By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
In 1983, Howard Gardner, a noted Harvard psychologist and educator, wrote Frames of Mind. In it he claimed that human intelligence was more than a score gleaned from administrating an intelligence (IQ) test. He said that IQ tests cover verbal, logical, and some spatial intelligence, but lack acknowledgment of other forms of intelligence. After much research, he theorized that there are multiple intelligences that dictate how children and adults process and understand information.
Dr. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) validates what teachers have observed. Children think and learn in different ways. His work provides educators with a framework for reflecting on alternative methods of teaching and assessing student learning. He proposes that schools adopt the MI approach as an effective way to help every student master material. Using his approach, teachers identify and support each child’s capabilities.
Most teachers and administrators in the United States are required to place emphasis on linguistic and logical/mathematical abilities. However, Dr. Gardner contends that a broader, more in-depth study of disciplines is necessary for mastery to be achieved. He also states that not enough consideration is paid to children who demonstrate artistic, musical, kinesthetic, and other intelligences and that many talented children do not receive reinforcement for their particular intellectual gifts. Since some children do not easily grasp the curriculum presented in a standard way, he theorizes that they may be labeled as underachievers, Learning Disabled (LD), Attention Deficient Disordered (ADD), or as having another disorder.
One of the features of the Multiple Intelligence theory is that there are more than verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical ways to learn. If a teacher is not reaching a student, the theory emphasizes the importance of using several other teaching methods. Various schools in the United States have adopted the MI approach that is flexible, child-centered and fosters independent thinkers. Teachers at these schools determine how each child learns best and then adapt their instruction and curriculum accordingly. These teachers often have creative freedom to explore various teaching approaches, such as:
• Helping children identify and develop all of their intelligences;
• Teaching lessons using music, art, drama, movement, cooperative learning, multimedia, field trips, reflection, role playing, and guest speakers;
• Having students complete complex projects that utilize many forms of intelligence; and
• Being flexible when measuring children’s progress.
According to Gardner, every person possesses at least eight forms of intelligence in varying amounts, and that each is needed to live a full life. He stresses that they function together in different ways for each individual, and that student surroundings, cultures, and heredity play a role in how they work together. He contends that the majority of students can make acceptable gains in each intelligence if they receive encouragement along with suitable instruction.
Gardner’s eight multiple intelligences:
1. Verbal/Linguistic (“Word smart”) learners have the ability to use words effectively. They are skilled at speaking, writing, story telling, remembering, convincing, and analyzing. As adults they may become politicians, lawyers, media announcers, editors, writers, librarians, etc.
2. Logical/mathematical (“Number/reasoning smart”) learners have the ability to use numbers effectively. They are curious problem solvers who enjoy doing experiments, categorizing, and completing complicated calculations. These students may become accountants, scientists, auditors, computer programmers, statisticians, technicians, etc.
3. Visual/Spatial (“Picture smart”) learners create pictures in their mind to retain information. They are skilled in art, puzzles, map reading, and understanding visual images. They may become engineers, architects, artists, photographers, surveyors, inventors, etc.
4. Bodily/Kinesthetic (“Body smart”) learners exhibit skillful use of their hands and/or exceptional control over their body movements that may be used to express ideas. They retain information by interacting with their environment. These students may become craftspersons, carpenters, mechanics, actors, dancers, athletes, etc.
5. Musical/Rhythmic (“Music smart”) learners have the ability to appreciate and produce music. They think in terms of rhythms and patterns. Teachers need to be aware that these children may be sensitive to various sounds. As adults these students may become conductors, singers, performers, music teachers, choral directors, composers, etc.
6. Interpersonal (“People smart”) learners relate well to others. They are empathic, organized, and skilled at eliciting individual and group cooperation. They sense the intentions and emotions of others. They may become salespersons, personnel workers, counselors, administrators, teachers, nurses, etc.
7. Intrapersonal (“Self smart”) learners have a desire to reflect and evaluate their inner self. They demonstrate the ability to adapt based on their understanding of truth and on their self-identified strengths and weaknesses. They are accomplished at examining their role as they relate to others. These students may become researchers, theologians, philosophers, theorists, therapists, entrepreneurs, etc.
8. Naturalist (“Nature smart”) learners exhibit a strong early interest in artifacts, animals, planets, and minerals. These individuals have the abilityto understand and work effectively in the natural world. As adults these students may become geologists, zoologists, biologists, wildlife illustrators, meteorologists, landscape architects, etc. (This eighth intelligence was proposed by Gardner in 1999.)
Assisting children in understanding their intelligences and the spectrum of occupations related to each one may be especially helpful to children who do not excel in verbal and mathematical skills. Although an educator should not presume to dictate a child’s future career, it is often desirable for children to know their strengths and the occupations associated with them. Each child has a unique composition of capabilities, and when teachers recognize and support all aspects of intelligence, children benefit.
(Click here for further information on Howard Gardner.)
(See Kelly Bear Activity "My Strengths" for a reproducible activity for elementary students.)