Using Multiple Intelligences Theory in Choosing a Career

In his book, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, Thomas Armstrong suggests that we can help our students make smart career choices by helping them understand the many ways they are intelligent.

About the Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Harvard education professor Howard Gardner first described his theory of multiple intelligences in the ground breaking book, Frames of Mind, published in 1983. Today Gardner proposes that we all have at least eight different intelligences, and maybe more. He also suggests that environments, cultures, and genetic makeups will determine how all of our intelligences work together -- they seldom operate in isolation -- and also which of the intelligences is more fully developed.

Let Our Intelligences Be Our Guide
Armstrong points out that the theory of multiple intelligences emphasizes the broad range of ways in which adults pursue their work in life, so it can help youngsters begin to develop vocational aspirations. According to Armstrong, students benefit by having adults come into class to talk about their life's work, and by going to visit adults at their places of work. He cautions teachers and others against attempting to match children's intelligence strengths to specific careers too early in their development.

What’s more important, he says, is to help children see the spectrum of occupations related to each of the intelligence areas through these kinds of visits and field trips. Then, children can begin making their own decisions about what feels right and what doesn't fit.

Here is a short list of occupations categorized by primary intelligence:

  • Linguistic Intelligence: librarian, curator, speech pathologist, writer, radio or TV announcer, journalist, lawyer
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: auditor, accountant, mathematician, scientist, statistician, computer analyst, technician
  • Spatial Intelligence: engineer, surveyor, architect, urban planner, graphic artist, interior decorator, photographer, pilot
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: physical therapist, dancer, actor, mechanic, carpenter, forest ranger, jeweler
  • Musical Intelligence: musician, piano tuner, music therapist, choral director, conductor
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: administrator, manager, personnel worker, psychologist, nurse, public relations person, social director, teacher
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: psychologist, therapist, counselor, theologian, program planner, entrepreneur
  • Naturalist Intelligence: botanist, astronomer, wildlife illustrator, meteorologist, chef, geologist, landscape architect

Of course, virtually every job consists of a variety of responsibilities touching on several intelligences. So when you talk about careers with your students, make sure you also point out that many different intelligences are required for each job -- and that it’s important to develop and nurture all of our intelligences.

Adapted from Armstrong, T. (1994), "Other Applications of MI Theory," in Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom is a guide to identifying, nurturing, and supporting the unique capabilities of every student. The book provides clear explanations and practical advice on how to use Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences to enhance teaching and learning.

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