Teaching today at any level, especially with adults, requires knowledge of the seven “intelligences” or learning styles developed by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner. His work has had as profound an impact on contemporary education as the work of Abraham Maslow had on understanding human needs in a society.
As Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard, Dr. Gardner identified seven ways in which students learn: linguistic intelligence (words), logical-mathematical intelligence (numbers and logic), musical intelligence (sound and rhythm), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (movement), spatial intelligence (visual), interpersonal intelligence (interaction with others) and intrapersonal intelligence (self understanding). Let’s look at each of these intelligences and how to approach them in a lesson plan.
The first step is to set up a plan according to a three-part framework sometimes known as the components of a lesson. These meta questions guide how to employ the intelligences, or learning styles, for successful instruction. These three parts are:
• What? (The information [subject, data] you teach)
• So What? (How does this relate to life? Why should a student care?)
• Now What? (How will life be different? What changes?)
Once the meta questions are answered, the learning intelligences can be applied. Here are some examples for each of the seven styles that Gardner has identified.
Linguistic (Word): These students are highly verbal and learn through words. They love to read and write and do well in traditional lecture settings or reading textbooks. Have them take lots of notes and write essays.
Logical – Mathematical (Numbers): This style is also known as “cognitive-rational.” Students good at logic and math learn best when working with numbers and symbols. They see patterns easily and put together chains of ideas. In fact, there was even a 2005-2011 television showed called “Numb3rs,” in which an FBI agent relied on his mathematical genius brother to analyze data gathered in investigations and suggest mathematical approaches to capture criminals.
Spatial (Visual): Students with spatial intelligence as their primary style are picture people. They learn through visualizing or picturing concepts, thinking in patterns, colors and shapes. To capitalize on this learning style, give these students a whiteboard and some markers, or paper and drawing pencils to get the lesson. Have them diagram sentences or sketch out plotlines in novels.
Bodily-Kinesthetic (Movement): These are the people who have to touch something in order to understand it. In younger grades, “kinesthetic” learners will do well if their bodies are engaged, like lying on a carpet to create geometric shapes or stringing beads on a wire.
Musical (Rhythmic): Students with musical or rhythmic intelligences learns through melody, rhythm, tone and pitch. They think in lyrics and melody and relate sounds to emotions. The children’s song “ABC” is a classic example of a musical lesson.
Interpersonal (Collaborative): Students with strong interpersonal intelligence are generally the extroverts in class. They learn best through working with others and value cooperation and collaboration. They find it easier to understands other people’s intentions, motivations and desires. Put these students to work in teams on projects and they will learn quickly.
Intrapersonal (Self-aware): Intrapersonal students may be seen as introverts or even “loners,” but this may not be a negative trait provided that they develop some social skills. These students need time to process information, and likely will not do well on a “pop quiz” if they haven’t had sufficient time to do their homework. However, they will relish a deep research project and perform well in such a circumstance.
Since Gardner’s original research, another learning style was identified, naturalistic intelligence. Recognized since 1999, naturalistic learners can easily identify patterns and classify the world around them. They have an innate ability to evaluate information sources and would do well if asked to classify references or create standards.
Finally, research into emotional intelligence over the past 25 years has discovered that an intuitive capacity that is not cognitive underlies all of these learning styles. Students with strong emotional intelligence can be tremendous classroom assets as “bridges” among students with varying cognitive learning styles. They understand and express feelings well, and manage their emotions appropriately. Additionally, they accurately sense other people’s feelings and see issues from their perspective. Being open to friendship, they can enable effective classroom relationships by sense the emotional tone of the group. In order to respect and manage this underlying learning style, teachers should respect the enormous power of emotions and allow space for appropriate emotional expression in the classroom.
By understanding their students’ ways of learning, teachers can work more effectively in any class setting.