Intelligence is often referred to as being synonymous with someone’s IQ, academic performance, SAT scores, or some combination of the above. Within psychology, there are several different theories about what constitutes intelligence and whether there are types of smarts not measured by traditional tests. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is a particularly compelling way of describing talents and strengths.

In a seminal book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner described a model of intelligence that goes beyond the abilities measured in standardized tests. His original theory included seven intelligences – linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, intrapersonal, and interpersonal – and he has since said that there may be even more types. For example, interpersonal intelligence includes sensitivity to others’ moods, temperaments, and motivations, and the ability to interact effectively with others.  Spatial intelligence refers to the ability to conceptualize and manipulate spatial arrays, such as an architect or a pilot might do. Gardner explained that we all have a range of strengths and weaknesses across these domains, and we can have high intelligences in some areas but not others.

This theory has several implications for educators. Gardner recommends individualizing teaching as much as possible rather than using a “one size fits all” approach. He suggests that teachers learn as much as possible about each student in order to teach in ways that students can effectively learn. Educators can also teach new material in several different ways, such as stories, artwork, diagrams, role plays etc.

For parents, this theory can also provide a language to support children who are intelligent in ways not measured by standardized school assessments. Parents can help children identify which types of intelligences they are stronger and weaker in. For example, one child may possess strong linguistic intelligence and lower bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, while another may display strong interpersonal intelligence and lower logical-mathematical intelligence. By broadening what it means to be “smart” and “intelligent,” parents can help build self-esteem and a healthy self-concept.

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