Of the seven different kinds of intelligences detailed in Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind, most traditional Western schools are really only designed to encourage and develop two of them.
How terrifying is that? Even if you don’t possess a lot of logical/mathematical intelligence (one of the two intelligences traditional schools do embrace, along with verbal/linguistic intelligence), it’s pretty clear that 2 out of 7 leaves a lot to be desired.
No wonder then, that so many teachers report confusion over students who excel in music, arts, or athletics, but suffer from poor English grades. Or that a kid who barely passes Algebra can suddenly seem like a genius when doing hands-on experiments using the same equations in Physics. Simply put: they learn – and are engaged – differently.
When Howard Gardner first published his theory in 1983, it’s easy to imagine many people experiencing an “aha” moment as they read about each of the five non-traditional intelligences:
- Spatial – being able to visualize and compute angles for navigation, construction, art, and more using only the mind
- Musical – sensitivity to timbre, tone, rhythm, melody, and pitch; people with great musical intelligence tend to learn best through sound, including lectures
- Kinesthetic – great bodily control marks people who possess this kind of intelligence, often making them excel in sports, dance, and other types of performance; including a physical aspect to any kind of learning tends to make it easier for them to remember
- Interpersonal – this type of intelligence is marked by showing a strong understanding of others’ moods, motivations, feelings, and temperaments
- Intrapersonal – rather than looking outward at others, people with great intrapersonal intelligence turn inward and often display a deep understanding of their own thoughts and emotions
We’ve all been around people who just seem naturally better at sports, art, and music, or even those who know how to get along with everyone or display a keen sense of their own psyche. All Gardner’s book did was to define these abilities as an actual kind of intelligence that could be exploited and nurtured, suggesting that people with non-traditional types of intelligence might learn better by utilizing different teaching methods than the ones currently in place.
Educators quickly saw the practical value in this, and many lauded his theory, but in practice, little has changed over the last few decades. The question has always remained: how can educators incorporate lessons for these non-traditional forms of intelligence without completely tossing out a system that has worked for centuries?
Incorporating Non-Traditional Intelligence Learning in the Classroom
There are many smaller ways to incorporate some of the five non-traditional intelligences. Pairing a lesson with an active game or song, for example, has the potential to work for those with kinesthetic, musical, and possibly even interpersonal intelligence. But what if, by focusing on non-traditional intelligences, the lesson alienates traditional learners – or even those who learn better utilizing one type of non-traditional intelligence, but not another?
One solution is to teach everything in seven different ways. That probably sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Imagine a lesson about recycling that includes a 15-minute lecture, a game where teams of students race to gather, identify, and then place different kinds of recyclables in the correct bins, an exercise where students use statistics to calculate the amount of waste they’ll produce over their lifetimes, and finally a writing assignment where they are asked to reflect on how their trash impacts in the environment and how that makes them feel.
You hit on each of the types of intelligence at least in some small way, and because each exercise is part of the same larger lesson, there’s a far higher likelihood that everyone will be engaged at some point and learn something about recycling. Essentially, it provides the students with seven different ways to learn the same thing.
Some teachers of younger students have found this model to be so successful that they’ve actually created “centers” for each type of learning that they use for every lesson.
A Reflection Center for Intrapersonal intelligence that focuses on individual projects and research, a Music Center for Musical intelligence where rhythmic learning takes place, an Active Center for Kinesthetic intelligence where physical games and building occurs, an Puzzle Center for Spatial intelligence that uses pictures, charts, puzzles, and other objects that can be manipulated, a Logic Center for Logical/Mathematical intelligence with experiments and math games, a Word Center for Verbal/Linguistic intelligence where students read and write, and a Team Center for Interpersonal intelligence where groups work together to brainstorm, solve problems, and discuss the lesson.
Results of Incorporating Non-Traditional Learning
Teachers who incorporate non-traditional intelligence learning in this way have commented that their students not only seem more engaged, but when they are asked to present their work to the class, the presentations end up being more entertaining and informative, and often incorporate a greater variety of elements that they’ve learned by utilizing all seven of the centers.
Even better, anecdotal evidence has parents reporting that their kids become more expressive at home as well, often bringing home work and wanting to discuss their day.
About The Author:
Jane Bongato is part of the team behind Open Colleges. Jane is an early childhood educator with a background in special education and closely works with children who have special needs for about 6 years now. She enjoys reading, painting or meeting friends during her spare time.