pre-fabricated courses.

Where it is used by teachers in the specific lesson planning stage it must be used not as a way simply to attract the students’ attention, but as a way to involve the students at the level of activity within the content of the task. As such, a well planned integration of MIT into a syllabus may be central to ensuring the appeal and inclusivity of effective task-based language learning.


Berman, M (1998), A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT, Crown House

Gardner, H. (1999), Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H (2003), “Multiple Intelligences After Twenty Years”, Invited Address, American Educational Research Association

Gardner, H. (2004), Changing Minds. Harvard Business School Press

SM Howell, A Fresco (2003), Editorial, Lang Matters, 6:1-3

Silver, H; Richard, S; Perini,M (1997), “Integrating learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences, Educational Leadership”, 55:1:22-27

Wingate, M (1997), “Multiple Intelligences and Lesson Planning”, English Teaching Professional, 2:28-30

M Di Maio (2003), Lang Matters, 6:1-3


Do Teachers Act on the Findings of Educational Research?

Do teachers act on the findings of educational research?

The divide between research and application was brought home to me recently in a 2 day meeting in which a discussion of the role of grammar played a large role.
On the flight I lapped up parts two and three of Ellis, only to find that many of the issues raised were irrelevant to the practical nature of what we were discussing – a revision of a coursebook series. Ellis’s excellent discussion of the factors affecting the learnability of grammatical structures that had seemed so me, while on the plane, so central to what needed to be at the heart of the meeting, dissolved rapidly once we got down to business. There were too many debatable points – to many tastes to satisfy, and too many other considerations weighing down the agenda.

The final stage of ‘SLA Research and Language Teaching’ is vague, with no real workable conclusion drawn. The most frustrating thing throughout is the rather global use of the term ‘teacher’ which I would suggest could be more stratified.
Certainly I have found that most teachers do not actively seek out research – they would rather spend valuable time seeking tasks and activities and resources. But I think Widdowson’s talk of ‘deep mistrust’ is also overstating the case. It’s more a question of prioritizing time use.

What is perhaps missed is that between the researchers and the ‘teachers’ there is a middle ground of roles that, while still in the teacher camp, can and actually do serve to connect the two poles a little. That is the strata of teacher trainers, materials writers and editors, resource and methodology book writers and department managers not too handcuffed by admin. Along with this are the teachers whose articles regularly appear in more practical journals and blogs. And I think that this is where the findings of academic research do filter through. And it is perhaps this group to whom researchers should aim and target their findings.

So teachers may not always have a clear view of where an activity has come form – but the coursebook writer probably has, or the observer giving class feedback, or the trainer guiding the teacher in a certain direction. For example, I was a couple of years into teaching before I heard the term PPP (practice, present, produce long since out of fashion in theoryland), but the coursebooks I had been using would have all too well represented the approach in my lessons. I am brought to mind of Michael Lewis statement that he was ‘pissed off’ because the lexical approach was not filtering through. That is probably true if you interviewed most teachers who would not have read the main books on the subject, but are likely familiar to the collocation exercises that have become increasingly abundant in teaching materials.

It is filtering through even if that filtering includes dilution.

At the same time a number of teachers do attend conferences. More often that not it is the academics who have the plenary presentations. But I think there is an expectation on the part of teachers that they will be the ‘servicers’ of academic research via prescribed approaches represented in materials.

With regard to action research, there will always be a small core of teachers who see this as a natural part of their classroom role – but it won’t come out of nowhere and here I see the department head role as being vital to promoting small scale action research projects, stimulating interest and facilitating meetings to discuss findings and implications.

Multiple Intelligences Theory in ELT: A New Model

Also published in Modern English Teacher Volume 17 Number 4

Multiple Intelligences in ELT: a Reappraisal.  

Our enthusiastic but all too often uninformed application of Multiple Intelligences Theory to ELT may actually have increased the intelligence bias it sought to diminish.

Practitioners ran to embrace Gardner’s nascent theory in the late 80s while the theory itself was still being refined. Gardner proposed seven initial intelligences, though suggested that this was not exhaustive – merely those that he had so far ‘proven’ via his battery of tests. So while absolutely viable and deeply challenging to existing ideas of intelligence, the schema was incomplete. Challenging the largely linguistic and logical bias of the IQ paradigm, Gardner posited the existence of additional intelligences each of which we possess in varying amounts due to both innate and environmental causes. The additional five were interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual, musical, and kinesthetic. Significantly, the idea of naturalistic and existential intelligences came later.  Still, even recent publications are hazy on the last two, particularly existential intelligence.

Prior to the suggestion of existential intelligence, facets of mystical or spiritual introspection were erroneously ascribed to intrapersonal intelligence. In reality, intrapersonal intelligence manifests in far more mundane ways, and would be typified by qualities of self-directed organization, planning and everyday awareness of one’s limitations – think librarian not shaman. While being the flip side of the interpersonal coin, it is not contrary to it: you can be high or low in both. In classroom terms, soul searching for answers to the big, though not necessarily spiritual, issues is the realm of existential intelligence, not intrapersonal. As such, early descriptions in ELT publications of the intrapersonal as being ‘dreaming’ and ‘deeply inside’ were highly misleading, if not damaging. While Gardner is hesitant to fully endorse his ninth suggested intelligence, I would suggest that it is vital to our understanding and analysis of classroom activity within a Multiple Intelligences framework.

When naturalistic intelligence was first proposed in the mid 90s, we struggled to find ELT applications. Seizing on Gardner’s description of the categorizing tendency of the botanist, we sought to reach out to our naturalistic students by having them categorize entirely abstract concepts like grammar. Nothing could be more alien to? the naturalistic student who, in a nutshell, is better reached through the engagement of the senses and discernment of discrete differences in nature (including synthetic products) as well as nature based themes.

The real issue though was our failure to simply examine what was happening in the classroom and how we could use the theory to balance our approach, as well as the assumption that teachers ‘teach to their intelligences’. My own qualitative research would suggest that this is simply not the case.

Some attempts had been made to analyze multiple intelligence bias in learning materials and resources. These studies suffered from a poor analysis of how activities actually manifest. The first flaw was to think of all activities as linguistic, simply because they in some way pertain to language learning. In fact, many activities are more logical than linguistic in nature. That is, an activity should be classified as linguistic if there is a real communicative process or outcome, and logical if the activity is a more analytically based puzzle. In other words, a comprehension-based reading activity may be classified as linguistic where a grammar cloze is logical. This is obvious but significant as, ironically, logical-mathematical intelligence in ELT was seen as one of those peripheral intelligences that are more difficult to stimulate in the classroom. We therefore actively sought to suggest extra logical activities; often in communicatively weak activity suggestions such as, say, calculating the percentages of tenses used in a text.

Now this was a? case of adding fuel to the fire. In fact, even in leading coursebooks, logical intelligence actually tops the ranks of intelligences catered for. Analytical puzzle based activities predominate.

The balance of  intelligences engaged by coursebook activities is clear in Figure 1 which illustrates the analysis of one month’s classroom work from randomly picked units in two leading ELT coursebooks and seven levels of an in-house series.

Figure 1: Coursebook

Size dictated by blog format.

Intelligences from left to right:

Visual / Spatial

Logical and linguistic make up almost 60% of activities, the personal intelligences comprise around 25%. In other words, four of the nine intelligences make up almost 85% of classroom activity. Where the remaining intelligences are activated, this is usually in terms of theme rather than actual engagement of a skill pertaining to that intelligence – for example a unit on sport may appeal to kinesthetic intelligence, which is one thing, but may do little to actually activate any actual kinesthetic skills. Note also that of the five less represented intelligences, existential activties feature the most strongly, further emphasising the case for embracing this last tentative intelligence.

To a degree, this pattern of intelligences may be natural to the subject. On the other hand, consider how limited the range is in terms of potential appeal to the spectrum of intelligence in any one class.

It had been presumed that the teacher would supplement the coursebook, whether consciously or even randomly, to balance the ‘intelligences deficit’ implicit in the materials. At least we presumed that if a range of intelligences was not being addressed in the coursebook, a teacher might teach to their particular intelligences and therefore provide at least some redress to the bias. The thinking was that a teacher with higher musical intelligence may tend to complement the text with supplementary activities involving music of some form while in the next room the spatial teacher complements the same text with more visual based activities.

I asked a teacher team of 20 teachers, familiar with the theory, to analyse every supplement they had used to complement their coursebooks in the previous two weeks of their teaching, using the same rationale as I had used to analyze the coursebook intelligence bias. Figure 2 compounds these results with the average of the coursebook activities found in Figure 1.

Figure 2: Coursebook and Teacher Supplement Activities Combined

Size dictated by blog format.

Intelligences from left to right:

Visual / Spatial

Startlingly, rather than leveling the intelligence playing field, supplementation actually exaggerates the existing implicit bias. Teachers are choosing to supplement the coursebook with activities that would appeal to a very similar ratio of intelligences to those already being presented within the coursebook.

Bear in mind that the teachers’ own self-assessed profiles were entirely mixed ( difficulties in truly assessing an individual’s MI profile duly noted). So when averaged together as a group there were no significant spikes – the intelligences were pretty even with both the mode and mean being 11%, and linguistic intelligence, as we might hope with language teachers, a little higher at 15%. But this in no way reflected the intelligence bias evident in their choice of lesson supplementation and adaptation. In other words, when viewed from a multiple intelligences perspective, contrary to individual’s own intelligence profiles, there is a collective and rigorous preconceived notion of appropriacy which significantly influences the way that coursebook writers write, editors edit, teacher teach and trainers train. But is it how learners learn? And are our lessons justified in this representation of intelligences?

We are, after all, teaching language which is obviously a linguistic pursuit, involves logical deduction and application of rules and presumably logical contrast with the first language, has communication at its root so is interpersonal, and involves self study and internalizing so has an intrapersonal element. It goes without saying that this is a classroom aimed at the study of language not, say, botany or ballet, and so certain intelligences will be represented more than others.

Unlike botany or ballet however, ELT students are generally non-specialists in so much as the students do not arrive at the school with a predictable profile pattern. They (generally) attend not because they are highly linguistic, logical, interpersonal and intrapersonal and drawn to language learning as a calling, but because learning English is essential to their current or future livelihoods. In fact, in the context of private or adult educational provision, the students are often present precisely because they did not excel within the structure of their previous language provision within school. Using the same indicative test that I had used with the teachers, I tested 100 students aged generally between 16 and 22 , and found that there was indeed an almost entirely even spread of intelligence types when averaged together. Again, both the mean and mode was 11%, with interpersonal a little higher and existential a little lower.

Obviously then, within most ELT contexts, our delivery of classroom activities is rather rigorously targeted to specific student types. While this is exactly the situation that we initially turned to MI to redress, I would suggest that we must do so with care. Every article or published resource on MI in ELT that I have seen highlights ways of addressing all the intelligences (usually omitting existential). As such this merely adds incrementally to the existing intelligence bias rather than acting as a leveler. Crucially, if we can accept that logical, linguistic, and the two personal intelligences are already well catered for, we need to dwell on activities that develop the remaining, generally neglected intelligences.

Tables 1 and 2 show an attempt to align the full range of MI precisely to language teaching.

I would suggest that for each intelligence there are four applications:

Intrinsic: ways in which the intelligence pertains to the process of language acquisition

irrespective of the classroom.

Thematic: the broad areas (topics/themes) that will appeal to a particular intelligence, whether or not the actual activities within the unit pertain to that intelligence.

Dynamic: generic classroom strategies, such as pair work or using flash cards

Activity: specific activities that appeal to an intelligence or range of intelligences.

Additionally, I have listed examples of potential generally non-linguistic (and highly optional) classroom resources.

I have divided the intelligences themselves into two categories: ‘core’, which comprises of the four well represented intelligences identified above as being central to our generic language teaching approach; and the remaining five intelligences which I have labeled ‘catalyzing’ as these are the intelligences that, while less intrinsically applicable to language, are ones that can be activated to catalyze language learning through inclusion of relevant thematic, dynamic and activity applications. Table 2 is therefore limited to these five intelligences. The resource suggestions column was entirely provided by the teacher team I work with when it occurred to us that buying more ELT support texts, and sadly even those directly addressing the theory itself, would little help to address the bias.

I therefore strongly recommend that we see any analysis of MI in ELT as incomplete unless all nine intelligences are included. More significantly however, if we wish to address the existing intelligence bias that seems to permeate every level of our sector of education, we must reduce our supplementation of the already lofty heap of core-intelligence based activities. Wherever possible, we should concentrate on designing courses, planning lessons and building a repertoire of techniques to catalyze the neglected five intelligences.

Entitlement, Peer Assessment and Apprenticeship.

I’m designing a big website right now for AIM – an online teacher training and ongoing development site to train and support the specific AIM approach. I’m providing the shape and system, not the content.

A huge part of the design process for me has been the goal of peer assessment, until it occurred to me that perhaps the idea of peer assessment is just a little indicative of our entitlement culture.  It is easy to talk about peer assessment as if it is a democratic cure to conventional hierarchical assessment, but does it contain any real rigour, the training in minimizing subjectivity, the check beforehand that the assessor is worthy to assess the assessed?

Without this, the actual peer assessment has little value beyond advice and encouragement. Worthy in itself within the process of learning, but rather hollow when it comes to an attempt to objectively assess the reaching of a goal/stage/level…a product. To solution to add specific aspects of training for all users that addresses the meta level of assessment is asking too much and quite probably nurturing a skill that was never central to the initial required outcomes?

No, I think we should see peer assessment as guidance at most, and keep a central element of top-down wisdom to ensure actual mastery is happening. However, to get masters you also need apprentices. Free the concept of apprenticeship from its Dickensian connotations and re-introduce it within an elegant wireframe and I think we might have something significantly more exciting and nurturing. Basically, would the Dodger have been half as Artful if he got nothing more that peer assessment?!