How Multiple Intelligences Shape Learning

How Multiple Intelligences Shape Learning

Written by Katherine Lee for VeryWell Family

You may have heard the term “learning style” used to describe how a child learns (as in, one child learns best visually while another learns best through movement). The problem with such characterizations is that all kids learn through various methods—sight, touch, etc.

While a child may absorb information better through one approach at one point in time, that same child may learn something else better through another approach. Labeling children as having just one learning style is inaccurate and limiting. A much better way to understand the individuality of how kids learn is to apply the concept of “multiple intelligences.” In 1983, Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist and the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, disputed the idea that people are born with a single intelligence that can be measured—such as with IQ tests—and cannot be changed. According to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (MIs), there are at least eight different human intelligences, and all human beings are born with varying degrees of each. Gardner also asserts that people have unique and distinct intelligence profiles that are shaped by biological and environmental factors. For example, one child may have stronger musical intelligence and mathematical intelligence while another may have stronger linguistic or interpersonal intelligence. These distinct MI profiles are different because of individual experiences and genetic variations.

What Are the Multiple Intelligences?

Gardner defines the eight types of MI as the following.3 Everyone has all of them, but they exist on a spectrum of weak to strong ability in a combination that is unique to each person.

  1. Spatial: Visualizing, creating, and manipulating something in a space, such as what an airplane pilot, architect, or chess player may do.
  2. Bodily/Kinesthetic: Using one’s gross motor skills or fine motor skills to express oneself or to create, learn, or solve problems; involves coordination and dexterity and the use of one’s whole body or parts of the body, such as the hands.
  3. Musical: Expressing oneself and understanding and creating through music⁠—by singing, playing musical instruments, composing, conducting, etc. Involves musical abilities such as sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, tone, and timbre.
  4. Linguistic: Being attuned to the meaning of words and the sound, rhythms, inflections, and meter of words, the way a poet might. May involve reading, writing, speaking, an affinity for foreign languages.
  5. Mathematical/Logical: Understanding and recognizing the patterns and relationships between numbers and actions or symbols; possessing computing skills; having the ability to solve various problems through logic.
  6. Interpersonal: Being attuned to other people’s feelings, emotions, and temperament. Individuals with high interpersonal intelligence are often associated with leadership and tend to be good at communicating with and understanding other people and are good at working with others. Sometimes referred to as social intelligence.
  7. Intrapersonal: Awareness of one’s own feelings, thoughts, anxieties, and traits, and the ability to use that understanding of oneself to control one’s own impulses and behavior and make plans and decisions.
  8. Naturalist: Understanding nature⁠—plants, animals, the environment, etc.⁠—and identifying, observing, categorizing, and understanding distinguishing features. This intelligence helps us use elements and patterns in the natural world to create products or solve problems.


How Parents Can Use Multiple Intelligences

Parents know that kids have unique abilities, interests, likes, and dislikes. One child may devour books and love to dance, another may love animals, and a third may love music and math. That’s the beauty of human beings⁠—we are such interesting and different creatures, and any parent who’s seen a child develop a keen interest and obsession with something knows that kids are very much individuals.

But it’s important not to label a child as being one thing or another. “We have a tendency to try to label kids, such as with IQ tests, and when you do that, you tend to pay less attention to their fluidity,” says Mindy L. Kornhaber, associate professor in the Department of Education Policy Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

For example, when you say a child learns best by working with their hands, you are ignoring the fact that all kids learn through all kinds of different methods, and that how they learn best or what they are good at can change over time.

To nurture and support MI in your children at home:

  • Spend time with kids and see what they like. Spend time doing ordinary things like having dinner or playing games. As a bonus: regular family dinners have been shown to improve kids’ health and nutrition, build strong emotional and mental skills, and lead to good behavior.
  • Value strengths instead of what kids can’t do. “We tend to see what is lacking when we label kids,” says Kornhaber. Instead of thinking, My child isn’t good at learning to read, build your child’s sense of pride in things that they are good at. “MI helps parents, teachers, and children understand children’s strengths and how these may be used to help them learn and solve problems,” Kornhaber says.
  • Engage your child in different ways. If your child is having trouble writing a paper, boost confidence by drawing out other skills while you help with writing skills. For instance, ask what they’ve learned; they may be able to describe it aloud, suggests Kornhaber. Or ask them to draw a picture of what they learned.
  • Consider the expectations we have today. Young children are expected to read and have basic math skills at younger and younger ages. With added pressures come increased expectations, but that doesn’t mean all first- and second-graders should be soaring through chapter books. Unless you spot signs of learning problems, relax and let your child grow at their own pace.
  • Know that intelligence is a snapshot. Unlike general intelligence, which is measured by an IQ score, a child’s multiple intelligence profile is not static and may shift over time. Expose your child to all kinds of different activities and experiences and allow them to learn and grow in their own unique way.
  • Look at the value of all the intelligences. In preschool, we value and praise everything that kids discover and share. But by third grade, kids are expected to be good at math and reading or they can be labeled as not being good learners. “Only valuing linguistic and math and not other intelligences does a disservice to kids,” Kornhaber says.


Learning differences: What to expect from a psychoed evaluation

Learning differences: What to expect from a psychoed evaluation

By: Marianne S. Meyer

A good evaluation for a leaning disability is not as simple as “having your child tested”. First, it requires preparation on your part.

You must choose an appropriate professional, provide a clear statement of your (or a teacher’s) concerns, and produce records for review. You should be prepared to give a thorough and accurate prenatal, birth, motor, and medical background as well as details about speech/language development, social development, and family history. Finally, you or one or more of the child’s teachers may be asked to complete checklists that will profile your child’s attentional style.

Supplying this information will determine the nature and scope of the evaluation. The process is methodical, and cannot be rushed!

So plan ahead, allowing time to collect the necessary information and schedule appointments.

Choose a professional evaluator

A good evaluation will gain enough information to get a picture of the “whole” child. Choose a professional, usually a psychologist, with appropriate training and experience to make a skilled clinical judgment. It is essential that the evaluator have up-to-date knowledge of the LD field. This person should be able to explain the range of available services, from a short screening that suggests whether further resting is warranted, to a full educational evaluation that:

  1. determines your child’s strengths and weaknesses;
  2. clearly interprets findings to you, and;
  3. makes specific recommendations that can be communicated to teachers and tutors.

School information is examined to understand the learning context

Because learning occurs in a context, examining school records (report cards, group achievement test results, teacher comments, interventions tried, and work samples) is important.

Knowing which instructional approaches and materials are used in the curriculum can help sort out whether problems are due to lack of instruction or a poor match between your child and the curriculum.

In some cases classroom observations are also recommended.

Referral question is refined and “targeted” tests administered

Based on background and school information, the reasons for the evaluation referral are clarified and refined. With age and grade appropriate test measures chosen, targeted testing begins. (There are a multitude of tests, but remember, more is not necessarily better!) If the question is probably dyslexia, for example, reading skills should be targeted along with frequently associated spelling and written composition skills.

The value of IQ testing in a LD determination has been controversial. However, based on converging research findings, it appears unlikely that federal legislation will continue to support the ability-achievement discrepancy criterion.

If there is a specific question (such as ruling out a significant mental handicap or significant “peaks and valleys” in a child’s intellectual profile) or when a program or school entrance requires it, a complete intellectual assessment is desirable.

Answers the question “Why is the difficulty occurring?”

Unfortunately, the “why” question is not routinely addressed, despite the increased availability of reliable, research-based measures. Knowing “why” sets the stage for appropriate, specific recommendations.

If your child is struggling with reading, for example, assessing skills that support reading acquisition, such as:

  1. phonological and phonemic awareness (hearing how sounds and sound patterns work in our language system and associating sounds with letters);
  2. fluency and automaticity (rapidly and easily recognizing letters, words and phrases);
  3. short term rote memory (remembering sequences of sounds heard) and;
  4. orthographic skills (representing the language sounds of language by written symbols)

– allows the evaluator to determine where the reading process is breaking down.

Sometimes neuropsychological measures assessing memory, attention and visual-spatial-motor abilities are also helpful.

Results are synthesized and a clear diagnosis given

A good evaluation synthesizes the findings and gives a clear diagnosis with supporting evidence. It should state the extent of the problem as well as highlight competencies, and give a reasonable estimate of the outcome. Any emotional or social factors (either adverse or positive) also need to be addressed.

Focused, prioritized recommendations made

The best recommendations for interventions are those that are focused, specific, and prioritized. While a child may have a variety of needs, yielding to the temptation to address everything at once results in “laundry lists” of recommendations. Student and teacher alike will experience greater success if two or three critical issues are successfully addressed first.

Recommended interventions should be those that are scientifically based and research validated. Be cautious of “quick-fixes” and trendy solutions.

In contrast to the emphasis on a few priority interventions, more numerous classroom/testing accommodation recommendations can be given.

Intervention options thoroughly discussed

The evaluator should be familiar with local, regional, and national resources, including the names of trained, experienced tutors, and LD organizations, such as IDA.

If school services are an appropriate option, multiple considerations – the class size, type, and composition, curriculum, and services offered, qualifications and experience of teachers – need to be discussed.

Conclusion provides support and hope

This discussion not complete without stressing the emotional component.

Having a child evaluated can be anxiety-provoking and exhausting – but often a relief as well – to both parents and child. A good evaluation should make parents feel “heard” and supported (especially when the diagnosis is more severe than expected), and should make the child feel his or her uniqueness is cherished.

Most of all, a good evaluation should provide hope – hope that there are resources to address the issue, that our knowledge about specific learning disabilities is improving daily, and that there is a community of parents and professionals ready and willing to provide support.