I was recently interviewed about multiple intelligences by French publication Magazine Les Plumes.
I answer six questions below concerning the nature of intelligence with special attention to implications for children.
The interview appeared in the June 2019, No. 44 edition of the magazine.
1) How do you define intelligence? Is it innate (genetic) or acquired (socio-cultural environment)? How is it different from a talent?
An intelligence is the ability to make products or solve problems that are valued in one’s cultural setting. I believe that human beings have a small number of relatively independent intelligences, which I call the multiple intelligences. Standard tests of intelligence typically probe linguistic and logical intelligences, but do not probe the other intelligences that I have identified: musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.
Each of these intelligences has a genetic component, but each can and is enhanced by opportunities to practice the exercise of that intelligence.
You can call all of these capacities “talents” or all of them “intelligences.” I object to picking one or two of them out, calling them “intelligences,” and down-grading or marginalizing the others by calling them (mere) “talents.”
2) Does a person have only one dominant intelligence? Can a person's intelligence profile be changed during life (childhood or adulthood)? (Is it possible to improve or diversify one's intelligence?)
Absent gross injury, we each have the full component of intelligences, though we differ in which one(s) are strong, or not strong, at a particular time. Our profiles can and are changed continually throughout life. Practice or exercise increases an intelligence; disuse or misuse decreases the intelligence. If one wants to enhance an intelligence, it is best to live in a society where there are good teachers and teaching methods, many opportunities to practice, and various kinds of prosthetics, which can certainly include all kinds of technological aids.
3) More and more children are tested for IQ when intellectual precocity is suspected. However you are opposed to these tests. Why?
I am not opposed to tests per se. Tests need to be used sparingly and to be interpreted intelligently. If an individual is really intelligent in an area—be it language, music, or the understanding of other persons—there is no need to test them.
IQ tests are best suited to determine who will be successful in a certain kind of educational environment—that is why and how they were created in Paris by Alfred Binet over a century ago. But as the nature of schooling changes, and as the skills needed for success in society also evolve, these tests need to change—or they will become increasingly anachronistic.
4) What would you recommend to parents who want to discover the intellectual profile of their child?
I recommend taking the child to a children’s museum, or some other kind of rich environment (like a new city, or a farm, or the seashore). Observe what interests the child, how he or she interacts with materials, what they return to and what they ignore, and especially which materials they interact with, over time, in an increasingly sophisticated way.
Of course, this is easier to do if you have seen and observed lots of children. And so it’s good to have someone who teaches children of that age; such an individual can help you to distinguished between behavior that is to be expected from a child of that age and experience and behavior that is extraordinary for a child of that age and experience. But it is also important to deserve change over time: two youngsters can look equally intelligence at Time 1; but at Time 2 or Time 3, there can be quite a difference—one child shoots ahead because he or she is more intelligent in that sphere. Yo-Yo Ma could not play the cello at age 3; but he certainly learned more quickly than most other three-year-olds!
5) It is increasingly common to be willing to adapt the way of teaching according to the learning profile (auditory, visual or kinesthetic) of the child. Do you think it is relevant? What is the difference between the learning profile and the intelligence profile when it comes to teaching?
It certainly makes sense to have more than one way of teaching any topic or skill. But I do not agree that the teaching should be done by varying the sensory modality; rather it should be done in terms of the intelligences that the child has exhibited. There is no secret formula for determine the best way(s) to teach a child; one has to experiment with various “entry points.” And often the child can tell you how he or she learns best, which approaches work, and which ones don’t work. Of course, motivation can help a great deal, and the effective parent or teacher attends to what experiences excite and energize the learner and which ones alienate them.
6) How can a better understanding of multiple intelligences and a better knowledge of each child’s intelligence profile facilitate learning? When one wants to facilitate learning, do you believe that teaching should only take into account the child’s intelligence profile or that teaching should call upon all different intelligences even if they are not the child’s profile?
That’s a good question. Optimally, a child should be able to learn in a number of ways, drawing on the several intelligences. And if a child is learning well, we should celebrate that fact and just encourage the child to continue.
The challenge arises when the child is not learning well. That’s the time to experiment with different “entry points” and different ways of continuing the lesson—until one hits upon the ways that are effective. And as mentioned, the child can often help by indicating what works and why. Almost all children want to learn. It‘s up to those in their environment to help the child figure out what works for him or her and to remain in regular dialogue with the child—until such time as the child can take charge of his or her own learning. At this point, the most important educational goal has been reached—the child is now a lifelong learner!