How MI Informs Teaching at New City School

Comments to the student.

In this article, the author describes and justifies the use of multiple intelligence theory as a guide to curriculum, and multiple intelligence methods in a school.

Students are asked to use “Checklist of Guidelines for Evaluating Research and Research Claims” (most of the items in Section 2) and “Telling the Difference Between Baloney and Serious Claims About What Works,” to identify and evaluate what the author is doing (Selling a method? Reporting empirical evidence relevant to a research question?) 

Use the following questions as a guide to your examination of the article.  Fill in each question as you gain information from reading and lecture.  [Hints are in brackets and boldface]

Guided Notes and Assessment on “How MI Informs Teaching at New City School


1.  Does the author take the stance of doubt (null hypothesis) and TEST his theory and methods, or does the author appear to presume that his theory and claims about effectiveness are true?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]








2.  Does the author use terms that are clearly defined or have common meaning, or does the author use terms that are vague and/or designed to persuade?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]








3.  Does the author present a comprehensive review of the scientific (not merely persuasive) literature to justify his theory and the methods he uses, or are the citations few (selected)?  Does the author include literature that does NOT support the author, or only literature that supports the author?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]








4.  Does the author present a coherent and tested theory from which his teaching methods are derived, or is the theory superficial and questionable?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]








5.  Are the author’s claims modest, or are they excessive in view of supporting evidence?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]








6.  Does the author present a testable question that the publication tries to answer, or is the publication mostly a salespitch?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]








  1. Does the author adopt a new theory or set of methods in a cautious way, based on a body of scientific, wide-scale scientific evaluation research, or does the author adopt a new theory or set of methods before they were adequately tested?  [Support your answer with evidence from the article.]









How MI Informs Teaching at New City School

Thomas Hoerr
New City School, St. Louis, MO

Tom Hoerr is the head of the New City School in St. Louis, MO. He has written extensively about multiple intelligences (including Becoming A Multiple Intelligences School, ASCD Press, 2000) and faculty collegiality. His current research and writing focuses on the notion of distributed intelligence and the supervisory implications of viewing teachers as artists.

This paper captures the use of the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) at the New City School. The implementation began in 1988 and has been characterized by a focus on student assessment and the personal intelligences. Enhanced faculty collegiality has been a product of the MI journey.  [Is a theory presented?  Are any data given to support the “theory”? ]


The title of this article, ‘‘How MI Informs Teaching At New City School,’’ is relevant, but it is far too limiting. Schools are about, after all, teaching and learning. Yes, MI has surely affected how we teach, of that there can be no question.  [Is that a good reason to use it?] Yet looking at MI only through a lens of teaching, of pedagogy, ignores the larger contribution that it has had at New City School. [Data to support this?] Our pursuit of MI has changed how we teach, but it has also changed how we assess, how we work as colleagues, and how we communicate with our students’ parents. For us, MI is more than a theory of intelligence. It has become a philosophy of education with implications for teachers, administrators, students, and parents.  [Does this mean that they starting using mi methods before they had credible reason to believe it would be good for students?]




The New City School is an independent, private school in the City of St. Louis that was founded in 1969. We enroll 385 students, ages 3 through 12 years. Although we are known in some circles because of our implementation of MI, prior to our work with MI we were (and still are) known for our valuing of human diversity.  [What is the purpose of this emotionally appealing language?  Do the words mean anything?]   We are more diverse than most private and many public schools: 32–35% of our students are students of color and 28–30% of students, students of all colors, receive need-based financial aid. Diversity-helping students learn to respect, appreciate, and work with one another-is an integral part of our curriculum. One of best compliments we receive from our visitors is that our school doesn’t feel like a private school. To be fair, however, New City is a private school. We are mission based.   [How does that justify using mi?] We have the advantage of flexibility with our curriculum and with our faculty. We certainly have an advantage in that our families, regardless of economic circumstance or any other variable, value education; by and large, their children come to us prepared to learn. All of these factors make it easier to implement MI. Indeed, they would make it easier to implement just about anything.  [Does this mean that it is easier to implement what does not work?]



Our pursuit of MI-and I use that word to capture our ongoing journey

(after 15 years, we aren’t ‘‘there’’ yet)-began in 1988. At that time, I read Howard Gardner’s book  Frames of Mind, and, like Pat Bolanos of the Key School, was immediately captivated by the implications that this theory might have for my school, the New City School.  [But did Gardner present data showing that the use of his ideas would have good effects in schools?  What was captivating?  Is he saying that he is easily persuaded?] I remember that as I read  Frames of Mind it was clear to me that Gardner was showing that there are many different ways to learn (see Figure 1). Of course, this belief appeals to any educator who is concerned with student growth.   [Are there any data that this statement is true?] In fact, as I thought more about the implications for MI, I was struck by three implications that seemed to emanate from Gardner’s thinking:


1. There are many different ways to learn.   [Who says there are?]


2. The arts are important.  [What does that have to do with anything?]


3. Who you are is more important than what you know.  [How is this relevant to using mi? Is it even true?  What does it mean?]



I shared my enthusiasm with my faculty [Is this a scientific way to convince persons?] and asked if any teachers would volunteer to meet after school or over the summer to read  Frames of Mind. I have worked in education long enough to know that meaningful change is not mandated from administration; successful change comes about because those who are implementing are also part of the design. This approach is time-consuming, messy, inefficient, and often frustrating. It is also effective.   [Data?] 



Figure 1. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences


Intelligence                     Definition                                                          Evidence of This Intelligence

Linguistic                          Sensitivity to the meaning and order of words                     Mario Cuomo
                                                                               Barbara Jordan
                                                                               Ann Tyler


Logical-mathematical        Ability to handle chains of reasoning and to

                                             recognize patterns and order                             Benjamin Banneker
                                                                                                                           Bill Gates
                                                                                                                          Stephen Jay Gould


Musical                              Sensitivity to pitch, melody, rhythm, and             Louis Armstrong

                                             tone                                                                      Yo Yo Ma
                                                                                                                           George Gershwin


Bodily-kinesthetic             Ability to use the body skillfully and handle         Mia Hamm

                                            objects adroitly                                                   Harry Houdini 
                                                                                                                           Barry Bonds

Spatial                               Ability to perceive the world accurately                Maya Lin  

                                            and to recreate or transform aspects of that            Peter Max

                                            world                                                                   Frank Lloyd Wright

Naturalist                          Ability to recognize and classify the numerous      Charles Darwin

                                            species, the flora and fauna, of an environment      Jane Goodall
                                                                                                                             John Muir

Interpersonal                     Ability to understand people and relationships                      Martin Luther King, Jr.

                                                                                                                              Ronald Reagan

                                                                                                                              Oprah Winfrey


Intrapersonal                     Access to one's emotional life as a means to         Bill Crosby      

                                            understand oneself and others                               Anne Frank
                                                                                                                              Eleanor Roosevelt



 [Are these “intelligences” just skills?  Notice the vague terms used in definitions.  Sensitivity.  Ability.  Understand.  They are so vague that almost anything can be fitted into the definitions.  Is the citation of these persons clear evidence of the existence of multiple intelligences and of the effectiveness of multiple intelligence methods?]





In essence, recognizing MI means realizing that children learn in different ways.  [This is what they call the “money question.”  Who says children learn in different ways?  What is a different “way”?  Do these allegedly different ways have anything to do with the methods used in mi?  He presents no theory that connects the ideas in mi theory with educational methods.  In other words, without such a connection, he can do anything he wants and justify it with mi theory.]  Teachers who understand this try to provide opportunities for students to learn using a range of intelligences.  These teachers work to develop curriculum with their students’ strengths in mind.  [Who says so?] Using MI does not mean lowering expectations, vitiating curriculum, or allowing students to pass through school without learning how to read, write, and compute. The scholastic skills are important and we have a responsibility to help every child master them, but the scholastic skills are not the sum and total of what we should teach or how students can learn.  [What other skills ought a school to be working on?  Do families want schools to work on “emotional intelligence”?]


That said, MI is about different intelligences, different ways to solve problems. [This is not what the definitions of the “intelligences” say!!  He is changing definitions to justify what they do.] Good teachers have always worked from their students’ needs, have always sought ways to tailor curriculum and help students learn. Part of the dilemma faced by traditional educators is captured in Figure 2.


The problems in the second set are real-world problems. That is, the quality of life can be greatly affected by how well one solves these problems. Being able to solve these kinds of problems will go a long way in determining an individual’s success. Yet too often these kinds of problems are not addressed at all in school. Too often, educators’ focus is limited to the scholastic intelligences, those highly reliable, if less valid, measures that are easily assessed and counted and comprise most of what appears on standardized tests.  [Notice that he doesn’t identify any of the problems.  How come?]


Two points about these problems deserve noting. First, as Gardner points out in Frames of Mind, the solution to most real-world problems requires a combination of intelligences (indeed, deciding which intelligence to use is, in itself, a form of problem solving).   [Does multiple intelligences mean anything more than multiple skills?  Look at Figure 1 above, again.  Are these in-born abilities---which is what the word “intelligence” means; or are these learned skills?  Why does he not even address this issue?]  Second, the problems that are the most significant in determining the quality of our lives are those that require skill in the personal intelligences for their solution.  [Who says?  Where are the data to support this claim?  Is the author just making up a theory so he can justify what they do at his school?]


Some problems lend themselves to solution using the scholastic intelligences. [He doesn’t define scholastic skills.] These are the kinds of problems typically found in school:

32 × 8 = ____

The capital of North Dakota is ____________.

arrow: quiver = ____ : holster

Seven men are shoveling dirt at a rate of 3 cubic feet per hour, how long will it take them to dig a hole that is 100 cubic feet deep?

Write a paragraph that argues against mandatory helmets for bicycle riders.


Other problems lend themselves to solutions that do not use the scholastic intelligences.


[Is it possible that there really is no difference between so-called scholastic intelligence, such as math, and skill at any other kind of task?  Why does he not address this?]


Mary and John are vying for power in a group and their conflict is impairing the group’s productivity. How can this problem be solved?   [Why is this not a “scholastic” problem?  It is solved using sociological knowledge.]

How can you use a pound of clay to portray motion?  [Throw it?]

How can movement demonstrate passion or fear?  [Make a face?]

How can we honor those who died in a war in a very personal, dignified way?  [Tombstones and ceremonies?]

How can you survive outdoors without modern conveniences?  [Is there such a thing as “in the woods intelligence”?]

How can you organize yourself so that you are successful at work and have time for play?  [Write notes.]

How can you find your way around in a strange city?  [Try a map.]

How can you develop a meaningful relationship with someone else? [Be nice.]

How can you use oils and a canvas or crayons and papers to show emotion?  [Draw an arrow.]

How can you use music to relax? To be more productive?  [Listen to it.]

How can you get the lawnmower to work or program your VCR?  [Read the manual.]

How can you get along with a boss who has many characteristics that are troubling?  [Talk to him or her.]

How can you work with others of different racial, religious, or ethnic backgrounds?  [Don’t be a bigot.]


[Are these really such tough questions that they require a whole new way of looking at things?] 




MI is used in our classrooms in three primary ways: through instruction, in centers (curriculum based and intelligence based), and in our assessment mechanisms.


MI is used in instruction as teachers use various intelligences in presenting information. The operative word is various; that is, skills and information are approached from different perspectives, using different intelligences. [What is a “perspective” when it comes to skills and information?] In addition to the traditional reading and writing, students studying the Civil War, for example, might examine Matthew Brady photographs or portraits of that period to understand what life was like and what was valued. Similarly, students learning the components of plants might create them from clay or become plants, themselves, by being wrapped in paper by classmates. Studies of westward expansion can be enhanced by singing the songs of that era. And students studying ratio put their bodies in life-size shapes of buffalo, made from masking tape and adhered to the floor, to compare the ratio of human arms to buffalo legs. The list is endless, and in every case using nonscholastic intelligences offers students different ways to learn and show what they know.


[The examples above of multiple intelligence methods are really just plain silly.  How does a student “become” a plant?  And why is that more informative than studying plants with a magnifying glass?  Why doesn’t the author notice that having students put their bodies into the shape of buffaloes---good luck!—is laughable?] 

We allow some choice, enabling students to use their dominant intelligences, but we also require students to branch out and use intelligences with which they are less comfortable.  [What data does he present showing that students are more vs. less comfortable?] When writing research reports, students are often required to use at least four intelligences.  [Is this anything more than saying four skills?] And, again, using other intelligences to learn does not imply that students can get by without learning to read and write.  


Centers enable teachers to divide the curriculum into smaller units, allowing students to work at their own level and pace. [Some students struggle to learn.  That is why they go at a slow pace.  Is it a good idea to let them keep on struggling?]  Curriculum-based learning centers use a specific intelligence to address a skill or understanding. They are generally short term and address a particular aspect of the curriculum by offering opportunities for student reinforcement, extension, and assessment. Intelligence-based learning centers are designed to enable a student to pursue some of the skills related to a particular intelligence.


Different from the centers described earlier because they are not tied to a specific curriculum focus or goal, intelligence-based learning centers help students develop a particular intelligence.   [No data?   However, these “intelligences” are so vaguely defined (see Figure 1 above) that there is no way to tell if they exist at all.] When these centers are used, teachers design centers for all of the intelligences, each containing many different activities. Although centers are used throughout our school, they are more prevalent in the younger grades.  [He presents no data showing that kids learn more this way than the usual way! The only criterion they use is, the kids and teachers like it.]


A different kind of center, if you will, is our Centennial Garden. Occupying an acre of our playground, the garden includes a dry creek bed, planting boxes, trees, a variety of plants and buffalo grass, large rocks designed for seating, benches, and a pavilion. For some of our urban students, natural settings are something seen on television or at the movies. As a result, their naturalist intelligence  [Where did that come from?  It is not on gardner’s list in Figure 1.  Is the author making up new intelligences as he goes along, to justify activities?]  is not likely to be developed. By creating a garden and by incorporating aspects of the naturalist intelligence within our curriculum, we hope to change that.  [But shouldn’t he do an experiment to see if it makes a difference, rather than just presume that it will?] In this space, children not only use their naturalist intelligence to dig, observe, and explore plants and planting, but they also use other intelligences, often sketching, reading, pretending, or reflecting [Sketching intelligence!  Pretending intelligence!  Reflecting intelligence!  In other words, he gives a fancy name to everything they decide to do.]  while in the Centennial Garden. (We find that some students do better at almost any task in a natural setting.)  [DATA?]




Our work with MI has benefited everyone. [Data?] The initial gains resulted from the dialogue that took place among our faculty. Reading Frames of Mind and then talking about how MI might be used in classrooms was an invigorating experience. Over the years, the discussions have been rich in both topic and implication. These conversations and collaboration-teachers learning with and from one another-are what Roland Barth (1990) envisioned when he talked about faculty collegiality in his book Improving Schools From Within. Our teachers find that using MI expands their role: They become far more than simply teachers who deliver content. They become instructional specialists, creating curriculum units and designing assessment tools. These kinds of behaviors, in contrast to traditional teaching roles, are shown in

Figure 3.





Our New City School students succeed on tests, as they should. They average many years above grade level on standardized tests, as they should.   [“Many” years?  How do you define “years above grade level”?  But that is only the beginning. The feedback we receive [Is this valid evidence?  Who gives feedback?  Is it a biased sample because only satisfied families will give feedback?  How much feedback?  This is merely anecdotal evidence, the same as if 10 patients said, “I feel much better now that I take dr. Bingbong’s All Natural Swamp Tonic.”  What about the thousands of persons who didn’t write in and who got sicker?]  from the secondary schools to which our students matriculate is remarkably positive. From every source, we hear that our graduates enjoy school, they take leadership positions within their school communities, they seek complex problems and extra credit options, they know themselves as learners.   [More anecdotal evidence! Where are the data showing that mi produces higher achievement than when mi methods are not used?] 



This is not all due to MI, of course. But the role of MI in our students’ success cannot be overlooked.    [Since there is no comparison of instruction with and without mi, there is no way to say that mi instruction does anything.]  Our students see themselves as learners.   [How does he know this?  how do you define “seeing yourself as a learner”?]  For them, learning isn’t simply something they do-they are learners….





Barth, R. (1990). Improving Schools From Within. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Gardner, H. (1983).  Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.


Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.


Hoerr, T. (2001). Becoming a multiple intelligences school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD Press.


Hoerr, T. (2003). Developing multiple intelligences. Taiwan: Ladder International Press.


New City School. (1994). Celebrating multiple intelligences: Teaching for success. St. Louis, MO: Author.


New City School. (1996). Succeeding with multiple intelligences: Teaching through the personal intelligences. St Louis, MO: Author.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 1, 2004, p. 40-48 ID Number: 11507, Date Accessed: 8/16/2005 11:22:59 AM