SDAIE and Multiple Intelligences

In 1983, Howard Gardner wrote a deeply insightful book called Multiple Intelligences.  In it, he argued that there are many different “intelligences” and that people possess all of them in varying quantities.  This he proposed in direct contrast to the one-dimensional quantification of intelligence proposed by Alfred Binet and adopted as “IQ.”  Gardner accepted Binet’s definition of IQ as one dimension of intelligence but he argued that there are 7 (later 8) different intelligences in total.  Gardner’s intelligences include Verbal-Linguistic, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist (Gardner, 2006).  This vision of intelligence has powerful, largely unrealized, implications for formalized education.  The purpose of this paper is to examine Gardner’s Intelligences and their implications for Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE).


                SDAIE is an approach to teaching that attempts to answer the nearly unanswerable question, “How do you teach someone who does not speak your language fluently?”  SDAIE relies on three strategies to answer this difficult challenge: “Making the content comprehensible and engaging,” “Teaching the academic language that allows students to express their understanding,” and “Developing independence in using effective learning strategies” (Rothenberg & Fisher, 2007, p. 27).  Rothenberg & Fisher (2007) note common refrains from teachers that “Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) strategies are just good teaching strategies.  Sheltered instruction is just good teaching” (p. vii).  Looked at another way, SDAIE moves instruction away from passive reading and listening and towards broad experiential, multi-sensory experiences.  This is where we find strong connections between SDAIE and Gardner’s work: in the breadth of channels SDAIE uses to overcome the language deficits.  What follows is a discussion of each of Garner’s Intelligences and their applicability to SDAIE.


This intelligence captures the ability to visualize, analyze, and manipulate objects in space.  Graphic organizers are heavily emphasized in SDAIE.  Containing maps, mind maps, charts, graphs, and pictures, this tool powerfully engages the special abilities of the student and allows mental connections and understandings to be created that transcend and support language acquisition.


This intelligence captures the ability to use words or spoken language effectively.  This intelligence is central to SDAIE.  To begin with, it is at the heart of the argument that ELL students should be taught a “rigorous core curriculum” (“SDAIE”, 2010).  EL advocates argue strongly and correctly that English language ability and academic capability are uncorrelated and that it is inappropriate and unfair to present ELL’s with curricular material of less substance than their non-ELL peers.  To put this in Gardner’s terms, a student may have a very high Verbal-Linguistic ability in spite of being some degree of unfamiliar with the English language.

In addition, Verbal-Linguistic channels remain at the heart of formal education, regardless of appropriate efforts to increase teaching modalities.  SDAIE calls for modifications to spoken instruction including slower speech, clearer enunciation, targeted vocabulary, expanded use of cognates, avoidance of idioms, and awareness of English linguistic perils (“SDAIE”, 2010).  SDAIE also scaffolds verbal-linguistic intelligence as regards reading with steps including multiple efforts to link pictures and words, major efforts involving vocabulary including “word walls” and bulletin boards, work on etymology, and use of examples and analogies (“SDAIE”, 2010).

Other verbal-linguistic related SDAIE elements include ongoing formative assessments to monitor comprehension and areas needing additional attention, pre- and post- reading and writing activities, and text adaptation.


This intelligence covers “logic, abstractions, reasoning, and numbers” (“Theory of multiple intelligences”, 2010).  This is an interesting area in that the concepts and, generally, the symbology transcend any given language.  However, the explanations of topic remain heavily language dependent.  Here, many of the techniques from the verbal-linguistic discussion continue to apply.  The applicable techniques include all of the speaking strategies, ongoing checks of comprehension and formative assessments, and much expanded use of realia including manipulatives and hands on demonstrations and activities.  Modeling is useful in this area as is “emphasis on higher order critical thinking skills” (“SDAIE”, 2010).  This emphasis on higher order thinking skills cuts to the heart of both subjects, once again acting as a reminder that language knowledge and core intelligence(s) are unrelated.


This intelligence reflects control and use of one’s own body.  Kinesthetic learning styles already figure prominently in the literature (“Learning styles”, 2010), though adaptation of appropriate teaching techniques is still lagging.  However, both Gardner and SDAIE properly emphasize the importance of harnessing this aspect of the learner’s capabilities to enhance learning.  As in the discussion of logical-mathematical skills, hands-on activities are extremely important.  They provide much needed novelty and immediacy to instruction as well as activating areas of the brain that might otherwise remain untouched by more passive teaching strategies.  Realia, props, and manipulations of physical objects transcend language and enhance learning.


This intelligence reflects the ability to manipulate notes and rhythms.  Music provides a number of positive aspects in the classroom.  First, it connects people in a unique way.  Tunes and rhythms transcend language and allow equal, cooperative participation by all.  Second, it provides a convenient learning platform.  Music is frequently connected to enhanced uptake of information and easier memorization of vocabulary.  Finally, music provides a subtle and enjoyable opportunity to introduce culture into the classroom.  In doing so, it can better connect the ELL’s to the class and bring better understanding of the joys of diversity to all students.


                This intelligence describes the abilities surrounding interpersonal interactions including empathy, communication, and cooperation.  One aspect of SDAIE not yet discussed is its extensive reliance on student-centered activities including pair, triad, and group work.  These student-centered activities serve many purposes.  They provide human connection and excitement to learning.  They provide lower risk environments for experimenting, practicing, and exploring language.  They provide easier opportunities for high-level logical thought.  Finally, they teach and support increasing self-reliance skills.  All of these are central elements of SDAIE and all engage and rely heavily upon Gardner’s interpersonal intelligence.


This intelligence is the ability to look inwards effectively, understand one’s own thoughts and feelings at a high level.  This is the area where “developing independence in using effective learning strategies” (Rothenberg & Fisher, 2007, p. 27), mentioned above, is most powerful.  Each student requires a sense of self-mastery and a clear understanding of the learning styles and strategies that are personally most effective.  This is true for all students, but especially true for ELL’s.  To the extent that SDAIE feeds this intelligence and aids student self-comprehension, it has gone a long way towards helping the student become an effective life-long learner.


This intelligence is new, added by Gardner recently.  It captures a person’s ability, fluidity, and facility with nature and things natural.  Perhaps not the most directly relevant of Gardiner’s intelligences, encounters with nature can have powerful implications for self-awareness and calm.  Projects involving nature involve many of the categories mentioned above including hands-on activities, group work, and, potentially, the harnessing of kinesthetic intelligence.  For all these reasons, including nature in the curriculum is a terrific idea.


While SDAIE and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences are independent theories directed at entirely independent questions, they overlap wonderfully.  Gardner’s work points the way for teachers to touch and illuminate every facet of each student’s capacity.  ELL students, particularly, are limited in their ability to function in the traditionally narrow verbal-linguistic channel.  SDAIE teaches teachers to broaden their educational techniques to reach students in many different ways through many different channels.  Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences can be a foundational philosophic underpinning to any teacher’s desire to teach broadly.


Díaz-Rico, L. T. (2008). A course for teaching English learners. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (3rd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Felder, R. M., & Soloman, B. A. (n.d.). Learning styles and strategies. Retrieved December 21, 2009, from

Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Learning styles. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 21, 2010, from

Rothenberg, C., & Fisher, D. (2007). Teaching English language learners: A differentiated approach. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Specially designed academic instruction in English. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 21, 2010, from

Theory of multiple intelligences. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

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