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Multiple Intelligence Theory

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howard gardner, multiple intelligences and education

Howard Earl Gardner's (1943- ) work has been marked by a desire not to just describe the world but to help to create the conditions to change it. The scale of his contribution can be gauged from following comments in his introduction to the tenth anniversary edition of Howard Gardner's classic work Frames of Mind. The theory of multiple intelligences:

In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings - initially a blank slate - could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early 'naive' theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains. (Gardner 1993: xxiii)

One of the main impetuses for this movement has been Howard Gardner's work. He has been, in Smith and Smith's (1994) terms, a paradigm shifter. Howard Gardner has questioned the idea that intelligence is a single entity, that it results from a single factor, and that it can be measured simply via IQ tests. He has also challenged the cognitive development work of Piaget. Bringing forward evidence to show that at any one time a child may be at very different stages for example, in number development and spatial/visual maturation, Howard Gardner has successfully undermined the idea that knowledge at any one particular developmental stage hangs together in a structured whole.

In this article we explore Howard Gardner's contribution and the use to which it has been put by educators.

Howard Gardner - a life

Howard Gardner was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1943. His parents had fled from NÐ"јrnberg in Germany in 1938 with their three-year old son, Eric. Just prior to Howard Gardner's birth Eric was killed in a sleighing accident. These two events were not discussed during Gardner's childhood, but were to have a very significant impact upon his thinking and development (Gardner 1989: 22). The opportunities for risky physical activity were limited creative and intellectual pursuits encouraged. As Howard began to discover the family's 'secret history' (and Jewish identity) he began to recognize that he was different both from his parents and from his peers.

His parents wanted to send Howard Gardner to Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts - but he refused. Instead he went to a nearby preparatory school in Kingston, Pennsylvania (Wyoming Seminary). He appears to have embraced the opportunities there - and to have elicited the support and interest of some very able teachers. From there Howard Gardner went to Harvard University to study history in readiness for a career in the law. However, he was lucky enough to have Eric Erikson as a tutor. In Howard Gardner's words Erikson probably 'sealed' his ambition to be a scholar (1989: 23). But there were others:

My mind was really opened when I went to Harvard College and had the opportunity to study under individualsвЂ"such as psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, sociologist David Riesman, and cognitive psychologist Jerome BrunerвЂ"who were creating knowledge about human beings. That helped set me on the course of investigating human nature, particularly how human beings think. (Howard Gardner quoted by Marge Sherer 1999)

Howard Gardner's interest in psychology and the social sciences grew (his senior thesis was on a new California retirement community) and he graduated summa cum laude in 1965.

Howard Gardner then went to work for a brief period with Jerome Bruner on the famous MACOS Project ('Man: A course of study'). Bruner's work, especially in The Process of Education (1960) was to make a profound impact, and the questions that the programme asked were to find an echo in Gardner's subsequent interests. During this time he began to read the work of Claude Levi-Strauss and Jean Piaget in more details. He entered Harvard's doctoral programme in 1966, and in the following year became part of the Project Zero research team on arts education (with which he has remained involved to the present). Howard Gardner completed his PhD in 1971 (his dissertation was on style sensitivity in children). He remained at Harvard. Alongside his work with Project Zero (he now co-directs it with David Perkins) he was a lecturer (1971-1986) and then professor in education (1986- ). His first major book, The Shattered Mind appeared in 1975 and some fifteen have followed. Howard Gardner is currently Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and adjunct professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Project Zero provided an environment in which Howard Gardner could begin to explore his interest in human cognition. He proceeded in a very different direction to the dominant discourses associated with Piaget and with psychometric testing. Project Zero developed as a major research centre for education - and provided an intellectual home for a significant grouping of researchers. A key moment came with the establishment of the Project on Human Potential in the late 1970s (funded by Bernard van Leer Foundation) to 'assess the state of scientific knowledge concerning human potential and its realization'. The result was Frames of Mind (1983) Howard Gardner's first full-length statement of his theory of multiple intelligences.

Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences - the initial listing

Howard Gardner viewed intelligence as 'the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting' (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). He reviewed the literature using eight criteria or 'signs' of an intelligence:

Potential isolation by brain damage.

The existence of idiots savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals.

An identifiable core operation or set of operations.

A distinctive development history, along with a definable set of 'end-state' performances.

An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility.

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