Smart in Seven Ways

Howard Gardner

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, educational psychologist Howard Gardner organized and published his theory which identifies seven fundamental styles of learning. He also identifies only two of these--those which are tested by most "intelligence" tests--as the focus of contemporary educational practice. This may be, in part, because these same two are the dominant intelligences of the majority of writers (the recorders of knowledge) and those who organize information into the compendia we refer to as subjects, disciplines, and books. Gardner's seven learning modalities are:

Linguistic (or verbal-linguistic):
The intelligence of words

This is probably the most pervasive of the human intelligences. It is the foundation of almost all human communications and is most important tool in the educators kit. It is, at the same time, both the most important method of passing knowledge and the biggest barrier to understanding. It is also the most universal of the human characteristics--that of a spoken (usually accompanied by visible and recordable symbols) language. Verbal-linguistic is considered the dominant modality for orators, writers, politicians, poets, and (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on a student's modality) most teachers.

The intelligence of sequential thought and numbers

Considered by many as the second most common intelligence, this is the style of thought which organizes, categorizes, and classifies information. It builds knowledge based on previously observed and accepted facts. It is the foundation of the "scientific method" of observation, recording, hypothesis, testing, documentation, and duplicability. It is also the foundation of all modern technology and our 20th century civilization.

The three-dimensional intelligence of pictures and images

This is probably the last of the intelligences covered by most intelligence testing. It's most important characteristic is the ability to visualize--to see "in the minds eye." This is the modality of the minute observer, the artist, the designer, and (along with the mathematical-logical) the architect. Where the logical-mathematical mind sees "what is . . ., the spatial mind sees "what might be . . .." It is the kind of intelligence which Michelangelo referred to when asked how he could create such beautiful sculpture.
The image is already in the marble. All I do is cut away everything that is not the image.

The presence of spatial intelligence is critical in designing everything from packages and containers to airplanes and rockets. The designer must be able to see how the item he or she is creating will fit into, connect to, or enclose those parts of the world to which it is related.

The intelligence of music and rhythm.

Most people think of music and rhythm as something to be learned rather than as a learning tool. But how many children have learned the sequence of the alphabet by singing it. A B C D E F G, H I J K LMNOP . . .. And how many days are there in a month? Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November . . .. These are mnemonic tools which appeal to the Musical side of our intelligence. The musical learner is the kind of person who will tap a pencil on the desk or paper when deep in concentration. Musical intelligence is one of the reasons why Lewis Carroll's nonsense rhymes from Alice in Wonderland, the intense emotion of Samuel Taylor Coldrige' Ryme of the Ancient Mariner, and Shakespeare's plays and sonnets are easier to commit to memory than the Periodic Table, the Equation for Binomial Equations or the English (foot, pound, second) measuring system. Anyone who has learned Morse code will tell you it is easier to remember the code in the pattern E, I, S, H, 5, T, M, O . . . than it is in alphabetic sequence. The musical learners, by the way, are also going to be the best telegraphers and radio code operators because they acquire and integrate the code's rhythm and pattern more rapidly.

The intelligence of the body

The ancient cultures of Greek and Roman saw little separation between the condition of the mind and the condition of the body, while many of the far eastern cultures and philosophies are built around the idea that the body is the teacher of the mind. Western cultures during the middle ages, however, culminating with Rene Descartes famous I think, therefore I am in the 16th century, separated the body and the mind. They practiced educating one to the edification of the soul and suppressing the other as an enemy of salvation. Bodily-Kinesthetic (B-K) intelligence, however, may be (as it is conceived by some education theorists) the second-most important of the learning skills. As a matter of interest, there is an entire school of educational theory which maintains that suppression of the kinesthetic (hands-on or 'touchie-feelie') side of education actually impedes overall learning ability. This theory goes so far as to propose that interference with the natural development sequence of psycho-motor skills may be a major cause of many learning disabilities. Dyslexia, for example, is linked to interruption of the 'crawling' stage. One of the characteristics of the bodily-kinesthetic learner is the need to 'get in touch' with the subject. An individual, for example, who has trouble identifying rocks or certain kinds of geological formations from their descriptions--and even from pictures--may suddenly find them perfectly clear when able to handle samples or get 'nose-to-nose' with the formation. Another characteristic is the need to be in motion, B-K learners move quickly and often seemingly without reason. Some research points to a frequent misdiagnosis of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence as Attention Deficit (Hyperactive) Disorder (ADD / ADHD). Remember that ADD / ADHD is a physiological disorder which should be diagnosed by a physician or trained professional. The average teacher, and even most school counselors, can only express a reasonably-well-informed opinion on the disorder. In the case of a B-K, treatment by substance may actually aggravate the situation--and everybody involved in it!

The intelligence of societal interactivity

The interpersonal learner may also be seen as a disruptive influence in a traditional classroom. This is the individual whose education comes through open interaction with other people. Social activist and Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams, for example, found herself bored and exhausted after a lecture or a museum tour, but was invigorated by long days of grueling work with the poor and underprivileged. Addams, like most highly-visible activists, drew her knowledge, strength, and vitality from the people with whom she worked. She was not only a leader, but a motivator. She was known for not talking a lot but for possessing an amazing intuitiveness for people and their feelings. The interpersonal learners are described in the field of parapsychology as empaths. They are extraordinary leaders because of a sixth sense about people and their motives.

The intelligence of the inner person.

As one would suspect from the identifying term, the intrapersonal learner is almost the exact opposite of the interpersonal learner. The intrapersonal person learns best in near isolation. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that the intrapersonal individual has difficulty focusing when in the midst of a group. In a group, the intrapersonal is usually the active follower--and an extremely valuable asset when the group is trying to get things done. But this same characteristic of group activity might cause individuals to be seen as "slow" in a traditional classroom. They are constantly active and willing to help others, but never seems to have time to get their own work finished.

(Extracts: © 1996 - GHF: Project FIVE, Inc. All rights reserved.)

return to index