Does Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences (MI) help or hinder us in our quest to identify G&T students?

I recall attending numerous training courses on the subject during 2001 and must report that the jury is still out! I accept that the theory can be a powerful means to broadening our concept of what intelligence actually consists of and raising self-esteem. It takes us away from the closed and threatening ‘cleverness is maths’ idea that has haunted generations of innumerate wordsmiths before us. It also makes me wonder why the gene for naturalistic intelligence has skipped my generation (me in particular) when it comes to growing a good hosta. But when it comes to identifying those who are truly gifted in a school setting, I would argue that employing Gardner’s intelligences in a meaningful way is problematic. It is like saying that we must be ‘broad spectrum’ and ‘hierarchical’ at the same time. We must ask ourselves whether we can accept subject referrals based on MI before we begin to marry such ideas with the concept of giftedness. Although there is a delicate balance to be struck between quantitative and qualitative identification criteria, it is vital that we seek clarity and consistency in our approach to this area.

Jo McShane is a teaching fellow at Newcastle University’s School of Education Communication & Language Sciences, and formerly G&T strand coordinator for South Tyneside.

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