It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people learn differently. However, it isn’t quite that simple. Howard Gardner argues that people don't just learn differently, but that they have strength in different areas of intelligence. Specifically, Gardner has outlined 8 different types of intelligence that go beyond the typical, IQ-test type of intelligence.
These intelligences are different from learning styles, which are the ways an individual will approach a task. Think of the ways that different people approach Ikea furniture. Some prefer to follow the directions, while others simply just "go at it."
On the other hand, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences is a theory that says that an individual contains intelligence in 8 different fields. It’s in direct opposition to the idea that intelligence can be categorized simply by surveying an individual’s logical intelligence, such as through an IQ test.
To put it simply, a student’s learning style is the way in which they prefer to complete a task or goal, while the theory of multiple intelligences states that there are 8 different types of “smarts.” A strength in one type of intelligence does not denote a weakness in another type of intelligence. I can be good at linguistics AND mathematics. However, learning styles are often ill-defined and usually taken to mean that the student prefers to learn and can only learn in that one style.
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences is pretty wide-spread, but there aren’t a lot of resources out there about how it can actually make a difference in your classroom. Today I want to take a look at how Gardner’s Theory can be applied in the adult ESL classroom to help you create an engaging and beneficial learning community.
The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is comprised of 8 different areas of intelligence that every single person has. There are many quizzes on the internet to help you identify your strengths or how your intelligence is “spread out.”
Remember that people are diverse and unique. If you find that you have strength in one field, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will enjoy or find all aspects of that intelligence easy. Nevertheless, let's jump into it! Below you'll find all 8 intelligences and their accompanying attributes and skills.
Those that have strong linguistic intelligence are probably good at learning languages, enjoy reading books, comprehend speeches well, and/or easily understand a language’s oral or written methods of communication.
The logical-mathematical intelligence is the most commonly thought of in the wider world. IQ tests and standardized testing are both methods of assessing an individual’s logical intelligence. People who have strength in this field will excel at puzzles, algebra, testing, finances, and more.
Spatial intelligence can play out in a number of ways. The skills most often thought of in reference to spatial intelligence are the ability to read a map and keep track of directions. However, this intelligence can also refer to the ability to imagine how to organize furniture in a room, pack a car in order to fit the most bags, or know if the large couch you just bought will actually fit into your car.
Those that have strength in bodily-kinesthetic intelligence will not only learn best through doing something, but they will also know how to use their bodies for dance or to accomplish a certain task. Have you ever seen someone with absolutely no rhythm? They probably don’t have a lot of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence!
Musical intelligence is not simply the ability to play an instrument, though those that have more strength in this field will probably gravitate towards those hobbies. Musical intelligence has a lot to do with being able to hear and assign meaning to different types of sounds, as well as producing those sounds.
Interpersonal intelligence is often talked about as “street smarts,” though that title doesn’t give the connotation it deserves. Those who find interpersonal intelligence as one of their strengths may be able to read other people’s attitudes, feelings, motivations, etc.
This is my favorite of the intelligences, but I’m biased. Intrapersonal intelligence is the ability to know oneself. An individual with intrapersonal intelligence will be able to identify and reflect upon their own thoughts, values, emotions, and characteristics, both good and bad.
The naturalist-physical world intelligence was added at a later date and refers to skills related to the field of biology. You may be able to easily identify plants, weather formations, or animals. You may feel most at peace in nature, and find that you are especially sensitive to changes in your surroundings.
Simply knowing information is rarely enough. I’m sure you’ve found that the same is true for your students. If they know grammar, but cannot use it, it just isn't helpful! Knowing about the multiple intelligences should lead us to applying it to our own classroom and teaching practices.
One of the most influential ways that you can apply Gardner’s Theory is by providing your students with many different ways to access content. If you’re teaching on transportation, allow them to learn through watching a video, observing transportation in their neighborhood, writing a report about their experiences with transportation, etc. Try to acknowledge as many of the intelligences as possible!
Likewise, it can be really helpful for both you and your students to provide and/or allow multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge. A pen and paper test only acknowledges one, or maybe two, different intelligences. If at all possible, allow your students to choose how they will be assessed. A few options include through writing, presenting, doing a poll or creating a graph, or being interviewed.
Learn More About the Strategies Behind Teaching English in Everyday ESL's
Best case scenario: You have your students complete a Multiple Intelligences quiz in order to figure out their strengths. If you're able to do this, let it influence your instruction, so that you can plan specific ways to help strengthen your students’ weaknesses and acknowledge their strengths.
If you simply don't have the time or resources to quiz every single student, you can hold a discussion on the topic to lead your students through some self-discovery, observe your students at work and make notes on their strengths and weaknesses, and/or try to vary your instruction to reach all of the intelligences represented in your classroom.
While it can be extremely helpful to know what your students’ strengths and preferences are, don’t forget that every student has every intelligence, just in different ways and/or amounts. Just because one may have a propensity towards interpersonal skills, doesn’t mean their unable to understand themselves, mathematics, or music! Everyone can benefit from practice in every intelligence.
I love learning more about the way that people think and learn, and Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences is one of the most influential things for the classroom. I encourage you to not only find ways to implement this kind of instruction into your classroom, but share the information with your students! It's extremely helpful for developing self-awareness and other intrapersonal skills!
If you'd like to continue learning about Multiple Intelligences, check out the following resources:
I'd Love to Hear From You!
What are your strongest intelligences? How have you seen that influence your education?
What are the intelligences you have the hardest time teaching to?