We often label people as ‘smart’ or ‘not smart’. While trying to assess a new person, we often ask: “is he or she smart?”. What if that question was pointless?
To find out why, take a moment to answer these questions.
Have you heard of anyone who:
- Is a top-shot in their profession, but can’t for their life figure how to use a new app on their phone?
- Can lecture you on many topics for hours but will get lost if you ask them to find their way in a new locality?
- Can do sums faster than a calculator but dreads the sight of a literature textbook?
- Takes no notes in class but has notebooks filled with mind-blowing art work?
- Is super popular and highly regarded by friends but is losing confidence due to low grades?
- Remembers a movie completely after just one view, but can’t recollect another text after countless reads?
- Will say the most amazing one-liners to close friends but turn mute in large groups?
- Can play any new musical instrument beautifully without any training?
- Is an amazing dancer and has an unreadable handwriting because, well, the words seem to dance on the paper?
- Can perfect the most tedious recipes but starts shivering in the chemistry lab?
Someone with no skills in mathematics but amazing at languages may be able to help scientists make advances in helping robots talk coherently. The guy next door who can’t be bothered with geography, but knows the city’s roads like the back of his hand, can help the city planners come up with time and cost saving routes for the new inter-state highway. A dancer with a talent for gripping facial expressions can train psychologists and diplomats in the subtleties of body language.
Perhaps now it is clear to you that people can be smarter in some ways and not in other. The question we must ask then, is:
“What are you smart at?”
Intelligence is not how much you can score in a test made for a limited curriculum devised around STEM or, for that matter, literature and humanities.
“Intelligence is the ability to find and solve problems and create products of value in one’s own culture.”
– Howard Gardener
Dr. Howard Gardener is none other than the psychologist who started a revolution in the world of education 30 years ago with his “Theory of Multiple Intelligences”. (click for an overview) Educators around the world have related to his ideas and found the need to rethink how lessons can be presented.
While Multiple Intelligences is gaining steady popularity and more ways of applying it in classrooms are being devised, there is massive confusion surrounding it. Even before Gardener proposed his theory, the term “learning styles” was in vogue among academicians. “Learning style” is a generic overview of how an individual likes to learn. A student may be called a “visual” learner because she understands better through diagrams or pictures. Another student may be termed an “impulsive” learner because he has been known to frequently react without any pondering. A third student can be labelled a “kinaesthetic” learner due to her tendency to drum her desk or walk up and down when trying to memorize something.
People often do the mistake of mixing-up learning styles with having a particular kind of intelligence. In our examples above, the first learner may prefer diagrams to equation proofs for understanding maths theorems, but prefer reading a story in a book rather than watching it in a movie. More importantly, in any case she might possess more “verbal-linguistic” intelligence as compared to “visual-spatial” intelligence. The tendency to prefer a learning activity to another, says nothing about intrinsic aptitude or talent. A student who prefers lessons to be delivered in songs, may not have any musical intelligence while another student who prefers physically exerting learning exercises may possess “logical-mathematical” intelligence and not “bodily-kinaesthetic” intelligence.
The concept of “learning styles” is valuable, because as we all know – one size doesn’t fit all. A standardized curriculum will always leave some students behind, who will perform better if the same material is expanded differently. However, it is important not to treat ‘learning styles’ as fixed labels or indicators of particular areas of aptitude. Learning styles change with context and different intelligences may emerge in the same individual in different scenarios.
One more misinterpretation of the Multiple Intelligence theory is the belief that individuals are intelligent in only some areas. To use an analogy, let’s say that inside our brains are many different processors. Each of these processors is capable of a specific function. These represent the different ‘intelligences’. The capacity or strength or each processor can vary – one may work at high-speed and handle tons of data, while the other may be sluggish. The processor also gets better with experience. However, all processors continue to function and have the capacity to turn out astounding performance given the right conditions. To sum it up, we all have the inbuilt capacity for each of Howard’s 8 (or more) intelligences, and given the right stimuli – any intelligence can be developed into its full potential.
In today’s age of commonplace technological miracles, human beings’ competitiveness depends on what they can do that machines cannot. Our children need a skill-set that supersedes the collective accomplishments possible through artificial intelligence. Given this state of affairs, it’s rather futile to school our young in a uniform, blanket curriculum, which has limited real-world utility. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences is more significant than ever in the present crossroad where education needs to make a shift towards creating more relevant, value-creating and competent minds. Let calculators do the adding up because they are better at it; but we need the right human insight to know what exactly needs adding up.
People’s needs differ, from one home to another, from one community to another and from one geography to another. It logically follows then, that the varying needs must be catered to accordingly. As educators, we empower the citizens of tomorrow, and if our efforts are focused on churning out identical mind-sets with identical capacities, we fall way short of meeting the mark. The traditional structures are backfiring in more than one way – capable students are underperforming, many a talents are getting nipped in the bud and there is an excess of redundant skills.
All humans are born unique for a reason – to be able to achieve unique feats. There is an ongoing, steady and silent movement that is preparing educators for a paradigm shift. We are moving towards a curriculum that not made for all, but re-made for each. A curriculum that takes shape from understanding what students can do rather than what they are obliged to do. When we trust that students are more than capable of doing wonders and nurture their inner drive – when we don’t burden students with our expectations, we see that students do more than we ever expected.
It is time to school students in how to think rather than what to think, and we have been successfully experimenting with creating thought-leaders. If all students were rightly informed and accustomed to think in a radically fluid manner, we would have more abundance and no scarcity. In the words of Dr. Howard Gardener himself:
“How can our knowledge, given the intelligences, help us learn to think like a historian, like a scientist, and so on? If we don’t change the way people think about those things, then school is a waste of time after elementary school.”
We hope that in the near future, millions will join our efforts and revolutionize education for the coming age. Our experiences in educating the young through EngCampus have taught us to value and cherish the diverse potentials that make each human being unique and irreplaceable. We have learnt that the ideal instruction takes into account every individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and personality traits. We have demonstrated that there are several ways to deliver each lesson, and with each delivery comes deeper understanding. We have seen that minds are made for learning, and labels and rigid parameters hinder the natural course of curiosity.
Stay tuned for more articles about the unending process of learning.
If we have piqued your curiosity and you would want to know more about EngCampus or inquire about how to bring EngCampus to your school, call us at +91 99807 85244 or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. EngCampus is a managed service offered by Triway which enables schools to elevate linguistic intelligence and overall aptitude in students.