My Multiple Intelligences
Through his life experiences and research, Dr. Howard Gardner developed a theory of eight multiple intelligences, stating that no one perceives the world nor learns in the same way. Each person exhibits unique learning styles, obtains knowledge, and contributes to the world in his or her own way. Zachary Oliver quotes Gardner, “… we tend to specialize in ways particular to our individual personality and the influence of our environments and communities … this theory also offers us the freedom to switch specializations through the changing needs of our culture and environment” (9). I find Gardner’s theory intriguing, realizing that a blend of multiple intelligences have been an integral part of my education and every-day-life since childhood, in spite of being unaware of its reality.
Of Gardner’s eight intelligences, I bounce most between interpersonal and intrapersonal, though I believe my interpersonal side was learned over time. According to Smith, “ is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others” (Smith). Working well with others was a strong strength of mine, likely a benefit from being the youngest in my family. I learned at a young age how to mediate and work out disagreements or misunderstandings with my older siblings. At school, I easily made new friends, and could sense when they needed encouragement or a listening ear. I didn’t always give wise advice as a child, but my friends appreciated being cared for. Growing into adulthood, I used interpersonal skills working as a preschool teacher, teacher’s aide, and home school mom. My ever-listening ear sought to understand and anticipate others’ needs.
Smith also believes, “ entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner’s view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives” (Smith). I understood my emotions and motivations from a very young age, and believe that intrapersonal is my natural, default intelligence. Through life, I learned how to read people well enough to relate with them; not as a natural response, but a deep-seated need to understand and be understood. If no one understood my point of view, I’d leave the conversation thinking how I could explain myself better, sometimes drafting a letter as a guide. I’d agonize whether I would have another chance to explain, and do everything in my power to make another explanation happen. Being an intrapersonal student, I rarely spoke up in class, and made sure I understood what my own questions meant, before asking. More than a fear of being incorrect, I desired first to comprehend anything that would come out of my mouth. I listened and thought carefully before speaking, which caused me to be a slow student. I had the right answer, but usually a minute behind everyone else. Without realizing it, my interpersonal and intrapersonal traits worked together to understand myself and solve life’s dilemma’s. Gardner believes, “Interpersonal intelligence allows one to understand and work with others. Intrapersonal intelligence allows one to understand and work with oneself. In the individual's sense of self, one encounters a melding of interpersonal and intrapersonal components” (23).
Intrapersonal and interpersonal have conflicted in the past (and still do) when in social settings. I try to make rounds to everyone, simply because I want them to feel welcome. Everyone seems fooled that I’m an extrovert, but I’m actually a friendly introvert.
As a child, I pondered family stories and wondered what was fact or exaggeration. I didn’t contribute much during discussions and conversations, since I was thinking and seeking meaning. I played for hours with my dolls or Barbie’s, re-enacting various topics and issues my little mind pondered. I would often come to a solution or conclusion, based on my doll and house playing. Somehow, speaking things out loud- through doll playing- helped process my thoughts and come to a conclusion. I am still a deep thinker, though no longer need to speak my mind out loud. Instead, I write my thoughts down and make organized lists. Writing everything out to where I can see and consider all options or possibilities, helps process my thoughts and be more concise in decision-making. Otherwise, I’d likely continue turning thoughts over and over in my head, never coming to a final decision or conclusion.
An area my intrapersonal intelligence has always shown up, is when experiencing difficulty. I am able to coherently think through the steps needed for a solution. I create and consider the best plan possible toward academic success, for example. Following the carefully crafted plan, I often discover my plans much too detailed, requiring flexibility. I naturally search inward for reasons or hidden meanings within every-day life, finishing what I begin, and tying loose ends. One might be tempted to think that I’ve been a perfect student through my life, with being so detailed and thoughtful.
In elementary school, I was an average student in all subjects, and far from "scholarly”. Like most children, I compared my work with friends, and at times concluded that I wasn’t very
smart. Davis, Christodoulou, Seider and Gardner say, “According to Gardner’s analysis, only two intelligences—linguistic and logical mathematical—have been valued and tested for in modern secular schools; it is useful to think of that language-logic combination as “academic” or “scholarly intelligence” (2). Like most others, my education focused on two intelligences, and likely contributed to my thinking I wasn’t smart as a child. In reality, I had six other potential intelligences besides linguistic or logical mathematical. I shouldn’t have felt such pressure to perform, and enjoyed the journey instead- including subjects I didn’t especially like. What was the rush? I would have eventually learned the material.
Math didn’t make sense to me in school, and I struggled to search for meaning within the riddle nonsense story problems. My childish brain seemed incapable of thinking very rationally, so panic took over. I’d melt-down during homework, and hope the teacher wouldn’t ask me any questions in front of the class. I thought myself dense in school- simply because of my poor mathematical performance. Oliver says that math tests have typically been used to measure intelligence. “The expectation is that we, if we are really smart, should be able to think through a variety of data using the same complex problems into simpler forms.” (123). My patient mother spent every evening tutoring me, and I eventually grasped the concepts- at a slower rate than everyone else, of course.
Able to focus more analytically as an adult, I better understand math’s rational meaning and that it isn’t my enemy after all. My intrapersonal side shows up daily as a non-traditional-student, considering meaning behind math concepts and getting to the bottom of reasoning. Based on my own experience, it is possible to learn a foreign intelligence, even at a snail’s pace.
My natural successes in school flowed from my intrapersonal intelligence; a significant one being musical intelligence. Interestingly, Gardner believes, “Since this intelligence [Intrapersonal] is the most private, it requires evidence from language, music, or some other more expressive form of intelligence if the observer is to detect it at work” (21-22). All through my life, I’ve exhibited skills and experiences reflective of my intrapersonal intelligence.
I would listen for stories within songs, and memorize the ones I liked best. I could pick out harmony within songs, knowing what I was listening for. Most of my friends couldn’t understand how I knew what to sing, and I could not explain myself. I sometimes fibbed I knew the harmony because of reading musical notes. In reality, I naturally knew what to sing, with or without seeing musical notes. My sister, mom, and I sang songs in church and school, and played the piano. Life revolved around music, with daily practicing or listening. I often searched for answers and meaning within my musical experiences.
Years later, I still appreciate music and find that it helps me focus on difficult school material or other academic projects. My motivation and concentration become enhanced, though I’d rather be singing and playing music than work on difficult assignments. Oliver states that music often helps us back into a situation that triggers boredom. “Music offers us respite, a safe place to escape to until we can get a grip, click back into reality, and get traction in a big and complex world.” (74). Music calms my inner spirit, keeps my mind from panicking, and allows me to absorb details I would otherwise find overwhelming or too challenging.
Linguistics was another one of my strengths as a child, and still is. Oliver quotes Gardner, “Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn
languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals” (110). In school, I absolutely loved literature- especially when the teacher would read out loud. Listening to stories enabled me to ponder details, and to contemplate what might happen next. I thoughtfully applied lessons from literature, to my own life, constantly trying to better myself. If the teacher read a story about giving to the poor, for example, I’d consider how to do the same.
Oliver believes, “When a student is truly interested in the subject [linguistic learning], the time that we have with a true and recognized master of the field is filled with profound realization. Often, the feelings we experience during our direct interactions with these experts in the field help us to define a commitment for our own academic journey” (111). I’m not saying that all my teachers and pen pals were experts, but my linguistic learning experience was very positive. I cannot think of a time I wasn’t reading or writing. My friends enjoyed receiving my faithful letters, and I also wrote childish stories as gifts to those interested. I wasn’t a naturally good speller, but had an imagination that ran wild. It wasn’t until closer to high school that my spelling abilities finally caught up with my writing skills and imagination.
My naturalist intelligence also flows from my intrapersonal traits. I find peace and quiet in nature, after a crazy, long day. As a child, I would enjoy playing among my grandparents trees, climbing them to find a quiet writing spot. At school, I caught butterflies and sat under shade trees to study nature. I found the world around me quite inspiring, and still do. According to Oliver, “The outside world offers us a complex and beautiful texture full of movement and stimulus. It has the ability to refresh a tired mind … We are built with the need for this kind of stimulation.” (92). Nature’s raw beauty has a therapeutic effect on my inner being. Absorbing the constant roar of a waterfall or ocean waves, serve as natural music that erases all thoughts from my mind. Nature is like an eraser to my chalkboard mind, so I can begin the intrapersonal thinking process all over again.
My multiple intelligences have worked together through the years, forming me into the person I am today. While my intrapersonal side may be private for others to immediately recognize, it’s at the root of my interpersonal, musical, linguistic, and natural intelligences. Yes- it’s even at the root of the mathematical intelligence I’m slowly learning. Re-discovering my strengths, pin-pointing weaknesses, and better understanding myself, is an empowering experience. Freedom abounds in being who I was born to be.
Davis, Katie, Joanna Christodoulou, Scott Seider, and Howard Gardner. “The Theory of Multiple
Intelligences.” Howard Gardner, Hobbes Professor of Cognition and Education: Harvard
Graduate School of Education. Harvard University.
n.d., Web. 3 Oct. 2015.
Gardner, Howard. “In a Nutshell”, The First Chapter of Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons.
Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education: Harvard Graduate School of Education. n.d.
Web. 3 Oct. 2015.
Oliver, Zachary M. Falling but Fulfilled: Reflections on Multiple Intelligence. Honolulu:
Servant Books and Publications, 2010. Print.
Smith, Mark K. ‘”Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences.” The Encyclopedia of Informal
Education. (2002, 2008): Web. 3 Oct. 2015.