Last Updated 20 Dec 2022

An Analysis of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner

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1983 marked the year when Howard Gardener's influential theory of Multiple Intelligences was first published. Gardner states that individuals learn most effectively through one of his eight intelligences. The eight intelligences Gardner has proposed so far are: Linguistic, Mathematical/Logical, Naturalistic, Spatial, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. Each individual possesses all eight, Gardner theorizes, but most can truly excel in only one or two of them.

Gardner's research has since caused may professional educators to rethink their methods of instruction in order to increase student understanding. Many teachers agree that, "Most children may learn well with a [direct instruction] approach, but more children learn better with a [multiple intelligences] approach because it helps all children learn in the way they learn best" (Moran, Kornbaber, & Gardner, 2006).

Linguistic Intelligence is the ability to understand language and its nuances. and to distinguish the sounds, meanings, and rhythms of words. Teachers who focus on linguistics as their primary mode of instruction are generally successful, but may be ineffective at teaching a student with an auditory or a visual impairment. This is only the most obvious gap in such a teacher's ability to convey information. For example, if a teacher uses lecture and readings as a primary mode of instruction a student who has high spatial intelligence may have trouble understanding the material without pictures or graphics.

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Mathematical/Logical Intelligence is the aptitude for recognizing logical and numerical patterns. Though many students are sufficiently capable of this, they may begin to question whether the material they are learning is applicable in real life. A teacher must go beyond showcasing numerical patters to explaining how these patters occur as a part of our daily lives. Even if the teacher is successful at this, they may find that a student with high bodily/kinesthetic intelligence is incapable of learning these patters without being able to manipulate a physical object, or using interpretive motion.

Naturalistic intelligence is the ability to categorize and distinguish plants, animals, and other natural elements. It is the aptitude for understanding and appreciating the relationship an individual has with the natural world. It could also be described as "environmental awareness".

For a teacher to effectively teach a student high in this intelligence, he or she must be skilled at framing learning within larger, more big picture contexts. The teacher must understand how to show the interrelatedness of the knowledge being presented. A student high in this intelligence may not understand music or written language very well, but may understand a story told through nature.

Spatial intelligence is the capacity to think with images and to visualize abstract concepts. Pictures or videos are very effective methods for increasing understanding in students of this intelligence. When asked to show understanding of a concept through visual illustration or graphic design, these students excel. They may, however, have difficulty memorizing a list of helping verbs, or identifying gerunds in the context of sentences. If these situations were to be reframed in the context of a drawing or a picture, the student would be able to better retain the information.

Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence is the ability to have a fine level of control over bodily movements and to be able to skillfully manipulate physical objects. Students high in this intelligence learn well through watching demonstrations and replicating movements on their own. Building a model bridge out of matchsticks would help these students understand infrastructure better than memorizing a list of the different types of bridges or identifying them by pictures.

Musical Intelligence is the ability to enjoy, appreciate, and replicate rhythm, pitch, and timbre. Words and notes of a song heard long ago could be very easy to recall for a student high in the intelligence. Conversely, they may not be able to frame an attractive photograph or diagram a sentence. A teacher may overcome such barriers by including key information for understanding concepts within the context of a little jingle or a song.

Interpersonal intelligence is the capacity to understand and react appropriately to the motivations, moods, and desires of other. These students asses the strengths and weaknesses of others and taking other's perspectives. They have success in understanding literature to some extent because of this. Group assignments and projects are where students with high interpersonal intelligence really have their chance to shine. Being able to facilitate group efforts and help others work to their best ability as a team is the skill of the interpersonal student. Writing a paper on individual research would be a more difficult activity for a student like this, as they have no peers to reflect ideas off of.

Intrapersonal Intelligence is sensitivity to inner feelings and thought processes. It is an ability to use metacognition to understand one's role amidst one's surroundings. A student high in intrapersonal intelligence may be hesitant to openly share his or her thoughts, but will do well on individual, reflective assignments. This student may write heartfelt poetry, but may have difficulty understanding the significance of calculus.

Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences is becoming increasingly popular as the education industry as a whole switches its focus away from producing students who will be capable of contributing the most to the collective economy. The focus of education will hopefully be to facilitate students to be the best at who they truly are meant to be. Sir Ken Robinson is a champion of educational theory that focuses on this not so new but slow to catch on philosophy.

In his now famous Ted Talk of 2006, Robinson brings to light the education system's tendency to convert children into solely Linguistic and Mathematical/Logical learners by sharing the life story of Gillian Lynne.

As Gillian Lynne was going through the public education system in the 1930's, her teachers became concerned with her ability to concentrate in class. Her parents were prompted to take her to a specialist to be examined. The specialist, after speaking at length with the concerned parties, asked Lynne's mother to step out into the hallway with him. He turned on the radio and left young, eight year old Gillian Lynne alone in the room. Within moments she began to dance. The specialist explained to Lynne's mother that Gillian did not have a disability, she was simply just a dancer. Or, as Gardner would have identified her, a kinesthetic learner. Had Lynne's teachers been armed with the theory of multiple intelligences, they may have been able to help foster her growth effectively and save her a trip to see the specialist.

Such as it was, Lynne's mother enrolled her in a dance school. She went on to become a member of the Royal Ballet, as well as to design the choreography for blockbuster Broadway musicals such as "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera". Sir Ted Robinson argues that had Lynne been brought up in today's education system she would have been put on ADHD medicine and told to calm down. Most would agree that this scenario would have been a tragic loss to our society and culture as a whole. Robinson thus make the painful reality apparent: forcing students to try to learn in ways that are unnatural to them could rob them of a lifetime of great accomplishment.

Thanks to Howard Gardner and his theory of Multiple Intelligences, we are now more capable of understanding the different ways in which students learn. However, his theory was published in 1983 and has still not gained widespread acceptance and practice. Eventually the relevance of Gardner's work will continue to build in an age in which many have become and are becoming disillusioned with standardized tests as a method for optimizing student performance. Every dog has its day, and Multiple Intelligences are long overdue for being tested and put into practice on a wider scale.

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