Understanding Your Student's Learning Style: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

learning styles visualized in pie chart

All children have unique learning styles. Students gain strong benefits when their teachers and Learning Coaches recognize their strengths and weaknesses as learners. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience at Harvard, developed one theory in 1983. Gardner defines “intelligence” not as an IQ but, rather, as the skills that enable anyone to gain new knowledge and solve problems.

Gardner proposed that there are several different types of intelligences, or learning styles.

  1. Verbal-Linguistic (Word Smart) – People who possess this learning style learn best through reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Verbal students absorb information by engaging with reading materials and by discussing and debating ideas.
  2. Logical-Mathematical (Logic Smart) – Those who exhibit this type of intelligence learn by classifying, categorizing, and thinking abstractly about patterns, relationships, and numbers.
  3. Visual-Spatial (Picture Smart) – These people learn best by drawing or visualizing things using the mind’s eye. Visual people learn the most from pictures, diagrams, and other visual aids.
  4. Auditory-Musical (Music Smart) – Students who are music smart learn using rhythm or melody, especially by singing or listening to music.
  5. Bodily-Kinesthetic (Body Smart) – Body-smart individuals learn best through touch and movement. These people are best at processing information through the body. Sometimes kinesthetic learners work best standing up and moving rather than sitting still.
  6. Interpersonal (People Smart) – Those who are people smart learn through relating to others by sharing, comparing, and cooperating. Interpersonal learners can make excellent group leaders and team players.
  7. Intrapersonal (Self Smart) – Intrapersonal-intelligent people learn best by working alone and setting individual goals. Intrapersonal learners are not necessarily shy; they are independent and organized.
  8. Naturalistic (Nature Smart) – Naturalistics learn by working with nature. Naturalistic students enjoy learning about living things and natural events. They may excel in the sciences and be very passionate about environmental issues.

Combinations of the different types of intelligence abound. A hiker fascinated by birdsongs might have strong auditory-musical and naturalistic intelligences, supplemented by bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. The neighbor skilled in solving puzzles and discerning patterns may combine logical-mathematical intelligence with visual-spatial intelligence.

All of these learning styles indicate different ways of interacting with the world. Everyone has some degree of each, but each person favors certain learning styles. This is significant because when your child prefers one learning style over another, it affects his or her success.

Imagine that your child is tackling a written essay or report. Have him or her consider different methods by taking advantage of his or her strongest learning style:

Logical-Mathematical – Use a graphic organizer such as a web or story map to categorize and organize thoughts before writing. An outline is a written version of a graphic organizer.

Visual-Spatial – Draw or design the subject of the piece, and then write or create the written draft. Details in the drawing will lead to details in the writing.

Auditory-Musical – Listen to background music to block out other, distracting sounds. Hum. Chant. I have a sneaking suspicion that Dr. Seuss, with his talent for rhythm and meter and rhyme, was an auditory learner.

Finding, recognizing, and valuing different combinations of multiple intelligences is a key to applying these skills effectively. Sometimes an intrapersonal learner and an interpersonal learner working together will be in conflict. But when both step back and consider their differing outlooks, they may find that they’re both headed for the same result; they’re just taking different paths to arrive at the goal. After graduation, professionals such as these two learners might team up to create or advance a new, successful idea!

If you want to learn more about your child’s learning preferences, have him or her take this online learning style test. Armed with the results of the test, sit down with your student and discuss some new study tactics that take advantage of his or her strengths. Note, however, that scores in multiple intelligences are fluid; they change and grow over a lifetime of living and learning. None are carved in stone.

What are some good tips for making the most of your student’s or your own learning style?

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