When you hear the word genius, whose face is the first one that pops into your mind? Did you picture a groundbreaking scientist, like Albert Einstein? Or did you think of a brilliantly diverse artist like Leonardo da Vinci, or a gifted statesman/inventor like Benjamin Franklin?
Genius is relative to the field we happen to be discussing at the moment. With this in mind, research scientists in recent years have developed educational approaches that value the many different ways in which children express intelligence.
When Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, developed the Multiple Intelligences theory in the 1980s, many teachers felt validated but not surprised. Ask any kindergarten teacher how children learn best, and she will likely respond with something along the lines of, “Children learn in many different ways.”
Sadly, this expansive view of intelligence is often left by the wayside after children leave kindergarten. In the upper grades, many teachers (and subsequently, students) place emphasis on Verbal-Linguistic (words, as in reading, writing, and spelling) and Logical-Mathematic (numbers and reasoning, as in math) intelligences.
Concentrating on Verbal-Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical intelligences is fine for students who excel in the “3 R’s,” but what about children whose talents lie in other areas? All too often, these other strengths are overlooked or minimized. Even worse, students whose talents lie in a domain other than words or numbers are sometimes mislabeled as learning disabled or attention deficit disordered.
Experts in gifted and talented education define creativity as the ability to identify and solve a problem. The “problem” may be how to express on canvas a pond of water lilies using dots of color, or it may be how to process information at an ever-increasing rate of speed on personal computers. Proponents of this view acknowledge that creativity does not exist in only one or two areas.
This view of the multifaceted nature of creativity is echoed in Dr. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory. Although other practitioners in the field of education and research – and Gardner himself – have added to and revised his theory over the years, its underlying principle remains the same: People are intelligent in many different ways.
To better understand MI theory and how it can help teachers individualize instruction to better meet the needs of all their students, it is helpful to take a look at the categories of intelligence that Gardner proposed.
Verbal-Linguistic individuals are “Word Smart.” They are particularly adept in reading, writing, speaking, listening, spelling, and vocabulary. They may gravitate toward careers as authors, orators, speechwriters, journalists, playwrights, or poets. If your child is verbal-linguistic, she may enjoy crossword puzzles; word games like “Scrabble,” “Hangman,” and “Wheel of Fortune”; story time; and writing in a journal.
Logical-Mathematical people are “Number Smart.” Their special talents include computation, reasoning, analysis, synthesis, and logic. They may prefer careers as scientists, mathematicians, engineers, computer programmers, accountants, or detectives. If your child is Logical-Mathematical, she might have fun with logic puzzles; number-oriented games like “Yahtzee”; strategy games like “Battleship”; and make-believe activities like “restaurant” or “grocery store” that involve tallying a bill.
Those who are Bodily-Kinesthetic are “Body Smart.” They excel in activities that require use of physical coordination, endurance, agility, and endurance. These individuals might excel in athletics or dance, or may gravitate toward careers that require more physical activity, like that of actor, sports coach, or P.E. teacher. If your child is Bodily-Kinesthetic, she might be keen on individual or team sports; dance lessons; dramatic acting-out games like “Charades”; handicrafts like knitting or crochet; and outdoor play activities like “Tag” or playing on a trampoline.
The Artistic-Spatial population is called “Art Smart.” They have an eye for the way shapes, forms, and color fit together, and their talents may be strongest in the areas of design, detail, art, and construction. They may lean toward careers as visual artists, graphic designers, architects, fashion merchandisers, or interior decorators. If your child is Artistic-Spatial, her favorite activities may include drawing and painting; construction toys like “Legos,” “Tinkertoys,” and “Lincoln Logs”; crafts that involve form and pattern, like quilting; and learning about the work of famous artists.
Musical-Rhythmic people are “Music Smart.” They demonstrate particular talent instrumental and vocal music, dance, and composition, as well as an awareness of patterns. They can easily learn how to sing and perform very well. Music Smart individuals may pursue careers as performing musicians, composers, conductors, dancers, song lyricists, rappers, or music teachers. If your child is Musical-Rhythmic, she might enjoy music or dance lessons; games like “Guess that Tune”; activities that involve copying a pattern; and composing her own songs.
Intrapersonal individuals are “Self Smart.” They are remarkably aware of their own feelings and beliefs, and may lean toward and benefit from introspection. Chosen careers for intrapersonal people tend to include psychiatrists, counselors, theologians, self-help authors, and philosophers. If your child is intrapersonal, she may require time alone just to think or write in a journal, and may enjoy exercises that allow her to reflect on the way she feels. She may prefer individual projects over group projects at school.
Those who are Interpersonal are “People Smart.” They have excellent people skills, and are likely quite social. They may choose careers as salespeople, motivational speakers, politicians, social workers, talk show hosts, and teachers. If your child is Interpersonal, her idea of fun probably involves other people. She might particularly enjoy team sports, belonging to a group or club, philanthropic organizations, and games that are played as pairs. At school, she might do her best work with a partner or in a cooperative learning group.
Naturalist people are “Nature Smart.” They notice and are interested in things in the natural world. They are particularly good at being aware of patterns and classification, and they demonstrate an active interest in flora, fauna, and natural phenomena. They select careers as oceanographers, zoo or wildlife park personnel, biologists, horticulturalists, and park rangers. If your child is Naturalist, she will have fun with rock collecting; gardening; hiking; caring for a pet; constructing models of things like volcanoes; and playing outside.
The discussion of what constitutes intelligences is ongoing, and the list of domains continues to grow. Many acknowledge the significance of areas such as Existential (religious and philosophical, as Billy Graham), Culinary (cooking, as Julia Child), and Entrepreneurial (business and commerce, as Henry Ford).
Of course, no person has only one of these intelligences. More likely, we all have a little bit of each, with one or more of the intelligences figuring predominantly in the way we think, the subjects in which we excel, and the things we are interested in.
Some people clearly demonstrate a high degree of intelligence in more than one area. For instance, a talk show host displays remarkable talent in both Verbal-Linguistic and Interpersonal intelligences. A singer-songwriter combines Verbal-Linguistic and Musical-Rhythmic. Engineers who design bridges exude both Logical-Mathematical and Visual-Spatial talents.
As we strive to improve education for our students, theories like Multiple Intelligences help us get closer to a model that better meets the needs of most students. The more aware teachers are of how children learn differently, the more likely she is to present lessons and activities that bring out the best in every one of her students.