How Is Your Kid Intelligent?

No, I didn’t get the title wrong. But before I explain consider this scenario.  

There was this kid in your class who was considered super intelligent. Reason? He did extremely well in math and science. Or there was this kid who did very well in languages. And she was also considered brainy.

Was your burly classmate who was the life and soul of the cricket team being an elegant batsman, a precision bowler and athletic fielder ever considered intelligent? Or for that matter was the school’s best singer who cooed her way into hundreds of hearts thought of as brainy? Naah, they were not intelligent; they were talented. Did you just catch yourself thinking that?

Notice the use of words ‘intelligent’ and ‘brainy’ for those who were good in math, science and languages and ‘talented’ for those who did well in sports or the arts. In other words if you were intelligent you did well in math, science or language. If you didn’t you were considered a dunce. And then some people were talented.

This was the case in most schools. No matter how good you were in music or painting or dancing, you were not considered intelligent. You were just talented. All this changed when in 1983 a psychologist called Howard Gardner wrote a book – Frames of Mind – The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In this he put forward the multiple intelligence theory.

According to Gardner, there are eight types of intelligences. They are:

  • Logical mathematical
  • Musical
  • Linguistic
  • Bodily-kinaesthetic
  • Spatial
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic

What does this mean and how does this affect our beliefs about ourselves and our children?

Gardner argued that it is not just the people who were good in math and science or languages that were intelligent. Intelligence, he said was a broader concept and involved other abilities.

Musical Intelligence

People with musical intelligence are sensitive to sound. They can easily identify variations in pitch, intonation and timbre; can compose music or play musical or rhythmical instruments or hum back a tune easily.

Spatial Intelligence

This type of intelligence enables people to be able to visualize clearly and think in a multidimensional way. One example of people with good spatial intelligence is architects.

Bodily Kinaesthetic

People with this type of intelligence are good at controlling bodily movements. They also have a sense of timing and have clarity about the goal of their bodily movements. These people make good sportsmen, dancers and actors.

Interpersonal Intelligence

These are the people who have the ability to understand others’ moods and feelings. They have high levels of empathy. They are also effective communicators and good leaders or followers.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

This type of intelligence makes a person aware of his self – his own strengths and weaknesses. Such people are deeply reflective.

Logical-mathematical Intelligence

People who are good in math and science have logical-mathematical intelligence. They can think and reason in a logical way. This is one of the areas traditionally considered for measuring a person’s intelligence.

Linguistic Intelligence

These people have a way with words and can grasp languages easily. They are good at reading, writing, storytelling and memorizing dates. This intelligence was given a lot of importance in the traditional methods of teaching and learning.

Naturalistic Intelligence

This type of intelligence enables a person to understand the natural world and its organization easily. They make good farmers, biologists, chefs etc. They have a way with plants and animals.

Implications for Parents

Image by 024-657-834 from Pixabay

You have held your child’s face in your palms and looked down into her eyes and recognized the glow of intelligence behind them. Yet when it comes to scholastic performance in terms of grades and scores, she does not seem to be doing too well.

If you have had such an experience and are baffled about the reason why then your answer may lie in the multiple intelligence theory. Of course schools have done a lot to adapt their teaching methodologies to the MI theory, but it is a sad fact that even now a large number of schools stick to out-dated methods of teaching.

If your child is putting in regular hours of study and is not affected by a learning disorder but still continues to perform poorly in school, then you might want to find out what kind of intelligence she has and then you can take this into account and help develop learning styles that take her type of intelligence into account.

Here is an example. I once knew a boy who was not able to read at great speeds. But he was an exceptionally good listener. His mother found that he could repeat all the prayers that his grandmother recited though he only listened to them half-heartedly while bouncing a ball in the courtyard of the house. So she read out his lessons for him and recorded them. He listened to them while studying and sometimes would play the tape even during free time. His grades automatically improved.

The great American writer Flannery O’ Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Some of us just need to write down things and the confused cloud of thoughts circling inside our mind immediately becomes clearer. Even while talking on the phone, we like to doodle.  

I know many people who like to listen to classical music while working out math problems. People with musical-rhythmic intelligence can try out auditory methods of learning like having a particular text read out to them or recording their reading of a text and then replaying it multiple times.

That said there have been numerous critics of Gardner’s theory. They felt that Gardner’s definition of intelligence was too broad and that included the person’s talents, personality traits and abilities. Besides, many scholars point out the lack of empirical research in support of the theory.

But in spite of these criticisms the Multiple Intelligence Theory is an empowering piece of knowledge. It is heartening to know that all of us are intelligent in some way. Often it is found that many of these intelligences overlap. It is often helpful in understanding what kind of learning method is most effective for our kids.

Of course it is not possible for every teacher to teach according to the eight intelligences. But we can always supplement that at home because we have fewer children than in a class! 

A Need to Change Ways of Testing

The multiple intelligences theory may have changed the way children are taught at least in some countries. But even in many of these countries tests are still conducted in ways where the traditional intelligences (verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical) are given more importance.

In many countries of the world, the systems of education are at least a hundred years old and need to be changed drastically.

The Rat Race

Testing is important because not only does it decide whether a person has passed or failed, it also often decides what kind of career you choose. Take the situation in India for example. Admissions to engineering and medical colleges are decided on the basis of tests which are at best mere methods of elimination. They eliminate some candidates because there are far too many applicants than there are seats. Do they test a candidate’s aptitude for engineering or medicine? I’m afraid not. And they have led to a kind of rat race for college admissions where a ridiculously small difference in scores gains a lot of importance. (I once had a young person tell me, “He did much better than me. He scored 97.58. I only scored 97.15.” Whatever happened to our sense of perspective?)

It is really disheartening that even developed countries are using standardized tests more and more especially for admission to colleges. In India too, the use of these tests is prevalent especially to certain courses like engineering, medicine and management. When viewed in the light of the multiple intelligence theory, these tests make college admissions extremely unfair since they emphasize speed and quick recall. It has been found that these tests bear no relevance to the courses of study adopted by students.

Choice of Careers

The multiple intelligence theory should also be considered when choosing careers. We often find people choosing careers for the wrong reasons mainly because they are unaware of their strengths and weaknesses. As a result there are many people who are misfits in the careers that they are in. This leads to loss of productivity not to speak of the harm done to the psychological well-being of people stuck in such situations. Workplace stress, one of the major causes of chronic stress is often due to person-environment misfit. For example if X is a person who thrives in situations that call for split second decision making and thinking on one’s feet he would be much stressed if you put him in a boring monotonous job. And vice versa. If Y is someone who likes doing the same things at the same time of day and feels threatened and overwhelmed if he is required to do several things at the same time, he would be very stressed out if he had a job that required him to do so. A person should choose a career after considering a whole lot of things. We should remember that we spend long hours at our workplace. If it is something that we dislike actively it can do great harm to our psychological health.

The multiple intelligence theory tells us that all of us are intelligent in some way. It would be a great step forward if schools in India considered it while designing curricula and planning examinations. Business too would benefit immensely by lowered costs and enhanced productivity if they took the theory into account while hiring, assigning roles and training personnel.

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