Multiple Intelligences

Multiple Intelligences

Harvard professor Howard Gardner was born during the Second World War to parents that had immigrated to Pennsylvania to escape Nazi Germany because they were Jewish.  

The key educational work of his career, the 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, is the examination of multiple intelligences and the theory that different people process things differently. Gardner originally identified seven distinct “intelligences”: Visual-spatial, Body-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Verbal-Linguistic, and Logical-mathematical.  It has changed some over time.

Gardner has many critics - most of whom object (reasonably) to the logic of claiming that traits such as “interpersonal skills” as having any relationship with “intelligence” which typically refers to the measure of how you score relative to other people on a very limited and narrow test of purely cognitive ability. They simply are not the same thing - especially after Gardner suggested adding existential or moral intelligences. Nor are multiple intelligences the same thing as a student’s “learning style’ (which really has no authentic and actionable definition anyway)

Nonetheless, the premise does provide useful and descriptive terms that we can apply to students in P-12 settings, Gardner defines the categories and what we would see in students with traits in each of his categories:

Linguistic - These are your “readers” and listeners. These students think in words. They like reading and comprehend and retain what they read. They like to see the paths that a story may take before they get to the climax and resolution. They remember words. They use words like tools.

Logical - Mathematical -These are students with strengths in math and science. They like thinking things through and can organize patterns.  They can think abstractly and can quickly see and define relationships. They like to experiment just to see what happens. They use numbers like tools.

Visual-Spatial - These students process visual data by inputting and processing visual cues other than language.  They can intuitively understand better with maps, charts, timelines, graphs, schematics, and flow-charts.

Bodily-kinesthetic - Students having a strong mental connection to body movement and awareness, prefer “doing” more than “listening” and are good at estimating distance and time. Their mind-body link and innate reflexes anchor themselves in space and they can move around it very deliberately.

Musical - These students are often grouped as being “right brain” with the other arts. They can intuitively hear time signature, pitch, harmonies, and visualize rhythms. As the name implies they usually like music and “hear” music as parts which create a whole. They will often have very different musical tastes than what is popular with their peers.

Interpersonal - These are the extroverts. They prefer and are good at social interactions. They know the formal and informal rules of groups. They like working in groups and can get things done better in groups - or with our student’s generation- social media.

Intrapersonal - These are the introverts. They work better without other people around  They prefer individual tasks and sports and hobbies  They keep their emotions internal. High IQ introverts will often have a strong will, high intellectual confidence and firm opinions in areas in which they are familiar.
The few studies that have been done do not actually support the idea that there are many different kinds of “intelligence” operating separately from each other. Although there certainly are important abilities outside of what IQ tests measure, referring to each one as a special kind of “intelligence” has little scientific support and doing so may only create needless confusion.  Telling a parent of a student with a lower-than-average IQ that their football-playing son nevertheless has “High Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence” is, of course, irresponsible.

Simply studying and applying best practices in all instruction is the best approach to becoming a master teacher - but understanding that our students will each have significant differences in talent and preferences in what they want to learn and know, and may very well learn in a manner that is very different from their teacher’s and the other students.  This is tough for many teachers to adapt to - not due to lack of talent or effort on the teacher’s part - but due to the difficulties that students have in communicating it. They think everyone else is just like them.


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