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Varieties of Intelligence


By Don Wyeth

One of the most interesting and helpful classes that I took in college was based on a theory of multiple intelligence proposed by Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard. He suggested that “… human beings have different ways in which they process data, each being independent. The nine types of intelligence described by Gardner include: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential.” Educators have long struggled with teaching a curriculum that fits a variety of different learning styles demon strated by children. Gardner’s theory recognizes that children possess a variety of learning styles. For a long time, education in America only focused on two of these styles: logical-mathematical and linguistic.

A child strong in logical-mathematical intelligence demonstrates a skill set based on a non-verbal approach. Their problem- solving ability is very striking and is often related to a type of non-verbal intelligence, i.e., they can know the answer to a certain problem long before they verbalize it. “Children with this type of intelligence are good at solving mysteries or brain teasers, doing puzzles, logic exercises, counting or doing calculations, computer problems and playing strategy games.” www. Characteristics of a child strong in logical-mathematical intelligence include excellent problem-solving skills, the ability to think abstractly, and a preference to conducting scientific experiments.

Individuals, strong in linguistic intelligence, on the other hand, prefer reading, talking, telling stories and jokes, writing poems, learning languages, and playing word games. An individual strong in linguistic intelligence “… is efficient at remembering written and spoken information, enjoys reading and writing, is good at debating or giving persuasive speeches, is able to explain things well and often uses humor when telling stories.”

A student strong in visual – spatial intelligence demon- strates the ability to think in three dimensions, and is proficient at solving spatial problems… drawing, painting, playing construction games, reading maps, and solving mazes. The characteristics of visual-spatial intelligence include ‘…understanding the entire picture at once, and grasp the entire concept before looking for details, can learn quickly using visual material, and avoids a step-by-step process of learning, can think in pictures. On the surface, they may appear to be disorganized.”

A student demonstrating high musical intelligence has the innate ability to learn different sounds which is the foundation for being able to sing, listen to music, play instruments, compose songs, enjoy concerts, and reproduce different rhythms. Overall, she has a “…rich understanding of musical structure, rhythm, and notes; enjoys singing, memorizing songs and playing musical instruments, and recognizes musical patterns and tones easily.”

Students possessing strong bodily kinesthetic intelligence “… use the whole body in the expression of ideas and feelings, and the facility in the use of the hands to transform elements.” Kids possessing strong kinesthetic intelligence are proficient in dancing, acting, imitating gestures and expressions, running, moving, and jumping (sports). This category is also the one that is basically ignored in the traditional logic – visual approach. Students in this subgroup tend to “…move around a lot, have a preference to not sit still, even when studying, prefer to do things rather than to read about them, do not like reading, do not spell well, and enjoy problem-solving by doing.” In recent years, children of this group many times have been misidenti- fied as being ADHD, etc.

Another group which tends to get lost in the shuffle is a group of children having high intrapersonal intelligence. These children prefer to work on their own, set goals for themselves and to focus on achieving them, and to understand their feelings and know their strengths and weaknesses. Good intrapersonal intelligence leads a student to “…self-analyze, to enjoy spending time alone, having a good understanding of their emo- tions, to reflect on her goals and accomplishments, and to make life plans, to examine the meaning of life, and to participate in religious or spiritual practice.”

Strong interpersonal intelligence is the mirror image of in- trapersonal. Students of this ilk are outgoing, proficient speak – ers, enjoy working in teams, can facilitate conflict resolution, and tend to be comfortable meeting new people. Their skill set includes strong verbal communication, strong, nonverbal communication, the ability to consider different points of view, and to form and maintain meaningful relationships, and to easily establish a rapport with others.

Naturalistic intelligence is associated with “…the attraction towards environmental issues, plants and animals. People with this kind of intelligence enjoy doing activities such as camping, hiking, caring for animals, learning about nature, recycling and caring for the environment.” The characteristics of a strong naturalistic intelligence are to be curious about how mechanisms and processes work, to have a rapport with the environment and nature, a high interest for identifying and studying plants and animals, and the desire to discover and explore new species and behaviors.

And finally, existential intelligence manifests as sensitivity and the capacity to consider deep, abstract questions regarding human existence, such as the meaning of life and death, and how did humankind evolve? These questions require reflection and ‘deep’ thinking (the development of a personal philosophy. As a result of this process, the student purposely chooses an altruistic way of life, and develops a sense of transcendence (the existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level).

It should be noted that we all possess some modicum of each of these nine types of intelligence. So, engineering a suc- cessful curriculum that satisfies the needs of each strength be comes just as important an aim if not more important than facts and material. A well-rounded course of study must be developed to satisfy each student’s individual needs. I truly believe that in doing so we will encourage students to excel, and we will reduce the dropout rate in our schools.

January 11, 2023