How is a child intelligent? – The theory of multiple intelligence.

While teaching my third grade students last year, we decided to participate in a football competition. Since, I taught in a girls’ school, football was not a common sport. Mofida, who was fairly disruptive in class, took to the sport very well. Soon, she excelled in it and her academic performance improved as well due to her new-found focus and confidence! And this was not a one-off incident. How often does one encounter a parent who thinks their child is a failure with bleak career prospects because of the poor marks they get in school? There are several examples of people who did badly in school and still became huge successes in life. To a large extent, the key to students’ success lies in identifying their passion and relentlessly pursuing it with confidence.

So the question arises, what can be done to identify these interests?  Do all children learn the same way? Also, who can help a child in this journey of self discovery?

A big challenge in the current education system is the standardized form of learning each child undergoes. In this structure, children do not get the opportunity to explore their interests and a part of their intelligence.

The traditional tests like JEE, CAT etc. look at predominantly two types of ‘intelligences’: Verbal and Math. ‘Intelligence Quotient’ or IQ, another measure of intelligence also focuses on the above 2 intelligences. However, it is being argued that these tests are an inadequate measure of a person’s intellect.

Howard Gardner, a development psychologist, in 1983 proposed a theory of multiple intelligences which suggested that children learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways and hence have multiple intelligences. Every child is ‘intelligent’ differently and has a mix of ‘intelligences’ categorized in the following ways.

  1. Musical–rhythmic and harmonic:         sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones and music.
  2. Visual–spatial:                                        spatial judgment and ability to visualize
  3. Verbal–linguistic:                                   words and languages
  4. Logical–mathematical:                          logic, abstractions, reasoning, numbers and critical thinking
  5. Bodily–kinesthetic:                                control of one’s bodily motions and handle objects skillfully
  6. Interpersonal:                                         sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and  motivations, work in a group
  7. Intra-personal:                                        introspective and self-reflective capacities
  8. Naturalistic:                                            to do with one’s natural surroundings and
  9. Existential:                                              spiritual or religious

Every child has a few predominant intelligences which define his or her interests and learning styles. For example, a child might struggle in math, but might be great in interpersonal and kinesthetic intelligence etc. There can be many such combinations.

This understanding in parents and educators can be a great asset to help the child realize his or her potential. This can help improve teaching in school to include more learning styles in a single lesson so that every child in the class grasps what is being taught.

What can the children do?

Explore. The earlier a child can identify a passion and start pursuing it, the better.

What can the parents do?

This theory can also help the parents to understand their child’s interests better, enabling them to appreciate and support the child in his or her pursuits.

What can the educators do?

They can plan their lessons such that it caters to wide learning styles and intelligences of children. A single objective in Math, for example, can be taught using visual aids, explaining the concept through songs, letting the students move from their seats to collaborate etc. This will help many more children get the concepts being taught in a single class.


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