Multiple Intelligence: A New Kind of Smart
MI theorists see the traditional view of intelligence as myopic and prejudiced. They assert that standard IQ tests only measure Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, which includes the ability to solve math problems, solve equations or predict the next move in a chess game, but completely ignore the Musical genius of someone like Mozart or the Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence of athletes like Mikhail Baryshnikov or artists like Rodin or Michelangelo.
Because everyone has unique mental strengths, Gardner says that as parents and teachers, we need to shift our perspective from “How smart are you?” to “How are you smart?” MI educators work toward identifying, nurturing, and using students’ unique combinations of intelligence to help them learn.
Montessori Preschool Educator Troy Chatland says, “We consider the idea of multiple intelligences when designing curricula. Most of our apparatus and lessons attempt to present information along all three modalities: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. For instance, a lesson in phonics may entail sorting little objects by their initial sounds; sock, snake, and sunglasses all go together. The child sees and handles the objects in addition to hearing the initial sounds of the words. And there are sandpaper letters that the child traces with his fingertips so he feels the shape of the letter while seeing it and hearing its’ corresponding sound. The lesson attempts to make an abstract concept like phonemic awareness into a concrete experience.”
Why MI Theory is So Hot
Ninety percent of juvenile offenders have reading problems. Some U.S. states predict future prison populations by the number of fourth graders who fail literacy tests. The facts are clear and frightening; children who have trouble learning through traditional “read the chapter – answer the questions” methods are at a greater risk for big trouble later in life. If their intellectual strengths go unrecognized and uncultured, smart kids like Nathan VanHoy all too often end up flexing their advanced verbal skills by talking out in class or using their spatial and visual prowess to doodle the day away. Even if these kids manage to stay out of trouble, they face economic hurdles in the future. According to Paul Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, “A gain of one standard deviation in test scores will later in life increase that person’s family income by over 20 percent.”
MI in Action
Although smaller pockets of teachers, like the Montessorians, have been cognizant of individual learning styles for years, the mainstream education system is just beginning to fully embrace Gardner’s ideas.
In Variations on a Theme: How Teachers Interpret MI Theory (Educational Leadership, September 1997), Linda Campbell describes a typical MI lesson plan, “In Eeva Reeder’s math classes at Mountlake Terrace High School in Edmonds, Washington, students learn algebra kinesthetically. When studying how to graph equations, they head for the school’s courtyard. There they identify X and Y coordinates in the lines of the large, square, cement blocks that form the pavement. They then plot themselves as points on the large cement axes. Reeder maintains that when her students physically pretend to be graphs, they learn more about equations in a single class session than they do in a month of textbook study.”
Even mainstream media are catching onto the MI craze. The popular Nickelodeon program “Dora the Explorer” may look like a simple cartoon to parents, but Nickelodeon claims that when Dora asks children to repeat object locations or clap their hands, she’s tapping into their Body Kinesthetic Intelligence. And when Dora’s sidekick Boots asks the audience to repeat the location of landmarks, he’s exercising their Spatial abilities.
Disney is jumping on the MI bandwagon too. According to Anne Sweeney, president of Disney’s ABC Cable Networks Group, their new channel Playhouse Disney was created to foster cognitive, social and emotional development in a “whole-child curriculum.”
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