Encouraging multiple intelligences

Farah, the schools star athlete was devastated. This class VIII student had been assessed a below-average performer and placed on academic probation. She had been barred from sports and directed to dedicate all her time to the pursuit of academic excellence. She felt inadequate for failing to measure up to her schools perception of intelligence.

Challenging conventional wisdom in measuring intelligence quotients, Dr. Howard Gardner, the renowned psychologist and educationist, demonst-rated that intelligence goes far beyond the knack for amassing knowledge. It is in fact the ability to competently adapt to everyday challenges that life offers. After years of groundbreaking research he compounded the theory of multiple intelligences which proposes that human beings possess a range of ‘intelligences in varying degrees and combinations. In his classic work Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), now in its tenth edition, Gardner has identified eight core intelligences.

Kinesthetic. Sportspersons like Farah possess this intelligence, which involves the use of ‘muscle memory. They will learn insuffi-ciently in closed classroom environments.

Linguistic. The ability to use language intelligently due to the high verbal recall and excellent hold on structure and syntax.

Mathematical-Logical. People endowed with this intelligence are naturally good at logic, reasoning and recognising patterns and numbers.

Spatial. Good judgement of space enables the ‘spatial-inclined, to visualise and think in pictures and images. The renowned painter Pablo Picasso was tested dyslexic but his paintings brilliantly demonstrate his spatial intelligence.

Musical. The ability to respond instinctively to music, sound and rhythm. The famous pianist and composer Elton John started playing the piano at age four and at age 11, he was admitted into the Royal Academy of Music, London on a music scholarship.

Interpersonal. Those gifted with this intelligence empathise effortlessly and communicate effectively. Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa were blessed with this rare quality and became global changemakers.

Intrapersonal. People gifted with this intelligence have a vast inner world. They are deeply aware of themselves and like to remain ‘quietly knowledgeable. Once, a young mother brought her five-year-old child, whom she believed to be dull, to my reading centre. On his first day at the centre, Aman sat on the threshold refusing to enter. The next time when I started reading a happy story, he crossed the threshold and stepped inside. With every page that flipped and every smile that lit up childrens faces, he took a small step towards the group. I looked up as I read the last line and saw the boy sitting in the group. He was a smart but shy child who would intent-ionally underperform if he sensed he was under scrutiny.

Naturalistic. This intelligence enables those gifted with it to instinctively interact with nature. They can discern patterns in nature and are acutely sensitive to all natural creatures. Reuben David who conceptualised the Kankaria Zoo in Ahmedabad was abundantly endowed with this intelligence that earned him the prized Padma Shree award.

A growing number of educators have begun to acknowledge the underlying message in Gardners theory — that forcing children through a narrowly defined framework of education restricts their imagination and intellectual growth. Consequently, progressive schools especially in the United States, have incorporated Gardners theory into their curriculums and their pedagogy resonates his fundamental idea that every human being has at least one superseding intelligence that deserves encouragement and nurturance. Through innovative practices, inspired by his theory of multiple intelligences, these schools have succeeded in enabling children to learn deeply and conceptually. Here, traditional subjects such as languages, science, math and social sciences are taught alongside creative subjects such as gardening, architecture, drama, sports and music. Pod and flow classes are offered to students where they spend considerable time developing their knowledge in subjects of their interest, thus engaging in challenges that are mentally stimulating and enriching.

In my fourteen years of teaching experience I have observed that childrens minds are fresh and original and if given the freedom, they will brilliantly carve out their special niches themselves. But we see a gradual stifling of creativity and inherent talent due to regimented environments that are imposed upon children. Admittedly theres a need to mark boundaries but ample freedom for children to exercise choice and careful moulding of their dominant intelligence, is the key to building futuristic citizens of the world. I would like to conclude with a quote by Albert Einstein who had been categorised a slow and unintelligent child. It is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom

(Atula Ahuja is the founder-director of Reading Rainbow, Ahmedabad and a teacher-counselor at the Woodstock School, Mussoorie)

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