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• by Rebecca Long Pyper •

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How smart are you?

What you ought to know about multiple intelligences and how identifying these in your children might make for an easier school year come fall

•   By Rebecca Long Pyper   •

Thirty-one years ago psychologist Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences rocked the educational world, and even now anyone who enrolls in an education class will quickly learn his name is synonymous with “differentiation,” or teaching with the needs of different learners in mind.


According to Gardner and his theory, which has evolved over the years, eight intelligences comprise most of the intellectual spectrum. There are linguistic learners and logical-mathematical. There’s musical; there’s visual-spatial. And there’s interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic and naturalist.


But it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that some of these learning styles are largely ignored in schools. Take, for instance, the most obvious: bodily-kinesthetic learners. In a system where students are expected to sit down and zip those lips for most of the day, those who learn best by moving can struggle.


Same goes for naturalist learners. In the English 101 and 201 classes I taught at the university level, I can’t tell you how many kids from farming families were struggling to figure out what the heck they were doing in a classroom — but they could, with great accuracy, predict what the weather was going to do tomorrow.


It’s a shame too because if presentation were varied with different types of learners in mind, there might not be so many struggling students. For two years I taught remedial classes full of students who could not pass the ISAT and thus would not be graduating high school without intervention and completing “alternate” requirements. One of the first activities students did in my classes was a quiz to determine their “multiple intelligences,” and — big shocker — I had a high population of kinesthetic learners with other less common (and more difficult to cater to) intelligences comprising many of the remaining students.


So we learned vocabulary while throwing beanbags to each other. We moved from station to station for assignments, and sitting was largely optional. In my first class all but one student passed the ISAT after two trimesters of catching up. But really, they weren’t catching up; they were just learning in the way most natural for them, and it stuck.


What does this mean for parents? It means all kids are smart, just in different ways. And it means you ought to figure out what types of intelligences your children possess. You can do this by watching them at work and play; you can also try free online quizzes like those I used with my students. This will be helpful because come school time, if your student is struggling in a class, you might be able to help them frame the new content in a way that makes better sense to their brains. Because often the material isn’t too complex or confusing — it’s the way it’s presented.

Story and background photo by Rebecca Long Pyper.