Is your child struggling in school? Does your child stall when it comes time to do homework? Does your child’s teacher often comment that your child is capable, but is just not working to his or her potential? Or does your child do alright in school, but seems a bit bored or lacks enthusiasm for learning?
Well, there is a secret that you need to know in order for you to change this.
We are all born with certain propensities. We enjoy doing some things more than others and we see the world and experience it from a certain perspective. Parents can often say, “Oh, Johnny could stay outdoors playing in the dirt all day long,” or “Susie is such a people person”. At a very early age children show what they enjoy doing and what they are naturally interested in. Paying attention to this can be very beneficial to parents and in turn, to their children.
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, developed a theory called Multiple Intelligences. The theory suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, which is based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited.
Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. Here’s a brief summary of these eight intelligences:
- Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart): This type of intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.
- Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart): This type consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Gardner’s words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.
- Musical Intelligence (Music Smart): This type involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (Body Smart): This type entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.
- Spatial Intelligence (Picture Smart): This type involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.
- Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart): This type is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counsellors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.
- Intrapersonal Intelligence (Self Smart): This type entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations.
- Naturalist Intelligence (Nature Smart): This type enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment. A number of schools in North America have looked to structure curricula according to these intelligences, and to design classrooms and even whole schools to reflect the understandings that Howard Gardner developed. It takes a commitment though from school boards, administrators and teachers to put something like this into practice.
Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We hold the highly articulate or logical people of our culture in great esteem. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.
Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.
So, if your child’s school does not teach based on these principles, how can you as the parent use them to help your child be successful in school and in life? Let’s first take a look at how Howard Gardner’s theory would work in a classroom. Then, we’ll look at how you can use these techniques at home.
Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom
Let’s say that a teacher needs to teach a lesson about The Law of Supply and Demand. They might do any or all of the following:
- Read to their students about it (linguistic)
- Study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical)
- Examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial)
- Observe the law in the natural world (naturalist)
- Observe the law in the human world of commerce (interpersonal)
- Examine the law in terms of one’s own body, such as when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there’s very little supply, your stomach’s demand for food goes way up and you get hungry (bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal)
- Write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law like Bob Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing? or John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”.
It isn’t necessary for teachers to teach something in all eight ways. But it is necessary for them to see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways align best with the topic.
In addition, a teacher should also provide students with an opportunity to discover which intelligence best describes themselves. After students are aware of this they can take charge of their learning. When they study for tests they can relate all the ideas to topics that mean something to them. When they work on a project they can present it in a way that most makes sense to them.
Multiple Intelligences in the Home
If your child’s school doesn’t work this way then you can still teach this to your child and they can still use the strategy to study and complete projects and assignments. Here’s how:
- Have your child take this test, which determines their intelligence. Then, describe all eight intelligences to them in language appropriate to their age so that they will have a clearer understanding of each one.
- Once your child is clear about how they learn and how this is innately what they enjoy, then the next step is to show them how they can use this with their school work.
- When an assignment or project comes home tell them to put the topic of whatever the project is in the center of a blank sheet of paper, and draw eight straight lines or “spokes” radiating out from this topic. Label each line with a different intelligence. Then start brainstorming ideas for learning or showing that topic and write down ideas next to each intelligence. They might just want to do the assignment in a way that aligns with their intelligence, but it’s important for them to know that everyone has a little of each intelligence — so they can mix and match too.
With anything new, this process will need guidance and practice. However, you will be amazed at how quickly they catch on and how engrossed in their homework they will be simply by taking this approach.
Our world has become smaller due to globalization and it’s also becoming a world where different “traits” or intelligences are needed. Let’s help our children understand and feel good about themselves. With these two things in place they will feel confident to use what they’ve got to help make their difference in this world.
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