Multiple Intelligences Theory was pioneered by Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychology professor from Harvard University. Essentially the idea behind MI is that we have more than one type of intelligence and our “IQ” in each of these intelligences can vary. Originally there were thought to be seven types of intelligences, but each year there seem to be a few new ones added to the list. For our purposes, we will concentrate on those first seven:
Verbal/Linguistic – rhyming, letter/sound/word recognition, phonetic awareness, storytelling, listening comprehension, expression, vocabulary development
Visual/Spatial – painting, puzzles, play-dough, sculpting, drawing, daydreaming, designing, decorating, making mental pictures, video, pictures, photos
Logical/Mathematical – problem solving, volume, puzzles, quantity, sorting, patterns, predict, analyze, “how and why,” board games, games with rules
Musical/Rhythmic – rhyming, pitch, rhythm, timbre, tone, singing, playing instruments, listening to music
Bodily/Kinesthetic – fine and gross motor skills, body awareness, pinching, throwing, kicking, grasping, crossing the midline, dancing, recognizing body sensations, dramatic play, “dressing up,” expressing emotions through the body
Interpersonal – understanding others’ emotions, making friends, empathy, recognizing body language, understands others’ perspectives, cooperation, communication
Intrapersonal – understanding own emotions, labeling feelings, daydreaming, setting boundaries, solo play
One of the main differences between this theory and the traditional sense of IQ is that there are so many more ideas of what it means to be gifted. Michael Jordan might be considered gifted in his bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, Nelson Mandela gifted in his inter and intrapersonal intelligences, and Johnny Cash within his musical/rhythmic intelligence.
As with ANYTHING, especially in education, there has been some grumblings regarding this theory. First of all, “the academics in charge” don’t like the word theory. So for our intents and purposes we will view the word theory as “idea.” There has also been contention around the word intelligences itself, the difference between M.I. and Learning Styles, as well as whether or not brain scans have entirely discounted the theory altogether. But here’s the thing: Any teacher who has been doing this for awhile will tell you that when we present information in many different ways it “sticks” better, for which I have coined my own term: The Folder Theory. But since no one knows this theory but me and a handful of parents I’ve told about it, we’ll stick with Dr. Gardner. His list is a handy way for us to make sure we’ve presented new information in a well rounded manner, stimulating different aspects and perspectives of thinking. In addition, I’ve seen it work firsthand. A student doesn’t get it, still doesn’t get it, wait…what did you say?, Nope don’t get it. Has the exact same information from before but this time sings it…oh! Now I get it!
We seem to naturally have a preference for one or two intelligences from birth. Since we will tend to do more of what we are good at, because it feels good to excel, those one or two intelligences tend to become stronger and the other areas, if not exercised, may “weaken.” Those of us who have a natural inclination towards verbal/linguistic or logical/mathematical usually do well in traditional academic settings. However, if our tendencies lean more toward the visual/spatial or musical/rhythmic there is a POSSIBILITY of struggling in a classroom setting. This is not because there is anything wrong or lesser with these areas, only that the traditional classroom is filled pretty much solely with verbal and mathematical opportunities. We need to think of our primary intelligence as our learning language. It is through this language that we can translate other areas.
I have seen more times than I care to remember bright and enthusiastic children, who are very capable of learning, labeled with disabilities simply because their primary intelligence didn’t fit into the box of a traditional classroom. Instead, we should act as translators and travel guides, interpreting what we see along the way in a language they can understand. For instance, if our child’s learning language preference is visual/spatial we must find visual ways (without words) to explain math concepts, etc. If I only speak English and I attend a trigonometry class taught only in Mandarin, it does not mean that I am learning disabled because I didn’t understand the trigonometry. I needed someone to translate the lesson into a language I can understand.
However, the more early experiences that encompass ALL of the multiple intelligences may prevent such a lop-sided experience altogether. Our goal as parents and teachers should be to provide our children with varied and engrossing sensory adventures that stimulate EVERY learning language they are born with!