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Schools that make the development of self-understanding an explicit part of their instruction and curriculum give students powerful tools for current and lifelong learning. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences (MI) theory articulates exactly the kind of global structure needed for assessments that take stock of and highlight the many facets of the student's whole intellect.
MI theory describes the human mind as possessing at least eight distinct forms of intelligence, rather than a single, all-purpose, general intelligence (Gardner, 1993, 1999). These intelligences include linguistic, logical-mathematical (both traditional IQ-related abilities), visual-spatial, kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. This powerful concept teaches that the intellectual potential of each student's mind is best described multidimensionally, and that it would be superficial misrepresentation to look only at typical tests of academic performance when judging student potential.
Seeing Strengths First
In 1987, Gardner’s MI theory was relatively new, but I considered it ideal for framing interviews I was conducting with family members of traumatic brain injury survivors who were undergoing cognitive rehabilitation. As an educator and counselor, I needed to understand each survivor's strengths and limitations prior to injury so that I could employ strengths-based cognitive remediation strategies. The MI-structured interview evolved into a self-report questionnaire, a psychometrically valid assessment called the Multiple Intelligences Developmental Assessment Scales (MIDAS). MIDAS produced a qualitative and quantitative profile of the respondent’s "intellectual disposition" (Shearer, 2007).
MIDAS interested educators who were enthusiastic about the creative possibilities introduced by MI theory, so I adapted the assessment for use as a self-report by students, teachers, counselors, and psychologists. Now used in schools in the United States and 23 other countries, MIDAS, by design, provides research-based, richly detailed descriptions of a student's intellectual and creative life that can be easily validated and then associated with a wide variety of academic and real-world tasks. MIDAS-related interpretative materials guide students to critically reflect on their profile, share it with a family member, compare it to test scores and to class grades, and discuss it with a teacher. Students can then use these other sources of information to adjust or affirm their profile. Once they've verified their profiles, students can match strengths to study strategies, course selections, career pathways, college majors, and community involvement opportunities.
Quantitative and Qualitative
The MIDAS profile consists of eight main scales tied to the multiple intelligences, along with 26 subscales that describe specific skill domains within each. For example, the musical main scale includes four subscales: vocal, musical appreciation, instrumental, and composing. The subscales provide a rich source of information from the student’s point of view that is rarely available in a timely, succinct, graphic format. There are also intellectual style scales that describe the strength of three general preferences: leadership, general logic, and innovation.
A careful review of the subscales can play an important role in understanding a student's MI profile because they can reveal strengths and nuances that are otherwise hidden. For example, Joe may be an accomplished vocalist, but have only a moderate score on the musical main scale because of his very low instrumental ability. His very high innovative scale would suggest that he tends more toward the creative than the technical aspects of music and singing.
MIDAS consists of 119 questions about the developed skill, level of participation, and expressed enthusiasm for a wide variety of activities students and adults naturally encounter in daily life. These range from practical activities, such as map reading and technical writing, to creative endeavors in the arts to social-emotional problem solving, like conflict negotiation and stress management. The MIDAS process has three goals: first, to educate students (and other stakeholders) about the eight multiple intelligences; second, to obtain a realistic description of student strengths and limitations through an MI assessment; and third, to connect MI strengths to learning activities and career paths that will maximize success. These interpretative activities are detailed in several of my books for students, teachers, counselors, psychologists, and parents.
A Dialogue of Discovery
Students typically complete the MIDAS questionnaire either online or on paper in 20–30 minutes. Then, a computerized program uses a research-based scoring matrix to generate a three-page report detailing student strengths and limitations in terms of the eight multiple intelligences. The first page of the three-page profile displays a bar graph of the scores for each of the eight main scales along with the three intellectual style scales. The second page provides a listing of all 26 subscales, arranged hierarchically so that the subscales at the top of the list are the highest scoring and those at the bottom are the lowest scoring. The third page provides the scores for all main scales and subscales, which are simple percentages ranging from 0–100.
To understand the meaning and implications of their profiles, the students must learn about each of the multiple intelligences and their application to learning, careers, and everyday life. Students each then write a Brief Learning Summary (BLS) based on their profiles. Beyond the graphic depiction of a student's eight main scales, and four highest and four lowest subscales, the BLS includes brief descriptions of specific activities students associate with their strengths. For example, Joe would have his musical scale in the middle range and his vocal scale in the high end; he then might describe how he sings with two different rock bands and writes rap lyrics and poetry.
After self-reflection and further discussion of the BLS with teachers, family, or friends, the student adjusts the BLS so that it becomes the best description possible of current skills and abilities. The resulting "verified" profile can then be used like a map to focus the thinking of students, parents, and teachers as students make important education and career decisions.
The BLS minimizes the focus on scale scores, which, if not used properly, tend to be misconstrued as labels that limit students, rather than direct their efforts. This avoids reducing students to simplistic statements, such as "Oh, he’s just a spatial learner, not a linguistic one." MIDAS, reflecting MI theory, emphasizes that every person has all of the intelligences, each of which can be improved with time, effort, and guidance. The MIDAS process of reflection, critique, and dialogue naturally enhances students' understanding of themselves, providing a realistic appreciation for the value of personal strengths that can enable success and happiness.
In Hong Kong, where the drive for academic excellence can be intense, MIDAS helped a student gain valuable insight on this learning—and some parental understanding, according to Fong Wing Sze, a student advisor at the Vocational Training Council in Hong Kong.
Geoffrey was enrolled in the high diploma program in engineering, but was uninterested in the course content and felt frustrated about his future. Although he was influential with peers, Geoffrey also would "never lose an argument" with teachers and parents, so he was labeled a "bad student," says Fong. The more he was punished, the less motivated he became.
In reviewing his MIDAS profile, Geoffrey and his mother realized that he had strengths in musical and naturalist intelligences, but "in Chinese culture, musical intelligence and naturalist intelligence are usually thought to be interests only" and a diversion from school, explains Fong. "Both Geoffrey and his mother were trapped by this myth."
In learning to appreciate his potential in the naturalist, musical, and interpersonal intelligences, and with more understanding from his parents, Geoffrey increased his motivation to continue his studies, explore other course options in management or government, and work to gain entrance to a university.
When students are taught to use MI language to describe how they think, learn, and perform, they gain enhanced self-confidence and can become strategic learners. When students know how to use their MI strengths to think realistically about career paths that maximize their chances for success as adults, then schools, too, become more deeply engaged in high-level, life-changing education.
Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind. (Rev. ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century.
New York: Basic Books.
Shearer, C. B. (2007). The MIDAS: Professional manual. (Rev. ed.). Kent, Ohio:
MI Research and Consulting, Inc.
Branton Shearer, a developmental psychologist and instructor at Kent State University in Ohio, developed the Multiple Intelligences Assessment Scales (MIDAS). For more information go to www.miresearch.org/.
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