Exploring The Seven Different Intelligences

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Photo by: zaldy icaonapo (www.publicdomainpictures.net)

When I do school visits, one of the things kids seem most fascinated by is when I tell them there is more than one kind of smart. They are surprised to learn that there are, in fact, at least seven different intelligences and that not all of them are measured by the grades on their report card or how well they perform on standardized tests. It is heartwarming (and heartbreaking) to see the looks of profound relief on their young faces when I explain to them that whatever kind of smart they are, it can help them be a better writer. These seven different kinds of smart are:

  • Word Smart (linguistic intelligence)
  • Math Smart (numerical/reasoning/logic intelligence)
  • Physically Smart (kinesthetic intelligence)
  • Music Smart (musical intelligence)
  • People Smart (interpersonal intelligence)
  • Self Smart (intrapersonal intelligence)
  • Visually Smart (Spatial intelligence)

But kids aren’t the only ones relieved to hear of these different forms of intelligences. For any parent of a kid who’s struggled in school, learning of the seven different intelligences can be like stumbling upon a life raft.

The thing is, if your child is gifted linguistically or with mathematical intelligence, then he fits pretty well within the easily measured academic ‘norm’ and has a place within our current educational system in which he can succeed.

But other kids, kids who are smart in different ways, often have their very real talents overlooked or ignored by the very system that should be finding ways to engage that form of intelligence.

The really cool thing about these multiple intelligences is that they are like having seven different keys to learning. Depending on a child’s given strengths, that strength can then be used to as a gateway into making other subjects more easily understood and mastered.

More importantly, as a parent, understanding your child’s strongest intelligence can be instrumental in helping him succeed not only in school, but in life. When we know our kid’s intelligence preferences, we can help them use that knowledge and transfer it to concepts that are outside his comfort zone.

I first learned of multiple intelligences when attending a parent-child school coop that included parent education as part of its core mission. These multiple intelligences were first developed by Dr. Howard Gardner in 1983. Gardner was a professor of education at Harvard University and his theory proposed a whole host of intelligences, many of which were not measured on standard I.Q. tests or even recognized by the educational community.

These different intelligences are unique ways of seeing and perceiving the world and are strengths that are under-recognized by many standard teaching approaches. As I explain to the kids when I talk about writing, they don’t just have to be word smart to be good at writing. Whatever kind of smart they are, it can be used to make them a better writer.

Musically smart people might create sound tracks for their favorite stories. Those who are math smart might be exceptionally good at plotting and story structure. Kinesthetic learners might act out the actions in their stories, or write about physical activities they have experienced. Those who are people smart are probably very good at understanding relationship dynamics, which can be used to make the story richer. Spatial learners might enjoy making a collage to illustrate their story, or even just close their eyes and let the story idea play out like a movie in their head. People who are self smart bring that uncanny self knowledge to the character’s they create.

Below is a list of the seven intelligences, their strengths, and how those strengths can be expanded into other subjects.

Intelligence Strengths Approaches
Math Smart Displays numerical aptitude
Likes problem solving
Likes to understand how things work
Gets mathematical concepts
Likes puzzles and manipulatives
Abstract ideas
Deciphering codes
Being organized
Math games, manipulatives, computers,
word scrambles,
mind mapping stories,
likes to quantify and conceptualize things,
use reason and logic, predict patterns,
Word Smart Creative writing
Debates
Enjoys words and word games
Likes reading
Ability to reason
Good speller
Good at speaking in front of others
words and stories are the strength here,
reading, writing, books,
discussing, journaling, word play such as etymology,
exploring metaphors and similes
Musically Smart Can carry a tune
Perfect pitch
Is drawn to music
Sees rhythmic patters
Enjoy the SOUND of language, such as poetry
Good singing voice
Sensitive to the mood and nuance of music
Emphasize rhythm and sound patterns such as poetry.
Clap out sounds of syllables, read out loud,
work with onomatopoeia. Set things to jingles,
have music playing in the background for association and retrieval.
Art Smart Recognizes patters and designs
Good at drawing, painting, sculpture
Has a good sense of color
Like visual clues
Thinks in pictures
Good at reading maps, charts, diagrams
visual clues are key to accessing this strength.
Draw, color, paint,
maps, diagrams, charts, color coding,
use illustrations to stimulate reading and writing,
graphs, maps, art materials, spacial relationships
Body Smart Excels at sports
Likes to move; dance, wiggle,
Good fine motor skills
Has excellent control over his body
Good sense of timing
Likes to touch things
Good at crafts
learns best through movement.
enjoys building, moving, touching,
acting things out using their bodies,
chalk boards, dry erase boards,
different kinesthetic ways of experiencing writing.
Use building tools, clay, sports, tactile experiences.
Oftentimes an allowed fidget aids learning
(using a bouncy ball for a chair, squishing a hand strengthener.)
People Smart Good communicator
Diplomatic
Empathetic
Likes group projects
Good negotiator
Has lots of friends
Good at reading social situations and clues
social interaction is key to learning;
group learning, teams, brainstorming,
collaboration, diplomacy, negotiating,
group discussion, reader’s theater
Self Smart Likes to spend time alone, thinking
Prefers working alone
Good at understanding self
Develops personal strategies
Ruminates
Good at processing emotions
Tends to know oneself
Good at self-reflection
learns best through self exploration,
reflection, journaling,
examining concepts within the context of their personal life,
solitude

So, what kind of smart are you? Your kids? If you’re not sure, here are some online assessments you can take.

http://literacyworks.org/mi/intro/index.html
http://www.berghuis.co.nz/abiator/lsi/mi_test.html
http://homepage.tinet.ie/~seaghan/play/mi.htm

For a much more in depth understanding of these concepts, Multiple Intelligence Institute offers an online multiple intelligence introductory course for parents.

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14 thoughts on “Exploring The Seven Different Intelligences

  1. It’s a bit worrying to see this on a site called ‘geek mom’… geeks like science, and this is not science – no more than neuro-linguistic programming is (which it isn’t).

    Educators and educational theorists in the field today basically regard Gardner’s theories as wrong. They’re not falsifiable in the first instance, so they’re not and never can be scientific.

    More importantly, there’s little-to-no empirical data showing that these intelligences actually exist – see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences#Lack_of_empirical_evidence

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://lynnwaterhouse.intrasun.tcnj.edu/Inadequate%2520evidence%2520for%2520Multiple%2520Intelligences,%2520Mozart%2520%2520Effect,%2520and%2520Emotional%2520Intelligence%2520Theories.pdf&pli=1

    http://www.sq.4mg.com/MIcriticisms.htm

    Multiple intelligences are about as much use as a horoscope. Sorry.

  2. It’s a bit worrying to see this on a site called ‘geek mom’… geeks like science, and this is not science – no more than neuro-linguistic programming is (which it isn’t).

    Educators and educational theorists in the field today basically regard Gardner’s theories as wrong. They’re not falsifiable in the first instance, so they’re not and never can be scientific.

    More importantly, there’s little-to-no empirical data showing that these intelligences actually exist – see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences#Lack_of_empirical_evidence

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://lynnwaterhouse.intrasun.tcnj.edu/Inadequate%2520evidence%2520for%2520Multiple%2520Intelligences,%2520Mozart%2520%2520Effect,%2520and%2520Emotional%2520Intelligence%2520Theories.pdf&pli=1

    http://www.sq.4mg.com/MIcriticisms.htm

    Multiple intelligences are about as much use as a horoscope. Sorry.

  3. I think of the different types of intelligences simply as different ways we process information, much like the Meyers Briggs Personality Indicator. So while it might not be hard science, I think it has great value in helping kids who aren’t traditional academic super stars find things to admire about themselves.

    I still think there is great merit in using approaches that stem from kid’s strengths, because having an affinity in one of these seven areas is certainly a strength, and using them to bridge the gap to things they are less comfortable with.

    Also, Wikipdedia defines Geek as “One who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc.”

    It CAN include science, but is not limited to science. One of the areas I geek out about is connecting kids to reading and writing, and talking about the seven different intelligences has helped me reach kids who might not have given themselves a chance in those areas. YMMV.

  4. I think of the different types of intelligences simply as different ways we process information, much like the Meyers Briggs Personality Indicator. So while it might not be hard science, I think it has great value in helping kids who aren’t traditional academic super stars find things to admire about themselves.

    I still think there is great merit in using approaches that stem from kid’s strengths, because having an affinity in one of these seven areas is certainly a strength, and using them to bridge the gap to things they are less comfortable with.

    Also, Wikipdedia defines Geek as “One who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc.”

    It CAN include science, but is not limited to science. One of the areas I geek out about is connecting kids to reading and writing, and talking about the seven different intelligences has helped me reach kids who might not have given themselves a chance in those areas. YMMV.

  5. I thought they had expanded the intelligences to include eight. The eighth intelligence being nature smart, one that I personally geek out about.

    1. Hi Sandra!

      Yes, the intelligences have been expanded to include a nature one as well as an existential one. However, there is much less written about them, and I only have experience with the original seven, so I stuck with those.

  6. I thought they had expanded the intelligences to include eight. The eighth intelligence being nature smart, one that I personally geek out about.

    1. Hi Sandra!

      Yes, the intelligences have been expanded to include a nature one as well as an existential one. However, there is much less written about them, and I only have experience with the original seven, so I stuck with those.

  7. I’ve always been frustrated with the way we define ‘smart’ in America. I was a straight A student and won lots of awards for art, writing, music, theater and debate but I’ve always had a hard time with math, science and history. I enjoyed the subjects and diligently studied them but never could keep the names and dates straight and things like fractions and imaginary numbers seemed to slip from my mind and chemistry seemed like an alien language.

    While I was considered smart and talented I always felt like I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t ‘smart’ at every subject and in every way. I tried desperately to excel at sports, engineering or foreign languages but to no avail. When I sought tutoring and extra help the teachers actually acted as if I must just be lazy. Because I was good at other subjects they assumed that I should be good at all subjects and was failing out of a lack of effort.

    Everyone has an affinity for something but none of us can or should be a master at everything. Our differences are what make us unique and what make working together valuable. My husband is a chemist, he sees the world and processes it’s information differently than I do and I can appreciate things through his eyes in a way I can’t through my own and vice versa. Now instead of feeling guilty and stupid I embrace my talents and don’t feel pressured to be perfect at everything. I still try to understand and learn about the subjects that don’t come naturally to me but I don’t feel like I’m less-than just because I’m not a whiz at them.

    I wish the school system in America evaluated children on multiple levels and instead of forcing them into cookie cutter molds that shame them for not being perfect little copies they’d encourage and foster the talents they do have.

    1. You bring up an excellent point: that just because kids excel in some areas, they might be accused of slacking in others if their performance didn’t match.

      And I agree in wishing not only our school system, but our society in general, did a better job of acknowledging these different areas of strengths and working with them.

  8. I’ve always been frustrated with the way we define ‘smart’ in America. I was a straight A student and won lots of awards for art, writing, music, theater and debate but I’ve always had a hard time with math, science and history. I enjoyed the subjects and diligently studied them but never could keep the names and dates straight and things like fractions and imaginary numbers seemed to slip from my mind and chemistry seemed like an alien language.

    While I was considered smart and talented I always felt like I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t ‘smart’ at every subject and in every way. I tried desperately to excel at sports, engineering or foreign languages but to no avail. When I sought tutoring and extra help the teachers actually acted as if I must just be lazy. Because I was good at other subjects they assumed that I should be good at all subjects and was failing out of a lack of effort.

    Everyone has an affinity for something but none of us can or should be a master at everything. Our differences are what make us unique and what make working together valuable. My husband is a chemist, he sees the world and processes it’s information differently than I do and I can appreciate things through his eyes in a way I can’t through my own and vice versa. Now instead of feeling guilty and stupid I embrace my talents and don’t feel pressured to be perfect at everything. I still try to understand and learn about the subjects that don’t come naturally to me but I don’t feel like I’m less-than just because I’m not a whiz at them.

    I wish the school system in America evaluated children on multiple levels and instead of forcing them into cookie cutter molds that shame them for not being perfect little copies they’d encourage and foster the talents they do have.

    1. You bring up an excellent point: that just because kids excel in some areas, they might be accused of slacking in others if their performance didn’t match.

      And I agree in wishing not only our school system, but our society in general, did a better job of acknowledging these different areas of strengths and working with them.

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