ISSUE Did you know that every child has multiple intelligences? If parents and teachers recognised this, it could help simplify the learning process
“How many times have I explained it to you? Don't you listen at all?” Ever experienced this frustration when your child or student doesn't assimilate what you are teaching him? Well, actually, the fault might lie in the teaching approach, rather than in the child. To understand this, it is crucial to understand the theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) put forward by Howard Gardner, an American developmental psychologist, after extensive brain research, interviews and tests on hundreds of individuals. The MI approach could help every child maximise his achievement, even those with disabilities.
The fact is intelligence is not a general intellectual commodity measurable only in a particular way. “It is not that a child has low or high IQ; just that he has a particular type of IQ,” elaborates Usha Ramakrishnan, chairperson, Vidya Sagar, which is doing pioneering work in using MI in inclusive education, and has organisational links with the Multiple Intelligences Institute, Boston.
Eight intelligence types
Each of us is different in our receptiveness to information, understanding and assimilation of knowledge, depending on the type of intelligence we have; Gardner lists eight intelligence types. In some kids, the use of pictures and diagrams facilitates learning, while repeated verbal communication may not be of any use. In others, the use of interpersonal modes of learning such as discussions and group work helps. “A good teacher, with a little planning, can incorporate all the eight approaches, even within a 30-40 minute teaching session,” says Usha.
For instance, a teacher can appeal to a child's linguistic intelligence by using new words, interesting phrases, quotes, and through oral and written assignments; to logical intelligence through puzzles, organising and sequencing data, making predictions using theories and computer programmes; to musical intelligence by speaking with different intonations, humming a melody and tapping the time; to bodily-kinesthetic intelligence through role-play and building models; to spatial intelligence by using visual metaphors, graphs, maps, diagrams and pictures; to interpersonal intelligence through group projects, discussions and club activity; to intrapersonal intelligence by encouraging reflection and through analogies; and to naturalistic intelligence through field trips that hone observation skills and journals.
Different parts of the brain control different functions and may have different levels of development. “So, even in children with intellectual disability, while so much has been lost, so much ability is still intact and waiting to be tapped,” says V. Murugan, Senior Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Fortis Malar Hospital. The focus should be on what a child can do, rather than what he can't.
As Howard Gardner puts it, ‘It is not how smart you are, it is how you are smart.' For instance, seven-year-old A. Vishal is autistic and unable to speak, but when he is given a computer and a keyboard, he converses prolifically and perceptively. “He found writing difficult, but took to keying in various subjects on the computer easily. For other kids, a chart and crayons might work. Try all the ways; the child might be yearning for your understanding,” says Vishal's mother, Vidya Anand. Incidentally, Vishal is now creating gaming software focussing on moral values, among other things!
The gift of self-esteem
How does one understand a child's intelligence type? For parents, the crucial thing to do is to observe the child. “If you watch, you will find that the child's reflexes are faster when it comes to some activities rather than others. The child would be enjoying the activity he is engaged in,” emphasises Usha.
Find out what the child likes doing and what comes easily to him. “Most often, it coincides. Children automatically veer towards what they like and what they are good at,” says Usha. At the same time, do not label kids. Multiple intelligences are not an either/or occurrence; each child has a varying degree of these intelligences.
It makes sense to invest time and effort and engage the child in activities which stimulate the intelligences that are strongest. If these intelligences are nurtured and strengthened, the result could be a successful career or an engrossing hobby. Most important, it can build in the child a reservoir of self-esteem, even if his career path turns out to be different. If a child does what he is good at it enhances his self-esteem, and building up a child's self-esteem is the gift of a lifetime.