What Makes a Person Intelligent?
In traditional intelligence theories when one is asked the question “What makes a person intelligent?” the most common responses will often note a person’s ability to solve problems, utilize logic, and think critically. These typical traits of intelligence are sometimes grouped together under the heading “raw intelligence”. A person’s intelligence, traditionally speaking, is contained in their intellect. In other words, how we each understand, evaluate or respond to external stimuli, regardless as to whether it is a mathematical problem or anticipation of an opponent’s next move in a game, is our collective intelligence. Our intelligence therefore, is our individual, collective ability to act or react in a continually changing environment.
The principal problem in traditional intelligence theories is that they promote “fractured learning”. Many educational reformers have clearly stated that “taking tests merely shows that a student is skilled at taking tests”. At best, traditional tests focus on only about one tenth of an individual’s intellect. Note that Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, two of history’s most famous examples of brilliant minds, were terrible at taking traditional tests, therefore terrible at “school” in general. Multiple Intelligences theory then, demonstrates that the ability to take traditional tests is almost entirely in the realm of the Logical – Mathematical
intelligence. This intelligence will be detailed later along with the Interpersonal intelligence, which imparts in some students the ability to second guess a teacher’s structuring of a test. Traditional IQ tests predict school performance with considerable accuracy, but they are only an indifferent predictor of performance in a profession after formal schooling.
In an interesting but controversial study conducted during the 1960’s by Biologist Marion Diamond, of the University of California at Berkeley, two sets of rats were raised in different environments; One set had toys to play with, playmates to romp with and a roomy box that was kept clean and fresh. The second set was put in solitary confinement; all alone in a much smaller cage with no toys to enjoy. After several weeks, Diamond measured the size of each rat’s cerebral cortex, the brain area which is responsible for higher nerve functions. The rats in the sociable, clean and stimulating environment grew brains bigger than the rats with the impoverished surroundings. “Does the enriched environment increase the dimensions of the brain, and does the impoverished environment decrease the dimensions of the brain?”, asked Diamond. “The answer, very clearly, is YES.” Similar results were replicated with cats, monkeys and later with humans. So a stimulating, enriched learning environment is crucial to mental development. If we likewise incorporate the varying student intelligences in our teaching activities, our success as well as our students success, will be markedly improved. That each of us possess all the intelligences, that they can each be developed further, that these multiple intelligences work together in a complex manner, and that there are, in fact, many different ways to be “intelligent” are inclusive in a study by Armstrong. Here briefly, in retrospect, are eight of the major intelligences of Howard Gardener’s theory and their relative traits:
The capacity to use words effectively, either orally or in writing. It is highly developed in story-tellers, orators, politicians, poets, playwrights, editors, language teachers and journalists. Students with a high degree of this intelligence think in words; learn by listening, reading, and verbalizing. They enjoy writing, like books, records, and tapes, and have a good memory for verse, lyrics, or trivia. Getting into discussions, telling jokes and debating are also characteristics of this intelligence. Maya Angelou is strong in this intelligence.
The ability to perceive the world accurately and to perform transformations upon one’s perceptions. This is highly developed in guides, interior designers, architects, artists, fashion designers and inventors. Students with a high degree of spatial intelligence think in images and pictures, like mazes and jigsaw puzzles. They like to draw and design things, and enjoy films, slides, videos, diagrams, maps, charts. The daydreamers and those who may have strong opinions about such things as colors that go together, textures that are appropriate and pleasing and decorating are included in this intelligence. Pablo Picasso was strong in this intelligence.
Musical – Rhythmic Intelligence: The capacity to perceive, discriminate, transform, and express musical forms is most highly developed in musical performers, music aficionados, and music critics. Students with a high degree of musical intelligence learn through rhythm and melody, play a musical instrument, or May need music to study. They notice nonverbal sounds in the environment: the chirp of a cricket, rain on the roof, varying traffic patterns, and usually learn things more easily if sung, tapped out, or whistled. These people love music and rhythmic patterns and can often reproduce a melody or rhythmic pattern after hearing it only once. Various sounds, tones, and rhythms may have a visible effect on them (that is, you can see a change in facial expressions, body movement, or emotional responses). They enjoy singing and listening to a wide variety of music, and are often quite skilled at mimicking sounds, language accents, and others’ speech patterns, and recognizing different musical instruments in a composition. Paul McCartney is strong in this intelligence.
The capacity to use numbers effectively and to reason well. This intelligence is highly developed in mathematicians, tax accountants, statisticians, scientists, computer programmers, and logicians. Students with a high degree of this intelligence often reason things out logically and clearly; look for abstract patterns and relationships; frequently like brain teasers, logical puzzles, and strategy games. They also like to use computers and to classify and categorize. These people think conceptually and abstractly and are able to see patterns and relationships that others often miss. They like to experiment, solve puzzles and other problems, ask cosmic questions and think. They love the challenge of complex problems to solve and always have a logical rationale or argument for what they are doing or thinking. Albert Einstein was strong in this intelligence.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: Consists of expertise in using one’s whole body to express ideas and feelings, and facility in using ones hands to produce or transform things. A highly developed intelligence in actors, mimes, athletes, dancers, sculptors, mechanics, and surgeons. Students with a high degree of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence process knowledge through bodily sensations; move, twitch, tap, or fidget while sitting in a chair or at a desk and learn by touching, manipulating, and moving. They typically like role playing and creative movement and generally like physical games of all kinds and demonstrating how to do something. They communicate well through body language and other physical gestures. They can often perform a task only after seeing someone else do it. They find it difficult to sit still for a long time and are easily bored if they are not actively involved in what is going on around them. Michael Jordan is strong in this intelligence.
The ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. This Intelligence can include sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures, as well as the ability to respond effectively to such cues. Students with a high degree of i
nterpersonal intelligence understand and care about people; like to socialize; learn more easily by relating and cooperating and are good at teaching other students. These people learn through person-to-person interaction. They generally have lots of friends; show a great deal of empathy for other people and understanding of different points of view. They are skilled at drawing others out in a discussion, conflict resolution and mediation when people are in radical
opposition to each other. Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi were strong in this intelligence.
Self-knowledge and the ability to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge define this group. This is an intelligence which can include having an accurate picture of one’s strengths and limitations, awareness of one’s moods and motivations, and the capacity for self-discipline. Students with a high degree of this intelligence seem to be self-motivating; need their own quiet space; may march to the beat of a different drummer and tend to learn more easily with independent study, self-paced instruction, individualized projects and games.
These people like to work alone and sometimes shy away from others. They are self-reflective and self-aware and thus tend to be in tune with their inner feelings, values, beliefs, and thinking processes. They are frequently bearers of creative wisdom and insight, are highly intuitive, and are inwardly motivated rather than needing external rewards to keep them going. They are often strong-willed, self-confident, and definite, well-thought-out opinions on almost any issue (although they are sometimes off-the-wall). Other people will often come to them for advice and counsel, but others will sometimes view them as distant or weird. Emily Dickinson and Stephen King are examples of this intelligence.
Environmental knowledge and the ability to identify and categorize plants, animals and nature on the basis of that knowledge. The Naturalist Intelligence can include having an accurate picture of the ambient environment, awareness of the interrelationship of natural elements, and the capacity for self-analysis of these elements. It is found most highly developed in archeologists, animal handlers, animal trainers, veterinarians, biologists, racehorse jockeys, zoologists, environmentalists, wilderness guides and naturalists. Students who have a high degree of the naturalist intelligence seem to be nature-oriented, seek to be outdoors or in the elements and learn more easily with nature-related study and environmental projects and activities. They like to collect items from nature, study them, and group them. They tend to be aware of subtleties in appearance, texture, and sounds that those weaker in this intelligence may not grasp. Charles Darwin, Jacques Cousteau, and John James Audubon were strong in this intelligence.
One of the great promises of Multiple Intelligences theory in education is that it will help us to find individual pathways into and out of our students’ minds. Recent advances in educational psychology and research in applied MI theory offer educators a real possibility of developing the potential of all students. Both educators and students should derive from Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory that all people are different and learn differently, and that we should respect, value, and nurture that diversity.
Reference website for multiple intelligences links and activities:
Exploring Multiple Intelligences: New Dimensions of Learning
Multiple Intelligences Resources
Basic MI Theory
Multiple Intelligence Theory: Principles
Multiple Intelligences: Theory and Practice in the K-12 Class
Task Card Overview/Multiple Intelligences
Association for the Promotion and Advancement of Science Education activities website – http://discoverlearning.com/forensic/docs/index.html
Naturalist Intelligence – Sea World / Busch Gardens website for students