Multiple Intelligences and 8 Way Thinking

Education is full of myths. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is one of them.

In 1983, Gardner proposed his theory based on research working with children at Harvard’s Project Zero, a laboratory designed to study the cognitive development of children and its associated educational implications. Gardner’s research led him to the belief that intelligence is not singular but instead consists of multiple, independent intelligences. Everyone has all eight, but each individual has their own pattern of stronger or weaker ones. Or so Gardner says. Over the years, the theory has undergone relatively small but insignificant changes and of the eight intelligences, three (Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic), also known as VAK learning styles, have become most prevalent in schools. The MI theory has been a significant force in education over the past quarter century, but if you delve deeper into it, there’s not much substance to Gardner’s claims. Assumptions do not equal facts.

Humans learn in a variety of different ways. We are all visual learners. We are all auditory learners. We are all kinesthetic learners. But there is very little evidence that if instruction is tailored to a student’s supposed learning style that it will improve learning. Yet there is convincing evidence that learning styles instruction is ineffectual and a waste of valuable instructional time.

But is the public listening? Are teachers and administrators listening?

I have only begun to scratch the surface of the debate on multiple intelligences. Some recommended readings on the myth of MI are Daniel Willingham’s article, John White’s article and Reed Gillespie’s blog post.

Heard it all before? So what, right? How’s the debate over multiple intelligences really going to affect my day-to-day teaching? Give me something practical and useful. Agreed. While Gardner’s theory is nothing new to most teachers, 8 Way Thinking might just be. It is a simple but powerful alternative approach to MI.


8 Way Thinking combines the MI theory and inquiry-based learning. It translates the eight intelligences into student-friendly language (Mathematical – Numbers, Musical – Sounds, Spatial – Sights, Kinesthetic – Actions, Interpersonal – People, Intrapersonal – Feelings, Naturalistic – Nature, Linguistic – Words), giving students a template to develop their thinking. Ian Gilbert calls it the “polycognitive curiosity engine.”

It’s cross-curricular and can be applied to any theme that students are learning. All students have to do is think of a question related to whatever the central theme is and then use the 8 Way angles to help guide their questioning.  Here’s an example of 8 Way Thinking in a study of Van Gogh’s art. 

To what extent do you use the theory of MI in your classroom?

What do you think of 8 Way Thinking?

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