Here, we provide an overview of that work on intelligence — along with ways that educators can bring these ideas into their own classrooms.
Intelligence is Multiple
What if, instead of asking, “How smart am I?” we encouraged kids to ask, “How am I smart?”
People have a wide range of capacities, and there are many ways to be smart. In his foundational work on multiple intelligence theory, educational psychologist and Project Zero pioneer Howard Gardner has identified eight distinct intelligences:
Everyone possess all of these intelligences, but we also each have unique strengths and weaknesses. Some people have strong verbal and musical intelligence but weak interpersonal intelligence; others may be adept at spatial recognition and math but have difficulty with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. And everyone is different; strength in one area does not predict strength in any other.
These intelligences can also work together. Different tasks and roles usually require more than one type of intelligence, even if one is more clearly highlighted.
Furthermore, we can exhibit our intelligences through our ideas, creations, and performances — but test scores do not necessarily measure any sort of intelligence.
For educators, the lesson here is that students learn differently, and express their strengths differently. “If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing in the same way and assess them in the same way and that would be fair,” Gardner has said. “But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths … then education, which treats everybody the same way, is actually the most unfair education.”
Intelligence is Learnable
These multiple intelligences are not fixed or innate. They’re partially the result of our neural system and biology, but they also develop through our experiences and through our ability to persist, imagine, and reflect.
Learning expert Shari Tishman and her Project Zero colleagues have highlighted seven key critical thinking mindsets that can set us up to effectively learn and think in today’s world:
- Being broad and adventurous
- Wondering, problem finding, and investigating
- Building explanations and understandings
- Making plans and being strategic
- Being intellectually careful
- Seeking and evaluating reasons
- Being metacognitive
By embracing these mindsets, we can actually shape and cultivate our intelligences. For example, being open-minded and careful in our thinking, as opposed to being closed-minded and careless, can be predictive of flexing and growing our intelligences.