For several years I have been involved in researching, teaching, learning and understanding Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI). My Masters thesis, Increasing Fourth Grade Mathematics Proficiency in an Intellectually-Diverse Classroom Using Multiple Intelligences, and doctoral dissertation, The Impact of Training Teachers in Multiple-Intelligences Instructional Strategies, both involved years of researching and practical application of the theory. As a career teacher for over 40 years, I have come to believe all effective teachers have an innate understanding of this theory and naturally perceive their students through an MI lens. They just may not have been introduced to Gardner, so they don’t make the connection.
In 1983, Howard Gardner conducted a study (Project Zero) and subsequently wrote a book about the findings (Frames of Mind). He identified seven “intelligences” that he believes are present in everyone at birth: Visual/Spatial, Logical/Mathematical, Body/Kinesthetic, Musical/Rhythmic, Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. He has since added an eighth intelligence to the list, Naturalist. Gardner’s contention is that we all have these intelligences and they develop through environmental influences and experiences, genetics and deliberate attention and stimulation. Basically, I see Gardner’s theory as stating that all children are smart, they’re just smart in different ways and it’s up to us (adults) to figure out their strengths and act accordingly.
The traditional western educational system focuses on Verbal/Linguistic and Mathematical/Logical intelligences, which is evident by the focus on standardized testing in our schools today. An MI perspective is to see each child as a unique individual and rather than teaching to a class, we teach to individual students, tapping into their dominant intelligence(s) and using that strength to help hone and strengthen the intelligences that aren’t as developed. An example would be, if a child is struggling with spelling, but has a real knack for music, you might encourage him to “sing-spell” his spelling words (spelling to a familiar or created melody). Perhaps you know a child who is very athletic, but struggling in math. You can make a grid of numbers on the floor (or chalk in the driveway) and show him how to hop from number to number, creating and solving addition/subtraction problems.
Designing activities that tap into all of the intelligences or are created to stimulate a specific intelligence is very important, but probably as important is simply the lens through which we view children. If we see them as one-of-a-kind learners, it will be very natural for us to view them through an MI lens in our observations, perceptions, activities and daily interactions.
I have written a children’s book, “Ellie Rae Discovers Eight Ways to be SMART,” which is in the process of being illustrated by the abundantly talented April Bensch and will, hopefully, be published and ready for distribution before Christmas. It’s a child-friendly story, written in verse, to help explain Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences on a child’s level, helping them understand they are all SMART, just SMART in different ways! So, rather than asking ourselves, “How smart are we?” maybe we all should be asking, “How are we SMART?”