Many years ago, when I was in high school, my generation had lots of stereotypes. Bookish students did well academically but weren't usually popular. The jocks and the socialites-those who were good-with-people-dominated the “in-crowds.” People with special skills, such as music, got some respect, as did those who were good at figuring-out-how-things-work. The intense ones often made people nervous and uncomfortable. I can remember these people, and I know into which categories I fit and which crowds accepted me.
If you remember them too, then you already have a basic idea of what the different intelligences are. The bookish were linguistically intelligent. The jocks had bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. The socially adept were strong in interpersonal intelligence. The musicians had, of course, musical intelligence and the technically competent possessed spatial intelligence. The intense ones, often very opinionated, displayed intrapersonal intelligence-the internal awareness of how we feel and what we mean. While this is a simplification of Howard Gardner's theory, it isn't a gross distortion, and it does show how his theory is more reality-based than traditional I.Q.
Gardner sets out his theory of multiple intelligence in his books, Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences, wherein he gives his criteria for defining an intelligence, describes each one, and explains how they might be used in education.
Long before reading Frames of Mind, I had discounted the monolithic I.Q. My high school observations were reinforced by long experience teaching community college English. Moving from teaching students in one program to teaching students in another, I came to see patterns. The most obvious pattern difference, for me, occurred with the Athletic Therapists. They were intelligent in an area where I am quite-what's the current word?-“challenged.” They weren't just stronger physically; they could easily remember series of complex physical movements that left me stumbling and lost. They could identify physical realities, like injury symptoms or body cycles that the affected person did not recognize until these students asked the right questions. They seemed almost telepathic to me, when it came to body understanding, or at least some of them did. And I saw that while it was often easier for me to learn through language, and to learn how to use language, it was easier for them to learn through their bodies and about bodies. So, while I might be “stronger” and “brighter” than they in my area, they were plainly “stronger” and “brighter” than I in theirs.
One of the things I enjoyed while reading Frames of Mind was recognizing intelligences in which I was most competent-linguistic and interpersonal-and why I found some activities so difficult-map-reading, for example, which requires good spatial intelligence, not one of my strengths. Knowing this has allowed me to plan strategies to cope, rather than just to berate myself for poor performance. Students surely would benefit, both pedagogically and psychologically, from knowing in which intelligences they function best and in which they need to develop coping strategies.
“An intelligence,” says Gardner, “entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting.” This sounds like the aim of community college education. The idea of building an “intelligence-fair” schooling, where the intelligences could be used as both content and as medium and where students would learn through their strengths, excites me. I think many community college teachers already teach to and through more than just the traditional school intelligences the linguistic and the logical-mathematical. I think we've learned to “access” the other intelligences intuitively. Just think what we could do if we consciously planned, using all our intelligences, to help our students learn through all their intelligences.
Joan Vinall-Cox is Faculty Development Consultant at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario.