Using Multiple Intelligences in Testing and Assessment

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Although Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (MI) is over a decade old, teachers are still trying to find the best way to use this theory to assess students with different styles of learning and varied academic strengths. Multiple Intelligences shape the way students understand, process, and use information.

Gardner groups student capabilities into eight broad categories (each student's unique learning style is a combination of these intelligences):

  • Logical/mathematical (uses numbers effectively)
  • Visual/spatial (is artistically or spatially perceptive)
  • Bodily/kinesthetic (excels at tasks that require physical movement)
  • Musical (perceives and/or expresses musical forms and patterns)
  • Linguistic (uses words effectively)
  • Interpersonal (responds well to others)
  • Intrapersonal (is reflective and inner-directed)
  • Naturalist (makes distinctions in the natural world)

Since no single approach to teaching and assessment can possibly work best for every student, teachers face a challenge. What's the best way to match assessments to students' learning styles?

Assessing Multiple Intelligences
Of course, assessment should reflect the diversity of intelligences and learning styles in your classroom. For example, students who are good at spatial learning might not display the full range of their knowledge on an essay test. In fact, traditional testing methods are inherently biased in favor of students with strong linguistic and mathematical skills. Advocates of MI theory suggest that teachers supplement their traditional assessment methods with assessment strategies that evaluate student progress in an inclusive, meaningful way.

So, how can you use the theory of multiple intelligences to assess student achievement in your classroom? The MI approach to testing is closely related to authentic assessment. This approach enables students to demonstrate the depth of their understanding, connect their classwork to real-life experiences, and apply their knowledge to new situations.

MI theorists offer the following tips:

  • Emphasize ongoing assessment and progress. Continue to ask if and how students have improved their skills.

  • Introduce assessment to your students as a regular part of classroom life. Make assessment a part of the learning process, not a stressful, intimidating "event."

  • Try to use instruments, tools, and procedures that embrace some, if not all, of the multiple intelligences.

  • Use a wide range of assessment tools to measure students' skills and abilities.

  • Give lots of feedback!

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