Multiple Intelligences: Fresh Perspective for a New School Year

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August 20, 2015

It’s that time of year. School, and all of the activities that come with it, are starting up again. One of the best parts of these beginnings is the blank slate. Kids enter the classroom relatively clear. Their potential remains untapped. They have no grades in the grade books or homework assignments missing. While things are this clear, I’d like to offer you a new perspective to frame your child’s work this year.

In college for education, I heard a lot about the work of a Harvard psychologist, Dr. Howard Gardner. He developed the theory of multiple intelligences. He believes that, while in the past, schools have been geared toward a few very particular ways of learning, people actually possess different intelligences that will cause them to approach the world differently. Essentially, we all come with what Gardner call a different “toolbox” based on genetics and experience. Anyone who gets to know a classroom of kids can probably sense this intuitively. He identified 7 intelligences that people display.

  • Interpersonal– a social intelligence that understands others and can work well with them
  • Intrapersonal– an introspective intelligence that understands themselves
  • Kinesthetic– a physical intelligence that shows excellent control of the body
  • Logical– a mathematic intelligence that deals with critical thinking, numbers, and systems
  • Musical- a rhythmic intelligence that has sensitivity to sounds, tones, and other parts of music
  • Verbal– a linguistic intelligence with words and language
  • Visual– a spatial intelligence to visualize in the mind

Later, Gardner suggested a Naturalistic Intelligence that shows abilities in the natural world dealing with plants and animals.

So what does this mean for you and your blank-slated student? School might be rough. They might not show strength in the traditional school intelligences like verbal and logical-mathematical. That doesn’t mean they have lower abilities. Their intelligences might lie in a different area.

Consider what you’ve observed of their lives. A few of the categories from the list above probably popped out at you as describing your child. You can remind them, and yourself, that everyone is different.

In the meantime, you can use these intelligences to help learn new material. Search for ways to incorporate their strengths into their studies. For example, maybe something as simple as listening to music while doing homework would boost someone with musical intelligence. You could ask a child with an intrapersonal intelligence a reflective question about the material in relation to themselves or have a conversation about the material with someone using interpersonal intelligence.

I should mention that others have found flaws with the particulars of Gardner’s theories but pretty much everyone agrees that people cannot be summed up with a single version of aptitude or intelligence. That’s enough for me. It’s nice to head into a new school year with the idea that come what may, succeed or fail, easy or hard, my kids and yours go in as uniquely talented individuals.

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