Six Things About Multiple Intelligences That You Might Not Know


I remember being completely blown away the first time I attended a workshop on multiple intelligence theory. It seemed to be the answer to everything, and I enthusiastically set myself the task of incorporating as much of it as I could in my teaching. I never thought to question it, it just seemed the right thing. But since then I’ve had some doubts. I’ve come across certain “Multiple Intelligence activities” that I really think aren’t right for me, or for my classes. But it was colleague, co-author and friend Philip Kerr who really made me think about what I, we, are doing. I’m happy that Philip has agreed to share some of these thoughts here. I pass over to him here to tell you six things you might not know about M-I Theory.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was something that the up-to-date teacher should be experimenting with. References to MI theory in English language teaching are almost uniformly positive and the topic is a more than respectable subject for plenary lectures, teacher training courses and university publishers. Even this year’s IATEFL president is a fan of MI theory. But there are a few things that you might not know …

1          However scientific it might sound, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory is not a theory in the scientific sense of the world. It is not a falsifiable theory: his ideas are not amenable to measurement or verification. The theory is sciency, but not scientific.

2          Gardner identifies eight and possibly nine different human intelligences. These intelligences are metaphorical constucts, not discrete, localizable networks or areas of the brain. They do not actually exist in any measurable way. His list does not include spiritual or olfactory intelligence, although it might be quite fun if it did.

3          Gardner has substantially more supporters in the world of education than in the world of psychology. Whilst some respected psychologists (e.g. Robert Sternberg) mention Gardner’s work, most ignore it as irrelevant to their science. His arguments have been dismissed by George Miller as ‘hunch and opinion’.

4          Gardner is horrified by some of the practical applications of his ideas that he has witnessed in classrooms. ‘I once watched a series of videos about multiple intelligences in the schools,’ he has written. ‘In one video after another I saw youngsters crawling across the floor, with the superimposed legend ‘Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence’. I said, ‘That is not bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, that is kids crawling across the floor. And I feel like crawling up the wall.’

5          If you find yourself in conversation with someone about MI theory, good expressions to look out for in the discussion include ‘psychometric’, ‘g’ (not the spot), ‘fMRI’, ‘outside the box’, ‘Csikszentmihalyi’, ‘emotional intelligence’, ‘Rinvolucri’ and ‘neural oscillations’. If you hear more than one of these, walk away – fast.

6          ‘Multiple Intelligences theory’, ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, ‘brain gym’, ‘shamanism’, ‘psychodrama’ and ‘life coaching’ are not related in any way. Except, perhaps, by association.

If anyone is sufficiently interested, I’ll happily provide logico-spatial-kinaesthetic references.

Philip Kerr is a teacher, teacher trainer and writer based in Brussels. He is the lead author of the course Straightforward and is never one to pull punches when it comes to questioning accepted teacher beliefs.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 10:24 am  Comments (77)  
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  1. Csikszentmihalyi is the name of a village near where I live (presumably from where the family of the author of “Flow” originally hail). If someone mentions it in conversation, should I walk away? Or is that being geographically-anthropocentrically unintelligent?

    • That’s tricky. Living near there, you should be able to spot a local accent when you hear one. If it’s not a local accent, walk away!
      Mihaly has been known to talk about his childhood in the Csik region.

  2. Written with your usual panache, young Mr Kerr. As a non-scientist, I won’t dispute any of your arguments.

    I will instead recall a late-night conversation I had with Mr Clandfield in Yerevan, Armenia, when he took me to task for referring positively to the general idea of MI in my talk earlier in the day.

    Whilst it may be easy to refute the scientific validity of MI, there is one thing which, IMHO, is irrefutable.

    As Gardner himself points out, there are serious faults in the way we test and grade our pupils. From a very early age (at least in the UK) they are filed according to their ability to write answers to questions and add up, subtract, multiply and divide.

    This means that a large percentage of children fall off the education conveyor belt at a very early age. At least MI gives us a reason to pause and wonder if there aren’t ways that we can help more children realise their potential and for that potential to be recorded in some other way than a note of whether they can spell or add up or not.

    I’m sure most people reading this are aware of Ken Robinson’s famous TED lecture on creativity, but I would draw your attention to the story he tells about the choreographer who was ‘a difficult child.’

    If you haven’t seen the lecture, it’s worth 20 minutes of your time:

    I’ll stop there and go off and try to work out how why I flunked algebra so badly, and whether it has left an indelible lifelong mark on my psyche. Is that how you spell ‘psyche’, by the way?

    • Ha ha, I remember that late night conversation Ken! You are also right in that MI theory has been very beneficial to teachers (and materials writers I add) in bringing forward some creative and varied ways of language teaching. I enjoy a lot of these, too. But I don’t subscribe to all of them.

      I do not dispute your point about shortcomings in grading and testing either. I haven’t seen that TED lecture, but as a recent convert to those (I watch them on the ipod now on planes) I will seek it out!

    • Hi Ken,
      Many thanks for the ‘young’ bit. It has a nice Dickensian ring to it.
      No one would dispute that there are serious faults in the way we test and grade our pupils, and how we discard young people whose potential has not been understood. Coincidentally, a 15-year-old girl that I know here is going through just such a scary process right now. Ken Robinson’s lecture is good, stirring stuff (and I think the TED site is fantastic). But Robinson, like Gardner, is more rhetoric than substance.

  3. At the same time as MI theory is coming in for a lot of stick as pseudo-science, there’s a lot of interesting research into brains/learning that’s having an impact on

    Check this guy out:

  4. I am completely for MI theory and practice. I am an excellent example of one and plus compartmentalisation of brain hemispheres on top of all and I’ ve met quite a number of my students to let s say try to suggest that it turned into an obvious pattern and if researched and analysed by scientific depts at unis worldwide, would make a case for MIs


  5. Thank you Natasha for your contribution. It would be an interesting case to make. Maybe such a case has been made already?
    Thank you also to Simon. Am off now to check that website.

  6. I’ll agree that MI is a bit cranky, I all agree that cisethenkythingagamajig or whatever it is sounds ominous, but I wholeheartedly disagree that (Mario) Rinvolucri should be walked away from.

    As a techie teacher many might (falsely) say that I ignore humanistic teaching, Dogme dogma etc, but I personally use, have used and will continue to use some of the excellent lesson ideas, games, warmers, fillers and speaking activities I have learnt from Mario’s books and seminars.

    Based in science they may not be, but based on sound teaching experience.. and more importantly a guaranteed way to get a lesson off to a flying start, pass on to a fying second task etc they certainly are!

    I’ll type to the death of my fingertips to save the honour of our bearded brother.


    • You’re right. Mario has come up with some wonderful ideas over the years, and he’s inspired countless numbers of teachers.

  7. Finally. I thought I was alone in the world in my skepticism of MI Theory. To me it always seemed to be a product of our need to up our students’ self-esteem in America. Everyone can say, “Oh, it’s alright, you don’t have problems, you don’t need extra help, you’re just emotionally intelligent” or some such drivel.

    I’ve also seen some problems with putting it into practice. I mean, what’s easier, having 25 students adjust to one teacher and style or for 1 teacher to try and adapt to 25 different students in every single class? The expectation is rather impractical.

    However, I do wholeheartedly agree with Ken that there are serious problems with evaluating students only according to their ability to answer multiple choice questions or do some math. Understanding and reacting to our students as individuals and as whole persons is important.

    We should provide a variety of material in the class to stimulate different learner interests and just to keep things from getting too boring and routine. We just can’t take it too far and say Billy failed his math test because he’s a “kinaesthetic learner” and his teacher didn’t do enough of these activities rather than admit Billy probably needs help or is simply unmotivated in the class (which are different issues).

    You know Lindsay, when I first came across your blog it seemed a big of a hodgepodge and I wasn’t sure what I’d take away from it, but, after it exploring it more, I’ve found a lot of useful stuff, so thanks a lot :).

    • Thanks for the comment Nick! I love the last line of course. Am even tempted to change the subtitle of the blog from A Miscellany of ELT to A Hodgepodge of ELT. What a great word.

      Good point you make too.

  8. Hmmm… Ho… Hmmm….

    And evolution is ‘just’ a theory.

    Whether or not something is scientific or not has little to do with what we are able to observe in our classrooms: namely the marked differences in ‘talent’ or the aptitude for learning one way or another or even better what they are innately born with the capacity do and then have the ability to increase at…

    To be honest, most of this post is also just a bit of rhetoric and does not present anything of meat or value: controversial, mildly interesting, but helpful? Yes, do attach the links.

    We teachers know from direct experience that some people have a way of learning their way around a mathematical formula, some can see someone dancing the merengue for 5 minutes then get up there and dance the same steps… some people can ‘feel’ music – others ‘hear’ it – others ‘see’ it.

    We know this because they tell us.

    They explain how they experience a thing.

    Just because we do not experience something in the same way that someone else does, does not discount it.

    Maybe those kids were crawling around the floor – it’s not my type of game – but I’ve worked with someone who does a lot of physical work in her classroom – and maybe they learned that way.

    Whether Gardner or you are horrified by this idea does not discount it, nor that we are probably not evolutionarily geared for sitting on our bums, learning endless lists and doing dull, dry exercises for hours.

    I remember doing a game with balloons and colours and numbers, I think it was from a book called The Standby Book… and I clearly remember them running around, the noise, the chaos of it all… and how some of those kids could tell me days later ust how many red balloons they popped and how Gabriel popped only so many of the yellow ones.

    We know the differences between us humans exist: we don’t need a scientific journal to tell us what we know every single day of our lives (or well, those of us who have intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences and are able to observe).

    Which is why, Lindsay, when you saw this in a workshop it first clicked with you.

    Whether you’ve had questions or not is good in my opinion… I’ve had questions too, mainly on things like the crossing over of intelligences, the number each has – that few seem to have only 1 intelligence… is mood, environment, task a factor?

    Something like that would make for a very interesting post… perhaps you can get someone to do another guest post with something that actually teaches on this issue?

    Because attaching mocking terms like shamanism, brain gym or whatever else it was Phillip added is not amusing and frankly not helpful.

    Is he suggesting that teachers should not pay attention to our students’ differences but instead blanketedly attempt to teach them all with the same dull style of teaching, strictly and systematically out of books… turn to page 55 and do the gap fill? Again.


    • Dear Karenne,
      The question of whether something is ‘scientific’ or not would not matter in the context of classrooms if it were not for the fact that many proponents of MI theory claim that it is based on ‘hard science’, on observable and measurable phenomena – which it is not. Of course I am not recommending that teachers treat all students in the same way, and deliver death-by-gap-fill. It is not as though there are no intermediate activities between gap-fills and popping balloons.
      As teachers or teacher trainers or whatever, we need to reevalaute our practices from time to time, and MI theory has helped many people to do this. But, as other people here have suggested, there are other, more coherent conceptual frameworks for doing this.
      The debate about MI theory has been going on for some time (outside the world of ELT) and I’m very happy to suggest some articles, if you would like to read more.
      Waterhouse, L. 2006 ‘Inadequate Evidence for Multiple Intelligences, Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence Theories’ Educational Psychologist 41/4, pp.247-255
      White, J. 2004 ‘Howard Gardner: the Myth of Multiple Intelligences’ ViewPoint No. 16 Institute of Education, University of London (October, 2004)
      White, J. 2008 ‘Illusory Intelligences?’ Journal of Philosophy of Education, 42 / 3-4, pp.611-630)
      I think that the first two of these are easy to find online, but I’ll happily send you copies.

      • here you are again phil!

  9. Thanks Philip! It has always baffled me why MI theory became so trendy – I think Nick is correct in suggesting that it is a kind of PC way of explaining diversity. But the literature on learning STYLES and STRATEGIES has been around for ages (see for example Oxford, R. 1990: Language learning strategies: what every teacher should know; Reid, J. 1995 Learning Styles in the EFL/ESL Classroom). What Gardner does is re-invent all this in terms of INTELLIGENCES, which appeals to an innatist explanation of learner differences (they are born that way) which in turn is part of the whole Chomsky/Pinker paradigm that argues that nature trumps nurture.

    Personally I favour the term ‘preferred learning style’ which is less loaded than ‘intelligence’, and allows for the fact that biographical and cultural influences impact just as much on learning behaviours as do biological ones.

    And, as Nick points out, even if we accept the notion that multiple intelligences (or multiple learning styles) might co-exist in any one classroom, we are not necessarily any the wiser as to how, as teachers, we should deal with such diversity. The implication, in a lot of the literature, is to adopt a scattergun approach, on the principle that – if we throw a wide enough variety of activities at learners – something just might stick. Sadly, the evidence for such optimism is inconclusive

  10. I agree with everyone (who all seem to be agreeing with each other without realising):
    – MI is unscientific and possibly complete tosh. However, most of its influence on language teaching has been positive.

    Whether people should be told to try it or told to stop obsessing on it depends very much on the person, with the danger of all TEFL writing that it will have the opposite of the desired effect on both halves.

    TEFLtastic blog-

  11. I disagree with Scott’s:

    Personally I favour the term ‘preferred learning style’ which is less loaded than ‘intelligence’, and allows for the fact that biographical and cultural influences impact just as much on learning behaviours as do biological ones.

    It is not just a question of learning style which I see as different from innate ability…

    Intelligence is defined as the ability to comprehend an experience and profit from it.

    Let’s take a bunch of musicians, as I used this example above, all of whom have musical intelligence – the same ‘ability’ to gift the world with their talent… yet how they learned the music they produced, how they shared it differs/ed.

    Music is the incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge”

    -Miles Davies
    “It’s always been a gift to me, hearing music the way I do”

    -Louis Armstrong
    “If you ain’t got it in ya, ya can’t blow it out”

    They had different styles but all the ‘same’ intelligence to understand their ‘approach’ and then profit.

    What about how these people experience(d) their musical intelligence…

    -50 cent
    -Justin Timberlake
    -Susan Boyle

    It’s not enough to talk about the style.

    Investigating the learner’s abilities/ intelligences should be paid attention to because it helps the learners themselves become more aware of their route to learning – and profit from it – through both their own innate abilities and the approach to increasing it.

    When teachers pay attention, observe these differences it helps them plan better and/or spontaneously provide the “right” ‘exercise’ dogmetically and thus profit from it too ;-).


  12. Thanks Karenne, for helping distinguish between intelligence and style. I guess what you call “musical intelligence” I would call “musical ability” or even “musicality”. But, hey, they’re only labels!

    But here’s a question for you. You have a class of eight students. Through exhaustive testing, you discover that each possesses a different one of Gardner’s eight intelligences. What do you do with them?

    • Dear Scott,
      If you allow me, I’d try and answer your question very briefly.
      In a case like that, the best thing to do is, obviously and simply, vary the types of activities as much as possible so as to cater for the different learning styles, abilities, intelligences, or whatever you may call it.
      You’ll never please or fully reach all of them at the same time, but you can certainly make sure each one will have their “best learning moment” within the class.
      Eduardo Trindade

  13. I feel that what is important here is not whether Gardner’s or Csíkszentmihályi’s theories can be proved or not, but the impact that they have had and continue to have on our profession and the way in which they have contributed to teachers’ and teacher trainee’s understanding of learning.

    Both of them are products of Central European war time experiences, Csíkszentmihályi directly and Gardner through his Jewish parents who left Nuremburg shortly before WW2. Csíkszentmihályi was born in Rijeka, Fiume when he was born, I talked about him a bit in Opatija, 15 minutes down the road from Rijeka, at this year’s HUPE conference and thought he was worth mentioning as a local boy made good! Although his parents were Hungarian he didn’t really feel either Hungarian or Italian and ended up as a child in a detention camp in Italy. These are all influences which feed into the way we experience and view the world and partly shed light on the theories themselves and the people who created them. Chomsky was certainly shaped by having a Jewish Ukrainian father and a Jewish mother from what is now Belarus. After WW2 there was a strong interest in challenging failed theories of the past, and all these people contributed to new ways of thinking.

    Philip, you say that “if you find yourself in conversation with someone about MI theory, (who mentions)…. ‘Csikszentmihalyi’,…‘walk away – fast”.

    A few years ago here in Budapest, I evaluated an MA thesis on Csíkszentmihályi and saw how the student, through the topic of “flow”, had become very interested in both Bruner and Maslow, two key people to study in any teacher training course, and psychology in general. My feeling in general is that ELT can only benefit from being located within general psychology and pedagogy, regardless of whether we wholeheartedly subscribe to these theories or not which you acknowledged in your post Lindsay.

    I’m going to see Csíkszentmihályi speak on Saturday 7th November here in Budapest, he’s 75 now, and I’m looking forward to adding another little bit to the jigsaw I already have of him. I know that through the work of Csíkszentmihályi, many of my students have also started to question psychometric IQ tests and the kind of one-dimensional view of intelligence that led to me losing touch with friends, through the 11+, when I was selected to go to Wolverhampton Grammar School, and to Ken flunking algebra and being written off by some teachers because of it.

    This kind of teacher trainee involvement is surely a good thing and something to encourage and not to run away from………!

    And if anybody was wondering how to pronounce Csíkszentmihályi’s name, he himself says that the best way of doing it is by saying “Chicks send me high!” Thanks Philip for getting us to reflect on these things and Lindsay for hosting the discussion!

    • Hi, Mark,
      I’m sorry about the Csikszentmihalyi remark. He is often quoted by the MI crew, and he collaborates with Gardner. But it was not a good idea to equate one with the other.
      It’s your first point that interests me most. Does it matter whether such theories can be proved or not? I’d frame the question another way: does it matter whether such theories can be disproved? Are they falsifiable? What sort of status do they have as ‘theories’? I’m aware that this gets us into deep philosophical and sociocultural waters, but, yes, I would argue that it is important that we understand, not just what a theory can do to effect change, but also what that theory actually says. I’d agree that there is potential benefit from ELT being located within general psychology and pedagogy … but I guess the point I’m making is that MI theory is not located within general psychology, in the way that Csikszentmihalyi and Sternberg and others are.
      I hope you enjoy the lecture. I’ve never seen the great man ‘live’, but there’s one of his talks on the TED site.

      • Thanks for that Philip, I, too, have always been sceptical of Gardner’s “theory” for the pure fact that too many of the “so-called” intelligences overlap. Stuff like musical intelligence refers surely to an interest in and talent for making music rather than any specific “intelligence”. The guy has obviously got very rich with it, one of the motivations for coming up with it perhaps, and it has resonated a lot with people in our profession, including myself, as it is closely connected to learner differences and paying special attention to different kinds of learning styles. As it has had such huge impact in educational circles we have to deal with it when we train teachers, but the important thing is to problematise it, as you have done with your list. I don’t think you can disprove it, which means it’s not a theory in the way that he claims, right? And yeah, Csíkszentmihályi is a different kettle of fish……and worth trying washed down with a good bottle of sauvignon blanc….thanks again Philip for “rattling a few cages”!

    • I’ve always wondered how to say it. I’m sure his theories would be more widely discussed if everyone knew how to say his name.

      • you might be right Mark, I’d never thought of that. It may be true in the classroom that students whose names we find more difficult to pronounce are students we might not call on as much or praise as much using their names for fear of getting them wrong.

  14. A more curious list than the one starting with Mozart and ending with Susan Boyle can hardly be imagined.There’s a point at which cultural relativism becomes absurd.Anyway,I sometimes think MI is another way of technicalising ‘personality’.Teachers need to develop a feel for their learners,as individuals and in differing combinations.Trying to take on board MI in a class context strikes me as a kind of juggling act.

  15. I hope you weren’t being sarckie, Sire… there are people who read Lindsay’s blog other than the those who can easily distinguish between styles and intelligences…

    Anyhoo…your q’

    You have a class of eight students. Through exhaustive testing, you discover that each possesses a different one of Gardner’s eight intelligences. What do you do with them?

    I’m hoping you really want an answer. (and last up I heard there were 9…)

    1. The chances of that happening are relatively slim.

    2. Most people aren’t of one specific intelligence nor do they have one learning style.

    3. You probably can’t teach to all of them at one specific moment in time. But a class and a lesson is not an island and shouldn’t be presented as such.

    4. With the web2.0 and technology, you can encourage students to tackle one specific task in different ways. e.g. say the task was to discuss the Obama speech (re LC’s last posting) – some in the class could read it straight through, some listen to it, some watch it, some take notes about it and reorganize it, some rewrite it. Some analyze it for vocabulary, and grammar and cultural connotations. Some develop questions around it. Some chat about it.

    I mean, Scott… seriously, am I describing the kettle to the kettle: you’re the one who teaches repetition – repetition isn’t just for the sake of repeating or remembering but to approach a task from different ways to cover the ones who may learn the vocab from one route and the ones who need to acquire it from another route.

    Just because you have one ‘task’ doesn’t mean you have to have one approach to doing said task in the classroom.


  16. Luke… in your eyes

    A more curious list than the one starting with Mozart and ending with Susan Boyle can hardly be imagined.

    There’s a point at which cultural relativism becomes absurd.

    -in your style
    -to your intelligence

    The curiosity of the list was intentional.

    Some of us do not see the world in uniformed boxes.

  17. Philip,
    As you said in your article about MI, Gardner himself is aware of the flaws in his theory but, as Harmer would put (according to his six questions on SixThings) it’s not the scientific grounds of the theory that are important, but the fact that people all over the world liked it and “bought” it.

    It’s true that dividing a person’s intelligence into eight or more pieces merely gives the person the chance to explain why they can’t do certain things and not feel stupid about it. “I haven’t got this type of intelligence” is a very convenient answer for someone who is lazy enough to not even try doing something. It hurts one’s pride less than admitting “I’m stupid” and it surely makes one feel less handicapped.

    I know that your article is not meant to demolish Gardner’s theory, but to raise some questions, especially in the minds of the enthusiastic and fervent acolytes who follow him without even really understanding the theory and, what’s worse, without doubting for a second whether it is scientifically proven or not. In this case it’s the pedigree of the theory that counts more than anything else, and possibly just as much as the money it made.

    While writing this, I imagined Howard Gardner saying to someone: “You’re insulting my intelligence!”. A legitimate reply would be: “Could you be more specific? Which of the eight?”


    • Thank you Melania for your response, and for also bringing in other posts that appeared on this site. Good discussion skills.
      The Harmer one does seem appropriate in this case!

      • Thank you, Lindsay
        I realise now that I may have been rather blunt and probably too down-to-earth in my comment.
        The MI theory justifies the so popular student-centered approach and I agree that it gives teachers the opportunity to be more supportive of their students, encouraging the latter to discover and develop those innate abilities which will make them build a successful career and a happier future.
        I also agree with Mark Bain when he says that “even if complete nonsense, such theories do more good than harm”. If we look at the MI theory from this perspective, then we might as well consider the re-incarnation belief as a valid theory, helping us understand that slower and clumsier students are just “younger souls who have re-incarnated fewer times” than the talented ones. And, in this case, why not credit as well the meteo-sensitive and/or the biorhythm theories? All these theories do more good than harm, right? Why don’t we, teachers, have our students calculate and display their biorhythm in class, so that we know when they mostly need our attention and support?
        I’ll give all these theories the credit of doing more good than harm and I’ll blame the pessimistic/negative tone of my comment on the awful weather outside! Apologies to everyone, I’m meteo-sensitive…

      • O M G Melania,

        Sorry but I do pay attention to things like the weather affecting mood. If I can see (chiefly in small groups or one 2 ones) that my student(s) are looking at the bright sunshine outside and feeling ansy or they are quiet and subdued because their boss just told them that 28% of them will be made redundant… then yes, my class structure/plan is adapted for the day. But then I’m mostly dogme so I can do that.

        Shame on you.


      • Oh, Karenne
        I was so sure I’d be misunderstood… I do pay attention to my students’ talents and moods and background and everything that has contributed somehow in shaping their personalities. I may not have sounded like it, but I’m one of those teachers who love their students, put a lot of passion and effort into their work and cherrish the privilege of making a difference.
        Everything I wrote in my previous posts was simply meant to suggest that if we’re inclined to exaggerate in the use of the MI and we were ready to explain everything based on MI, we’d be doing more harm than good. The other “sciency” theories I mentioned have just as little solid grounds as the MI, yet we still make good use of them. The exaggeration I intently used (“have our students calculate and display their biorhythms”) was meant to show we can’t really do that, just as we can’t give our students a task to solve simultaneously but using different approaches to solving it, depending on their MI (you said so yourself, didn’t you?).
        One more detail: everything I said was only meant for teaching whole classes (more than 25 students), not one 2 one sessions. How do you cope with a class in early summer, towards the end of the school year, when it’s enough for them to look out of the classroom window to see the beach? Would that make them all “meteo-sensitive”?

    • Hi Melania

      You write: “I also agree with Mark Bain when he says that “even if complete nonsense, such theories do more good than harm”.

      Just for the record, what I actually said was: “And there’s an assumption that, even if complete nonsense, such theories do more good than harm. I think that’s a wee bit dangerous.”

      I didn’t express myself well. Let me try again. Without evidence, we can’t assume that the overall impact of Gardner’s work has been positive.

      I hope that’s a little clearer.

      • Thank you, Mark

        I’m sorry for quoting just a fragment of your statement, I should have been more careful when doing that! I should have quoted it all, it would have provided a stronger argument in sustaining my point: the overall impact of the “sciency theories” I proposed has been proven neither positive nor negative, yet people believe in them and make use of them every day. Nobody has ever proven that the star signs and/or the daily horoscope positively or negatively affect our lives, but this has never been a strong enough argument for people to stop believing in these theories. Fortunately, nobody has yet considered their “huge potential”, but we never know…

  18. I recall reading somewhere that, far from being fixed and unchanging, the various intelligences could be nurtured and improved by engaging in appropriate activities, i.e. your nature intelligence can be boosted by a nice walk through a forest or by stroking a kitten. Doesn’t this make the whole thing rather pointless as an approach to teaching? And there’s an assumption that, even if complete nonsense, such theories do more good than harm. I think that’s a wee bit dangerous. Good teachers have always taught individuals. And rather than treating people as individuals, isn’t this just giving us a new set of labels to play with?

  19. I feel I am breaking some blogging/ Twitter taboo by suggesting it, but here is my second attempt to show that people are agreeing:

    – MI is useful when it shows teachers that students learn in different ways, and counterproductive when it makes teachers think that they have their students in boxes and therefore don’t need to think of them as individuals

    Like Lindsay and many others of us I’m sure, I went through my MI period (mainly thanks the the book Knowing Me Knowing You) and then moved on. Unlike some others, I wouldn’t want to rob other new teachers of going through that whole process. I have yet to find a better way of introducing CELTA level teachers to the process of working out that different learners learn differently, trusting that they are all adult enough to move on from that point when they are ready and that they will develop more instinctive ways of dealing with different kinds of students as they progress as teachers (if anyone has a more systematic way of developing teaching instincts, I’d love to hear about it). In a similar way, you can do some great lessons on introducing MI to students- like any other lesson meaning great even if they don’t remember the actual content of what we were talking about. I can’t see that a chat on how all people are different and so can’t be put into boxes could be any better learner training or any better as an English lesson, although getting students to question MI as they are introduced to it is great.

    Again, the danger of these kinds of posts is that the wrong people take them the wrong ways, like articles attacking PPP being more likely to persuade people to stick to grammar translation than they are to make people switch to TBL/ Dogme/ CLIL/ (add flavour of the day here)

    TEFLtastic blog-

    • No taboo broken there Alex, I thought your response there was measured and reasonable. I like the point about “not denying it” to a new teacher. Interesting. Another interesting question could be “why is this theory so popular with educationalists?”

  20. ‘Why is this theory so popular with educationalists?’
    Lidsay, is this a rhetorical question? :)I think quite a few people (educationalists, it seems to me)gave their answers here.
    One more possible answer could be that MI theory is accessible – it needs some reading and effort to understand what stands behind ‘holist / serialist’, ‘field dependent/independent’, etc., whereas ‘musical intelligence’ has an obvious meaning. Besides, when applied sensibly, it gives encouraging results. Examples of judicious MI implementation (with some elements of analysis)can be found in ‘Teaching and Learning through Multiple Intelligences’ by L. Campbell et al. and ‘MI – Best Ideas from Research and Practice’ by M. Kornhaber et al.
    Philip, you are right that there’s a lot of rhetoric in Gardner’s arguments. Perhaps it will be fair to say that the rhetoric is typical for John White’s articles too. Mixed with ridicule, which seems totally inappropriate to a scientific debate. Or perhaps it will be also fair to say that there’s a lot of misinterpretation in Lynn Waterhouse’s arguments. In fact, while I was reading her articles, I began questioning her basic reading comprehension skills.
    I’m giving a reference to Gardner’s response to Waterhouse for a more balanced picture.
    Gardner, H. & Moran, S. (2006) ‘The Science of Multiple Intelligences Theory: A Response to Lynn Waterhouse’ Educational Psychologist 41(4), 227-232. If somebody wants to discuss the details, I’ll happily do it.
    I’m tempted to cite Zoltan Dörney here (recommended by Philip, for which I’m grateful). ‘… Metaphors contribute considerably to the development of thought. That is, except for talking about purely physical reality, our conceptual system is fundamentally metaphorical in nature, and therefore unpacking the conceptual meaning behind methaphors offers unique inroads into the understanding of cognition’.
    If we are lucky, we’ll live long enough to see who is right and who wrong in the intelligence debate. Until this happens, we’d better be less judgemental.
    Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria
    PS My apologies if I broke some blogger rules with this posting.

    • Thanks Zarina, and no you haven’t broken any blogging rules that I’m aware of at least! I suppose that my question was part rhetorical but also to tease out what exactly it is that appeals and what that says about teachers (e.g. wishing their students to succeed, refusing to write-off a student on a narrow interpretation of their abilities etc). The accessibility of the theory as you suggest is one such reason.

      Whatever the case, this post has certainly generated the most discussion on this blog in a long time – if not of all time! Thanks everyone.

  21. Wow! Sorry to have only come in to this one once it is already reaching conclusion! I agree with Alex that the undercurrent is one of agreement. I also went through my Gardener phase, particularly when other writers whom I admired were clearly very influenced by him, and as Scott pointed out, it seemed to offer a way to celebrate difference and diversity, or a language to articulate it without having to refer directly to equal opportunities. But I was always surprised that colleagues from Psychology, of whom I have contact with a lot at work, had never heard of the theories of multiple intelligence or were very sceptical. That doesn’t mean that the idea didn’t make me think when I first came across it, but I added it to other knowledge and filtered it accordingly. I think they reflect more of the social world, than the psychological state of the individual.

    I would like to just add another point into the discussion tho. The idea of ‘scientific validity’ is in itself a social construct and scientific truth is extremely hard to validate. Phillip’s initial post suggests that Gardner’s theories are limited because they cannot be proven. I find this quite a reductive (and to be honest a bit outdated) way of thinking about thinking and research, as well as research methods. I think we have moved beyond this scientific/non-scientific measurable or not paradigm. The point is not only whether it can be proven, but whether it helps to explain things in our micro-environment. Not all research should be generalisable, and to be honest that which claims to be so, often asks another set of questions which leave gaps in the nuances inbetween. No approach can answer all questions. We need to adapt our ‘scientific’ methods to help answer all the questions, not the other way round. So whilst I think Phillip has made some really important points, I would not agree with his approach of trying to question Gardener on the basis of whether the theories are scientifically valid. ‘Science’ is a construct of power, and as linguists we should be wary of entering too strongly into its most conservative discourses to prove our points. There is plenty to say about Gardener’s theories and their limitations which came out in this discussion anyway without saying they are un-scientific which is a strong value judgment.


    • Thanks for the support, Sara. With your additional point, though, you have unfortunately provided a common example of theories like “Science is a construct of power” being most popular with those who have little understanding of science. Although things have moved on in the philosophy of science, still the most commonly used test of whether something is scientific or not (especially useful for those that claim to be but aren’t) is whether it is DISprovable. You are right though that being scientific is not the best judge of all ideas. Another shorthand judgement I often use is to associate an idea with who hangs around it. “Alternative” theories of what science is are often used by creationist, homeopathists and other charlatans, therefore I avoid them. MI seems to be most popular with people who I respect and often borrow other ideas from, if with a pinch of salt, such as “eccentric uncle Mario”, therefore my starting position is that it might well still be useful.

      An idea from later on in the history of the philosophy of science might also be useful in this discussion, that theories don’t get discarded when contradicting evidence comes along (e.g. data that didn’t fit in with Newton’s theories was available while he was still alive and was later used to “prove” Einstein’s), but when a better one is available to replace it. With that in mind, I again challenge anyone to come up with a better way of introducing trainee or new teachers to the idea of diversity of learning styles in the classroom. To throw in another metaphor, is it better to arrive in a country having read the gross generalisations of Culture Shock Wztyzstan cover to cover and then work out for yourself what is not true, or is it better to spend the first year making your own gross generalisations from limited evidence?

      • Alex,

        Thanks for your reply and thoughts. Leaving aside the fact that your comments infer that *I* have little understanding of science (!) which is somewhat of an assumption…..well I will step round that for the timebeing. A response to you might be that the view you express is often to be found amongst those used to dealing with the language or pure science, and who ignore how problematic it is to extrapoate that into social sciences (of which Psychology is part). The ‘measuring’ of intelligence (or types of intelligence)is a notoriously ‘messy’ area in psychology or indeed in any other social science, and critical psychologists might say the very questions that are being asked are so limited (and influenced by biases galore) that they reflect nothing but the social world (and people) that are driving the research. Couple that with the limitations of how much the actual brain itself can be studied,for the obvious reason that it is encased inside the human head which cannot be opened up and observed whilst there is still life in the body – well a veritable feast of limitation I would argue. Limitation being the key word here. It does not mean the theory should be dismissed out of hand, but like any other theory, it should not be embraced for its all seeing, all knowing ability.

        My point about power was that no matter which part of the scientific ‘academy’ you point to (either social or pure science), the research questions and researchers make up certain groups of people (usually from a particular background apart from anything else), and these people are by and large asking a similar set of questions (within a broad range of course). For those who wish to research on a different trajectory, there are not as many opportunities, and within each pure science area, there are also those seen as mavericks or
        ‘different’ – in that sense even pure science is a discourse (i.e. a set of competing theories all bussling around for space to be heard). Indeed it is precisely the power discourse in ‘science’ which enables you to say that homeopathists, for example, are charlatans. This is a clear value judgement which some might argue demonstrates a closed mind to anything which does not emerge from accepted wisdom. I also think putting homeopathy in the same category as creationism is what social scientists would call “generalising”, as in my mind the key to finding answers to difficult questions is remaining open to the possibility they may exist in place you do not expect, and studying in detail those ideas which run contrary to your own world view. Perhaps you have already done this? And you may still disregard and reject, but seeing another set of ideas about how to understand something as ‘charlatanism’ – well we only have to look at the root of that word really to see how that operates in practice. I also reject creationism because I am an athiest,but I remain interested as to why so many thousands of people use this theory to understand the world in this way, and respect their right to that despite thinking it is a flawed theory myself.

        I think the point I made that the discourse of ‘science’ is a power discourse is still valid as science as a discipline excludes as much as includes. That does not mean that there are not many and frequent examples of amazing work that is done by individuals, and my comment was not aimed at them – it was aimed at the insitutional structures which exist inside the walls of the university. But when using the word ‘scientific’ we all need to be mindful of what that signifies – it is not a rubber stamp on our ideas to make them more believable – its ability to pacify the audience who are listening and make them feel more ‘convinced’ should not be underestimated as that has been going on for centuries. I think we ignore that at our peril.

        Thanks Alex. A pleasure as always talking to you!

      • Sara

        Continuing my theme of earlier before I got overenthusiastic due to actually knowing as much about a subject as you for once, I think we agree much more than it might seem at first. As I said, I don’t think being scientific is the be all and end all, or even relevant in some cases, and I very often on my blog attack pseudoscience from both sides- as something that shouldn’t even try to be science (most teaching theories) and things that are just misunderstanding of what science is. But if a theory claims to be scientific then it deserves to be tested as such, and things like checking if things are disprovable are still vital tools. Despite its name, Social Science is no less interesting or valuable for mostly not being science, hence my love of the radio programme Thinking Allowed and sociological books on Japan and Korea, despite my scientific background. The problem is with “bad science” and people claiming things are scientific when they are not (“intelligent design”), and in that case “science is power” theories muddy the water more than help. Obviously, what is the accepted theory of the time depends more on money and influence than we would like, but all we need to see through that is recourse to real science. Any other system allows anyone to claim their theories are scientific under their own definition of science, we get into the worst possible kind of “scientific relativism”, and the next thing you know my in-laws are buying a chair that gives you electric shocks for 5000 pounds.

        To get back to the original topic, does MI claim to be science (even in my enthusiast days I just borrowed the bits I liked without looking into it too much)?

  22. Alex asks: “…is it better to arrive in a country having read the gross generalisations of Culture Shock Wztyzstan cover to cover and then work out for yourself what is not true, or is it better to spend the first year making your own gross generalisations from limited evidence?”

    Maybe there is a third way: to learn to be suspicious of gross generalizations altogether, whether your own or someone else’s. In my training classroom, I like to think I instil an appreciation of diversity without the need to bottle it and label it.

    • Well said Scott!

      • If that is true it is indeed better, but unless you can pass on some tips of how you do so it isn’t going to be able to replace ideas like MI in enthusing people to take diversity into account. Until we hear things like “I’m a real convert to diversity. Since I’ve heard about it, I’ve been passing on tips and worksheets to all the other teachers”, MI and its ilk still have a role.

    • I would have thought that the issue of learner differences is so central to what we do, as teachers and trainers, that it deserves extended treatment in teacher education programmes.
      Much of the literature on learner differences is very heavy, loaded with jargon, and, frankly, inconclusive. It needs an accessible, teacher / trainer -friendly book of ideas (not just a list of activities, but suggestions about how to incorporate those activities into a development programme). But, unless someone has something very concrete to offer, my best recommendation is to start by reading Dornyei’s ‘The Psychology of the Language Learner’ (2005) and devise your own approach.

      • I agree with you Phillip and also think that Dornyei’s book provides a really good starting point (although all psychology material, to an extent, has “jargon” including that one). However, the psychology explanation does tend (perhaps a bit less in Dornyei, but still there) to explain things in terms of individual difference in personality, and often neglects the crucial role of social factors. I would say a good balancing read to Dornyei would be Bonny Norton’s “Language and Identity” which provides a socially grounded way of understanding the idea of individual difference and rather than drawing on ideas of ‘motivation’, looks at language learners’ experiences in terms of ‘investment'(by examining what social factors may influence their feelings about being in the classroom and by default their performance). Ultimately, as you say, each teacher has to devise their own approach which works and makes them feel they are taking all factors into account and recognising their students as individuals.

      • I agree in principle with you both on this (I know plenty of people who have been just have a step away from converts to Zoltanism, so that deals with selling the idea as well as MI has been sold), but there is the little problem of “it deserves extended treatment in teacher education programmes”. Not much time for extended anything in a 4 week TEFL course, and look at most TEFL forums and it’s difficult to even defend courses that long against online one week options or even nothing.

  23. Alex, don’t homeopathists try to understand patients’ individual circumstances in the same way that we as teachers try to understand students’ individual differences? Why do you say that homeopathists are charlatans?

      • TOO STRONG A WORD?!?!?!?! I have several very strong words for homeopaths! “The memory of water”? Knock ten times?

        Homeopaths are charlatans (at least) because they do far more than “try to understand patients’ individual circumstances.” In brief, the peddle an absolutely ridiculous brand of snake oil for hugely inflated prices to people who need some sort of medical help. That pretty much cancels out any good will they get for taking people’s individual circumstances into account (which, incidentally, they only do up to a point before they try to pigeon hole you into one of their diagnostical categories).

        Ye gods. I am planning to try and think of some equally ludicrous ways of earning an easy life without doing very much. Looking around the breakfast table, I am beginning to develop my theory of crumbology. Essentially, I will feed people toast (which will need to be rebranded as a Superfood) and then design an exclusive and individual (for we are all individuals) learning plan informed by the pattern of crumbs that fall upon a sheet of Special Kitchen Towel. Both bread and towel will be available to buy at a special price and I am thinking of perhaps launching my own brand of toaster (a la George Foreman).
        Who will buy?

  24. Although, like Alex, I think that there is a lot of agreement in all this disagreement…

    I’m going back to the case for calling it “intelligences” – I do realize that it is such a loaded word but to be honest it is actually because it so loaded that it is so effective.

    Especially when discussing the issue with students.

    We all know what we ‘mean’ when we talk about intelligence and we have, through our various cultures, direct associations with the word.

    If someone says “he is intelligent” we immediately get a picture in our heads (or if you’re auditory, you’ll remember a lecture that was crackingly full of amazing facts…)

    MOTIVATION is, I think, a gi-normous factor in learning, especially a foreign language, so when a student who isn’t learning via the standard methods of read this exercise and now fill in this gapfill… is told that actually (s)he is intelligent but in a different way and should try xyz instead… if she resonates with the idea, she applies herself and learns.

    Now whether or not she learns because she is actually measurably intelligent in this way via a brain scan as opposed to the teachers’ observation of her skills is almost irrelevant.

    The point is… to borrow from the New Age, which, if we want to be ice-cold observational about it rather than simply poohpoohing… does tend to lean very heavily towards the development of motivation… i.e. if you believe something enough you can make anything happen.

    And I’m not just talking. I do this.

    I know that discussing students “intelligences” helps them develop their motivation:

    In 2007, I taught a Master carpenter who’d received mainly 5’s (I think that’s an E grade in our system) for anything academic his entire life…

    Yet he has the ability to turn any piece of wood into a thing of enormous artistic beauty. D wanted to get out of Germany to do high-end design furniture, the stuff he did in dribs and drabs here and there but not enough of – and even more, he wants to run the show – to get a job where he can design the pieces on computers and have others implement his concepts.

    To get this type of job (we looked them up on the internet) he knew he would have to do an MBA but the idea of reading books and studying by rote appalled and frightened him – he said he couldn’t.

    But in my conversations with him, with his incredibly stifled English level, I discovered what I call a whip-like intelligence in constructing ideas both visually and orally combined with enormous creativity… I could see how fast he was learning English just through conversation.

    So, to continue his learning English outside of our meetings, I got him to investigate podcasting lectures on carpentry – language he mostly already knew because that would help him work around the rest of the vocabulary through context, to watch videos and when I convinced him that he could do the MBA – to support the lectures through things like youtube and google video, on the same topics, and also got him to visualize the texts he did have to read through Powerpointing the concepts on the page… anyway, this is going to be way too long a story – sorry, Lindsay… here’s the email I received yesterday:

    Quite a bit of time has passed by since Fall 07. Today I got the paperwork for a milestone of my silly ideas, I received my transcript of the MBA grades. Thank you for getting me jumpstarted with my English that time. As you can see, your efforts worked out, you are right with your teaching techniques. I graduated this summer, subsequently I spent 7 days touring in Colorado. By chance I had two job interviews, both went well.

    I think, quite honestly, if I had said something like D you have this or that “skill” or this or that “personality” instead of explaining the different types of intelligence, bottling and labeling them… and telling him that I, as an educator, could clearly see his intelligence fell into these areas, coupled with kinesthetic style… that maybe he would never have believed in himself enough to go ahead with his silly idea.

    MI=New Age.

    Who cares? A good teacher does whatever works.

    • I forgot to say the MBA was in English…

    • I really like what you said here Karenne. At first, I didn’t care so much for your defense of MI. I agree with other commentators that it’s a theory that has done a lot of good in our field, however, I found some of it’s practical applications less than beneficial. There are three main dangers I’ve seen with this.

      1) Students slipped through the cracks when they got labeled as a something-something learner and the teacher or school failed to actually problem solve what else might be the reason behind the student’s poor performance.

      2) The difficulty of applying the theory a la Scott’s scattergun.

      3) Students not being given extra help to focus on the skills they lack. Instead their strengths were simply made stronger. I mean, really, anything can be taught. My brain is rather analytical, but I was a damn good artist in middle school after 3 years of art class (that skill has been last sadly :P). I also tend to be more visual, but as a language learner, I’ve taught myself to learn much more aurally. Any skill or “intelligence” can be improved upon.

      You’re absolutely right when it comes to motivation and I think this is the positive thing to take out of developments in ELT after MI. If the student is interested in it or they are more comfortable using one method than another, they will be much more motivated and they will learn better. Not only that, but, as you mentioned over on your latest post, they may be inspired to take the learning beyond the classroom. I used to work in domestic violence and I can’t tell you how many kids were labeled ADHD or with other learning disabilities. But, give these same kids a video game, sports cards, or a Harry Potter book, and they could sit for hours and afterwords recall tons of information. It’s all about interest and motivation. I think the idea of multiple intelligences can just be left out of the equation.

  25. Reply to Alex again – sorry couldn’t find “reply” button in that thread.

    Alex, thx for clarification. Having read what you said tho, I don’t think we agree at all!! But that is not a problem for me, as I enjoy hearing your ideas anyway and I am not out to convince you as you have obviously given your position a lot of thought and are drawing on experience, as am I. Speaking personally, as someone who has been involved in ‘scientific’ research for some number of years now, I can tell you that the belief that there is a kind of science that is neutral, carries the truth and is beyond criticism is unhelpful i.e. this position commands a lot of, well yes…. power….in the academy as well as allowing space to interrogate and reject anything that runs contrary to its unquestionable rules. There is not a central core that is beyond scrutiny – it is all a social construct which is full of conflicting ideas just like those you and I are exploring. This is different from what you are arguing if I have understood you correctly, as you suggest there is a form of scientific knowledge which transcends this human process??

    You suggest that that social science, which incorporates a huge number of disciplines, is not really science (!), which in a sense proves my point. The power of the discourse of so-called ‘real science’ enables you to argue this. You are positioning ‘real’ science as so self-evident you do not need to explore it or define it, other than through the criticism you make of that which does not measure up to it, in this case social science.

    So…if you reject the idea that the discourse of science is a power discourse then we clearly don’t agree at a very fundamental level. Rather than muddying the waters, I think that realising ‘scientific’ theory for what it is provides a liberation from its control, and also enables us to filter more easily the deluge of information that is out there in theories of language learning and beyond.

    As a social scientist (as I see myself and as I am defined by the university structure) I would argue this is doubly so as my own research has never claimed to be generalisable or repeatable, but aims to capture the richness of specific events and situations i.e. depth rather than breadth. That does not make it any less rigorous in design, method or analysis.

    Well at least we agree on the value and usefulness of MI theories! And how we might utilise them.

    • “as my own research has never claimed to be generalisable or repeatable”

      Well, then it isn’t science, although why should it even want to claim to be? In “pure” science such as particle physics an experiment (seemingly we have switched to arguing about what makes scientific research from what makes a scientific theory) that is not repeatable is simply a bad experiment, and suprisingly often because it is one that is a fraud, one that was released to the press before their scientific peers etc, e.g. the Korean genetic scientist from a couple of years ago. That does not mean that all Social Science work has to be done that way, but if it is not and you still claim it is science (rather than “Social Science” perhaps) all you have done is change the definition of the word. The worst “abuses of science” such as Stalinist genetics were simply bad science, and real standards of disprovability, repeatability etc would have defeated them in seconds. The “power of science” was not the problem in the Bush years, it was the powerlessness of scientists when confronted with political power, and if you’d read New Scientist editorials in that period they might have struck you as at least as left wing as us (we can compete about which of us is more of a pinkie in Lindsay’s Six Things You Didn’t Know About Guardian Reading TEFLers later!) However, none of them were using your definition of science that I could see.

      To get back to theories of language learning, they could be science, or they could be metaphor, they could be things that lead to useful results for all the wrong reasons, they could be something that drives teachers and students to try something new and renew the experience, or they could be relevant to just one classroom full of students. All of those are great, but they aren’t all science or the word “science” ceases to have any meaning at all.

      • Alex no wish to compete with you at all (or bore anyone else who has moved on to Lindsay’s new post). So this will be my last contribution on this as it is starting to sound a bit like a ping pong conversation between you and me.

        It is clear to me that we are talking at cross purposes and I am a bit baffled by this exchange which usually means that it is not going to conclude any time soon. That’s OK. Maybe it is time to just accept that?

        There are two issues here – ‘science’ as a term and what it signifies, and the way science is represented institutionally in society. I think “science” (as a term) should include all the variations of different styles of research, both pure and otherwise (and I don’t like the way it is currently categorised TBH as I am more than happy to accept both), which is what I was trying to argue from the start. It is all science because it all aims to answer a particular question using a rigorous framework of analysis – whether quantitative (as you describe) or qualitative (as I am involved in). I don’t really get why it is so hard for you to accept social science as “science” – we are obviously dealing with different concepts right?

        In relation to science as an insitution, as you point out, it has become intertwined with political and academic power to such an extent, that its uses, results, funding etc are tied up completely with those power structures. I said before its about the institutions, not the individuals (who you rightly say are often powerless).

        I do not agree with you that research has to fulfil the premise you outline in physics I am afraid, as I think human enquiry of all kinds should be represented in a working definition of science, repeatable or not (in psychology a lot of claims made about repeatabilty are spurios anyway).

        None of this would matter if research was carried out with the aim of finding the best means to answer the question rather than being a scrabble to prove allegiance to a narrow definition of “science” because it is considered superior. Now I understand you disagree with this and I don’t think we are going to convince each other. But thanks anyway for the chat.

        BTW speak for yourself about being a Guardian reader : )

      • Hi Sara

        Your decision not to waste any more time on this very much respected, but as you seem to have noticed these discussions bring out the competitive side and self indulgent side in me (why else would I spend my free time on this rather than youtube??), and I just can’t seem to leave it alone. However, I think I might have found a compromise position, which is the word you have used at least as much as “science”- “research”. I have no problem accepting that you are a researcher, and I think others wouldn’t either, e.g. conversation at party- “What do you do?” “I’m a scientist” “Really? What kind?” “A social scientist” (confused look, as they were expecting a kind of natural scientist) as against the same conversation with “I’m a researcher” “Really? What kind of researcher?”, which should be confusion free. For me, “scientific research” is a sub category of research, because otherwise the two words mean the same thing and one of them loses all meaning. You seem to be involved in other kinds of research, quite possibly more valuable sorts as Social Science that tries to reproduce the methods of Natural Science is usually much the worse for it. However, within scientific research and scientific theories the test of good science and bad science are things that are used every day to make scientists better at their jobs. You yourself have given an example with “in psychology a lot of claims made about repeatabilty are spurios anyway”, which makes them bad science. However, as we both seem to agree that much psychology shouldn’t need to reproduce the methods of science (Natural Science if you like), if they simply used another method of research and so made different claims for it my label would not be the right one.

    • Sorry to keep chewing on this bone, but if I can just get it out of my system I can go back to writing the much less stimulating but more useful “35 preposition of position games for kids” with the concentration it needs to get it finished this week.

      To put it several other ways
      – If there is no such thing as “real science”, there is no such thing as science, and therefore the word loses all value and we may as well stop using it. Unless that is you are defining science as “things that people who call themselves scientists or are so called by society do”, in which case ditto for “good science”.
      – “Not science” is not the same as “bad science” or “unscientific”, and the former is not a value judgement. The latter ones are only used to describe things that claim to be science
      – Forgot what my other points were, but they seemed like genius when I thought of them while cleaning the gunk out of the bottom of the kitchen sink (You’ll just have to trust me on that)

      • See my previous comment. We can talk about this via email if you want?

  26. Alex, what did you mean about that chair and your in-laws??!!

    Links to the website that sells that please…. : )

  27. […] lighten things up at Six Things after the last controversial post and intense discussion I’ve got here a collection of great little report card quotes of famous people. A little light […]

  28. Oh goodness, I imagined you were all full-time teachers like me, but how on earth do you find the time to send so many blog comments while keeping up your own blogs, websites, twitter posts, writing very useful textbooks and resources etc etc?? 😉

  29. Alex,

    There are some discussions which turn things upside down, and maybe this is one of them. Its great to see you so inspired and I don’t want to throw water on that. So happy to offer a response to your compromise terminology (though I fear it may be a potato/potatoe debate) and again to extend the offer to talk about this as much as you want off list. It is an important topic and has made me think about a few offshoot blogs at some unspecified time in the future. So thanks for that. This is a well-worn road of discussion amongst researchers and there is a lot written about it, and I am happy to suggest some literature that could perhaps argue my ‘position’ more articulately and convincingly than I have been able to do so far it would seem 🙂 Again I want to stress my position is inclusive.

    For me the key to the conundrum is not that psychology research often claims to be generalisable when it is not, as there are deeper issues that concern me. I see the generalisabilty claim for what it is and assess it in light of the intense pressure to prove itself as a discipline and ‘conform’ to the weight (and power…yes that word again) of the historical legacy left by methods developed in pure/natural science (and how those have been used to shape the nature of ‘science’as an institution, not how those have been used for the greater good in many cases through individual research breakthroughs).

    Psychology has a foot in both camps, as do most disciplines, and it is only really amongst (critical) social psychologists that they have been able to break free of that legacy and become self-reflective about it and its influence on the questions they are asking and how they assess the human population. Research into intelligence is a brilliant example of how different questions asked influence the findings! How much can you standardise intelligence and ignore the exceptions. How much can really be understood that takes into account all populaces/ways of learning/socio-cultural factors.

    ‘Science’ for me is a word I use to express the process of asking questions using a rigorous analytical process and a robust methodological paradigm (sorry very jargony, but at a loss to find synomyms that would be understandable either – perhaps ‘paradigm’ could be “framework”) i.e. that stands up to scrutiny and demonstrates several layers of analysis that combine to produce the ‘results’ or ‘findings’. The possible methods in my mind are numerous and I am a strong believer methods chosen should demonstrate they have been selected as they are the right ones to answer the question and this often involved choosing a combination of methods which can look at any given question at several levels.

    Very often those are quantitative (i.e. counting reoccurences of something) – this is in an nutshell similar to those methods found in natural/pure science, but applied in a different way. But sometimes the results are important i.e. how many students who entered university with an IELTS score of 6.0 went on to graduate successfully? The answer is a percentage. To ask “why” requires other methods of analysis of course, and the stats are not much use on their own are they?? We need to discuss the implications of any type of research on the community/eco-system at large.

    In some psychology studies, when digging deeper to examine the framework, it can be seen that a) there is an over-reliance on certain sections of the population for experimentation (e.g. in American studies, college students are over-used – probably cos they are accessible) and b)there is (sometimes) a lack of acknowledgment of social factors that cut across claims made about other similarities (I can give you some good ‘twin’ studies to illustrate this point where claims made about similarity seem over-ambitious when ignoring issues such as race, class, gender or geography and placing all the emphasis on physiological/behaviour similarities). Bad science? Well maybe. I prefer to think of it as limited initial research questions which demonstrate (as all research) the biases of the researcher. Better to admit those up front, and make them an integral part of the research, so the process becomes also about monitoring your own intrusion and recognising it when it occurs (as all research should do IMHO).

    When I am asked what I do I usually say I am a teacher so your party scenario is not one I am familiar with 🙂 But if I were to say “I am a social scientist” I think you underestimate the knowledge of the layperson, many of which would decode from that that I either work in sociology or politics (the two “biggies”). Many political scientists would be upset with the idea that they are not scientists – and I do understand why. This view is one that is hundreds of years old and is steeped in elitism (sorry but that is the case).

    I understand with your background (is it physics?) that is really hard to accept that ‘science’ can be something else beyond that which you have been familar with. That is hard for all of us to comprehend which is perhaps a sign of how deep-seated it is at a conceptual level. But by accepting your exclusion (i.e. why not call yourself a ‘researcher’) it is in a sense accepting the right of ‘science’ to continue in its ivory tower as a superior form or knowledge. What I am suggesting is that ‘science’ should have a much wider definition which takes into account the way knowledge is constructed. I welcome all forms of thinking into the knowledge boat, from all different fields, and actually dream of education which is inter-disciplinary in the real sense of the word. We have so much to gain from each other, and each other’s insights. It is a false divide that separates us.

    • Hi Sara

      You see through me yet again- Physics is it! Although I’m quite familiar with your arguments as they have been regularly discussed (mainly meaning slagged off) in New Scientist over the years and were mentioned (mainly meaning slagged off) by the lecturer in my Philosopy of Science course, that is a very nice summary. You might also have inspired me to write a blog post or two on it, although usually I just prefer to use my rage at TEFL pseudo-science as an impetus to write rather than to actually think through my blog posts on the subject.

      I like your idea of inclusiveness (cue chorus of We Are The Scientific World, We are the Future…), but as I was trying to explain before science has to exclude someone to be a meaningful word. If you could explain what for you “bad science” and/ or research which is not science would be, I might finally be able to put this whole thing to rest (as interesting as it has been) and get back to explaining how to use Post It notes in preposition of position classes (possibly my first original TEFL idea)

      PS, not sure why I insist on continuing this here rather than by email- need the attention perhaps??

  30. Yes I am visualising a sea of white coats and mohair jumpers swaying in unity in “we are the scientific world”!

    I can’t answer the question about why you are continuing this in the public space rather than privately – it needs researching by a psychologist
    : )

    I don’t use the term “bad” science (as this assumes there is a “good” science sitting in opposition which I am also disputing). What I do is take each piece of research on its own merits and apply a series of questions (I also teach my students to do this). They might look something like this (I’ve got a better list somewhere that I wrote but its too long and complicated to put here):

    1. What previous literature (studies) have been consulted? Does the research demonstrate a wide reading base (or concentration on a narrow selection of similar ideas/studies?). How are contradictory positions expressed and explored?
    2. Does the method employed demonstrate the researcher has considered widely amongst possible choices and justified why those methods are being utilised and how they will best answer the question(s)? Are the methods truncated (joined together) clearly in ways that will enhance the weaknesses in each singular method?
    3. Is the researcher’s own position in choosing the research topic and asking the research question specified – are there any mechanisms in place for noticing bias, speculation, personal assumption?
    4. How are the data collected? Has account been taken of the method limitations?
    5. Does the description of the data set (here I mean person/group/object/phenomenon being investigated) take into account all possible variables – (here I might include things like sex, race, age, class, country, etc etc). Are the groups/communities (or phenomena) that are excluded acknowledged?
    6. How are the data analysed – are the analytical tools described adequately and have they been used rigorously? What happens when counter-intuitive findings are present (which they always are?) – how are the findings positioned in relation to one another (as a system of findings) and what assumptions are made about cause-effect utterance-belief attitude-behaviour etc etc.
    7. What conclusions does the researcher make? How are these positioned within the field(s) – what generalisations (if any) are made? What indications are made for future research? What does the researcher think their study has contributed to knowledge on the topic? (What do I think the research has contributed to knowledge on the topic?)

    Depending on what the answers are to these questions, I might conclude that (in my eyes) a piece of research is very thorough, or not. But then again, a piece of research cannot pretend to be everything (hence the radar towards over-generalisation). I think it is all a question of honesty in the researcher about the scale of importance and significance of their work (complicated by factors such as research funding and pressure).

    I hope that does it for you. Now get back to your post-its!

    • It’s a great list of what makes good research (although some points depend on the field), so we can agree on that, and perhaps you were also right that we can never agree on how much that is the same as good science. No matter, it was one of those stimulating discussions where a change in knowledge or point of view would simply have been a bonus. Pleasure online interacting with you as ever.

  31. Likewise Alex. Thanks.

  32. Sheesh. Is MI even worth debating? We might as well talk about Multiple Religions or Multiple Hairstyles or Multiple Dirty Habits.

    It seems that people are saying that MI has served a great purpose in helping us see that the education system is all a bit crap really. Well, I got that from watching “The Wall”. I notice that Mi has done pretty much nothing to address the actual root causes of the crapacity of the education system. Instead, it dressed up the most obvious possible statement (We Are All Different) in some pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo and spawned a new religion. In his defence, I can only imagine the horror that Howard Gardener must have felt.

    Karenne sees MI at work in her success story with the carpenter. I see a placebo effect and a researcher who is looking to confirm her own hypotheses. Who’s right? Does it matter? Of course people are free to believe what they want and to act accordingly, but do we really have to read stuff and nonsense about MI in our journals and periodicals? Who edits the editors?

  33. I’ve just read everything here and thoroughly enjoyed this thread, plus got a lot more than six things about MI that I mightn’t have known!

    Just to share what I’ve gained so far:

    On the one hand, MI remains a theory. However, having read what’s here and my albeit limited understanding of how Gardner’s work may be applied in ELT, I still find it useful insomuch as it offers and encourages different perspective-taking and creativity in the creation and implementation of learning/teaching materials.

    • Sorry – actually – I did gain a lot more, but just wanted to stay on topic and keep my post short.



  34. Can I drop this off… as usual, the onion says it best

  35. phil – well well

  36. […] Here are six things you did not know about MIs. […]

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