Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Implications for Early Childcare Development
"The first five years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out"
People often find it difficult to understand why some children are better at one specific activity than others. For example – some may excel in sport, others again in linguistics, and others at academic work, to name only a few examples. These differences in "aptitude" are visible from quite early in their lives.
Parents, especially, tend to sometimes find it difficult to accept that their child may have an orientation that favours one discipline above the others, despite maybe their best efforts to encourage the child towards a discipline that they think the child should be better at.
This is however both unnecessary and should also not be encouraged. The reason for this phenomenon is that each child has his or her motivations and talent, which he or she develops at his or her own pace and also in a way that is different from others. This is the conclusion reached by Harvard University educator Howard Gardner in his book "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences."
Multiple Intelligences Theory
Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences suggests that not everyone is born with all of the intelligence he or she will ever have. To support this, Gardner introduced eight different types of intelligences consisting of: Logical/Mathematical, Linguistic, Musical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Naturalist, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal.
These are depicted schematically in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
According to Gardner, in modern society, the linguistic and logical-mathematical modalities are most valued in school and society. This may seem to be further valued by developments in the 4IR (4th Industrial Revolution) post-COVID world. However, one should be careful to push a child into a certain area just because this is seen to be the future. Remember that everyone has elements of each modality in your make-up, but there is one or two that will stand out more.
In this vein, one may liken this theory to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality tests which reveal whether a person has one or more traits that stand out. For more information on the MBTI please visit this site.
Gardner defines intelligence as a "biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture."
The concept of culture therefore features predominantly within Gardner’s approach, suggesting that culture may be a primary predictor of the way intelligence types are developed over time.
A more detailed description of each intelligence type is as follows:
- Linguistic Intelligence. Linguistic Intelligence deals with sensitivity to the spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to reach one’s goals. These people have the ability to analyse information and create products involving oral and written language. All the great writers favour this modality of intelligence.
- Logical-Mathematical Intelligence. This refers to the ability to analyse problems and do mathematical calculations – the so-called scientific approach. Examples of such people are Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.
- Spatial Intelligence. These people can recognise and manipulate the patterns in wide and narrow spaces. Examples of this are pilots, doctors, and architects.
- Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. This refers to the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems or to fashion products. Some sports stars and artists have this ability.
- Musical Intelligence. This is skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. All the great composers typically excel at this.
- Interpersonal Intelligence. The ability to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people and consequently to work effectively with others. Typically, this refers to people with high emotional intelligence (EQ) as may be found in teachers and psychologists.
- Intrapersonal Intelligence. This is the capacity to understand oneself, to have an effective working model of oneself. To know one’s own desires, fears, and capacities - and to then use such information effectively in managing one’s own life. People with intrapersonal intelligence can recognise and understand his or her moods, desires, motivations, and intentions. These people also have high EQ.
- Naturalistic Intelligence. This involves expertise in the recognition and classification of various species of his or her environment. Examples of such individuals are Charles Darwin and Jane Goodall.
There are two implications of multiple intelligences teaching – individualisation, and pluralisation. Individualisation states that students should not be taught and assessed identically because each person differs from another. The problem here is that this approach favours mainly the rich, as they can afford to hire tutors for every student’s specific needs.
Pluralisation, on the other hand, has as underpinning the philosophy that topics and skills should be taught in more than one way, in the process activating the individual’s multiple intelligences. According to Gardner, presenting a variety of activities and approaches to learning encourages students to think about subjects from various perspectives, deepening their knowledge of a specific topic.
Technology and the 4IR have furthermore made it possible for more people to access a variety of teachings and assessments depending on their needs, hence there is less and less support for the individualistic approach.
A common misconception about the theory of multiple intelligences is that it is synonymous with learning styles. Gardner states that learning styles refer to the way an individual is most comfortable approaching a range of tasks and materials. Refer to David Kolb’s work in this regard, to be found here.
Multiple intelligences theory states that everyone has all eight intelligences at varying degrees of proficiency and an individual’s learning style is unrelated to the areas in which they are the most intelligent. For example, someone with linguistic intelligence may not necessarily learn best through writing and reading. Classifying students by their learning styles or intelligences alone may limit their learning potential.
Research shows that students are more engaged and learn best when they are given various ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, which also helps teachers more accurately assess student learning.
Understanding Multiple Intelligences Theory is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of a teacher. It shows that an integrative and holistic approach to teaching children works best. It also shows that one should be careful of categorising children and placing them in one modality only. We all are composed of all modalities but tend to favour one above the others. This is fine. Teachers need to understand this and adapt their teaching approach in a pluralistic way.
It is also important to recognise the difference between learning styles and intelligences. Both are equally important, and relevant. But they are not the same. Some intelligence modalities may prefer different teaching styles. Again, this is fine. Teachers should just understand the theory that underpins this and apply these approaches to the best of their abilities.
Finally, when teachers teach pluralistically, they not only reach more students; they also show what it is like to really understand something when you can represent that knowledge in several forms or formats. This is because pluralisation means deciding what is really important for students to know, learn, and understand and then to convey that information to students in a variety of formats and media, thereby addressing the multiple intelligences.
For more information on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, watch this video!
Ideas and Innovation in Education. (2015, September 15). A Theory that discovers individual strengths and from them, creates learning outcomes for life. Spain.
Marenus, M. (2020, June 09). Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/multiple-intelligences.html