Intelligence is usually defined by scores on aptitude and I.Q. tests. But there might be more to it. In fact, there’s some evidence multiple intelligences are possible.

According to Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University, there are actually nine different intelligences that humans can possess.

Gardner developed his theory of multiple intelligences in 1983. He identified nine different ways in which people interact with the world—and hypothesized everyone has a unique combination of each intelligence, similar to a fingerprint.

“Intelligence is the capacity to do something useful in the society in which we live. Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences.”
—Dr. Howard Gardner

The 9 types of intelligence

As PBS describes, Gardner divides intelligence into nine categories:

1. Linguistic Intelligence: the capacity to use language to express what’s on your mind and to understand other people. Any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or other person for whom language is an important stock in trade has great linguistic intelligence.

2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or to manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.

3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence: the capacity to think in music; to be able to hear patterns, recognize them, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have strong musical intelligence don’t just remember music easily, they can’t get it out of their minds, it’s so omnipresent.

4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body (your hands, your fingers, your arms) to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of production. The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dancing or acting.

5. Spatial Intelligence: the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind — the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.

6. Naturalist Intelligence: the ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef.

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: having an understanding of yourself; knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves. They tend to know what they can and can’t do, and to know where to go if they need help.

8. Interpersonal Intelligence: the ability to understand other people. It’s an ability we all need, but is especially important for teachers, clinicians, salespersons, or politicians — anybody who deals with other people.

9. Existential Intelligence: the ability and proclivity to pose (and ponder) questions about life, death, and ultimate realities.

How to teach multiple intelligences

So how do teachers use this theory to teach to every student’s unique intelligence combination? There are many ideas and lesson plans out there to approach this challenge. Some include:

  • Integrating multiple approaches to a subject. Some teachers set up ‘learning centers’ where students approach material in different ways, such as building models, dancing, making collaborative decisions, creating songs, solving deductive reasoning problems, reading writing, and illustrating.
  • Teaching about multiple intelligences. According to ASCD,students who understand the models are better able to understand their own learning profiles, to develop flexibility and adaptability in their thinking, and to set realistic goals about minimizing learning weaknesses and maximizing strengths.”
  • Asking different questions. For example, after reading a story, ask students “questions about what they remember (Mastery), questions that require explaining and proving (Understanding), questions that require the use of their imagination (Self-Expressive), or questions that invite students to reflect on and share their feelings (Interpersonal).”

Benefits of teaching multiple intelligences

Many teachers find that approaching their instruction based on multiple intelligences has great benefits to their students. Some of these benefits include:

  • Students who perform poorly on traditional tests “are tuned into learning when classroom experiences incorporate artistic, athletic, and musical activities.”
  • “Students will be able to demonstrate and share their strengths. Building strengths gives a student the motivation to be a ‘specialist.’ This can in turn lead to increased self-esteem.”
  • Students can “accumulate positive educational experiences and the capability for creating solutions to problems in life.”
  • Students “become more self-directed and are able to select appropriate strategies for particular learning situations.”

While students may see success with this approach to teaching, it’s important to make sure they don’t only focus on their intelligence. Kids may start to think that their innate intelligence is all they need to succeed—when in fact hard work is necessary for any student. Read more about how to praise your child.

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