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Amy Mintz: Using Multiple Intelligences Theory to Understand Your "Superpowers"

Multiple Intelligences: Understanding Your "Superpowers"

Amy Mintz

In today’s educational landscape, it is common for many students to experience anxiety. Young people today are busy, with many competing demands and expectations. Yet a large part of the pressure they feel comes from a source that is supposed to reward them for content mastery: standardized testing. Measures like the SAT and state-mandated assessments have resulted in increasingly high levels of stress as young people await numeric scores deemed to be reflections of their aptitude, even though these types of tests are very limited measures of overall intelligence.

How can re-calibrating the conversation empower students to have better self-esteem and an enhanced understanding of their abilities and those of others?

As a nonprofit founder and an educator, I have worked to help students reconsider the narrow meaning of intelligence we see espoused in many schools, and I have used the theory of multiple intelligences to do so. The mission of my 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Student Body of America Association, is to support young people through education, and in doing so, our programs have implemented the theory of multiple intelligences in workshops, educational materials, curricula, and more. The impact it has had on our students has been striking.

As shared by one of our young program participants, “Learning about multiple intelligences has taught me there are many layers to everyone. I was able to learn more about the different qualities that make me who I am. I feel much more confident and sure of myself knowing my strengths.

Our research further shows that youth participants who attended a two-day workshop to learn about multiple intelligences, and then completed a survey provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, showed an average 10 percent improvement in their self-esteem. The most significant gains were evident when youth were asked if they "take a positive attitude towards [themselves]." Survey data showed a 20 percent increase.

Based on these results, I recognized the power that MI had to transform young people’s perceptions. As a result, Dr. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences provides the framework for the MI9 Teama book I wrote to empower youth to recognize their unique skills and special talents and to apply their strengths to reach their full potential.

This book is about a group of nine fictional superheroes, each of whom is an expert in a particular intelligence. For example, Hoku, the superhero who symbolizes bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, is a superb athlete and highly trained in martial arts. And while Hoku’s expertise came quite naturally, some of the other heroes had to work hard at the intelligence they now represent. Yin, once socially isolated and lonely, worked very hard to overcome her inhibiting shyness and now represents interpersonal intelligence.

While the MI9 Team members have superpowers, as all superheroes do, what is most significant is the fact that these characters possess qualities that each and every one of us can exhibit as well. In addition to a particular component of MI theory (e.g. musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, naturalist intelligence), the MI9 Team superheroes each embody two other unique qualities—a specific positive character trait (such as leadership, tenacity, determination, etc.) and a social cause they are passionate about. For instance, Sphinx, the leader of the team, fittingly epitomizes leadership. Her social cause is gender equality, and she opened a school for girls in Concordia, the impoverished land where she grew up and where gender discrimination prevents most girls from getting an education. In contrast, her fellow superhero Pierre grew up surrounded by prosperity and high expectations, but he had an apathetic family who turned a blind eye to his struggles with depression. After running away and a bout of homelessness, he ultimately comes into his own as a member of the MI9 Team and champions empathy, which he lacked as a youth. His social issue, also influenced by his personal experiences, is mental disorders.

I have shared the MI9 team with many of the young people with whom I work. When asked about whether they connect to anyone in the story, students typically identify the superheroes who represent the intelligences they feel are their strongest. These young people also express their aspirations to be more like a superhero who is skilled in an intelligence that they want to improve. One girl, who wants to be an engineer but has a hard time at school with math and science, finds that her favorite character is Athena, who represents logical-mathematical intelligence. This student has recently joined the STEM club at her school in hopes of improving her skills. With the MI9 superheroes as strong role models, we can help students remember that they each possess unique talents and that they should always do the right thing.

As young people enter adolescence, they look increasingly beyond their parents, at their peers and the media, for role models who may influence their choices, goals and behavior. In helping youth to avoid negative role models, Common Sense Media suggests helping young people “choose positive role models who embody the values you want to pass down.” The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry agrees that youth should choose positive role models by identifying qualities they admire; and the MI9 Team provides an array of qualities so there’s something that everyone can relate to, whether by intelligence, character trait, or social cause.

In summary, I have found that the multiple intelligences are a tool useful to improving youth self-esteem, whether taught academically or in the context of a fantasy world. MI is a framework with wide applicability; not only does it help young people understand themselves better, but it can also be instrumental in considering potential college majors, career paths, or volunteer opportunities. MI ultimately inspires mutual respect as students learn to appreciate the diverse abilities that they and their peers possess.

Amy Mintz is President of Student Body of America Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization she founded in 2011 to support the youth and education. She began working on the MI9 Team series in 2013, inspired by her experiences growing up in different countries around the world and years of experience educating the youth. The MI9 Team projects include a series of books, graphic novels, and animated film.

Mozart, Multiple Intelligences, and the Vienna Method

Musicians utilize far more than just musical intelligence in their daily practice and performance. As Joshua Lange of Vienna Virtuoso explains in the following article (which originally appeared in the ASCD Multiple Intelligences Network Newsletter), MI theory has strong implications for the overall value of music education and MI informed pedagogy can create more skilled and developed performers.


Mozart, Multiple Intelligences, and the Vienna Method

By Joshua Lange

 Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, and many other masters studied and worked in Vienna, and the city still today boasts many of the best music tutors in the World. On the other side of the globe, in his work on prodigies and savants, Harvard Professor of Education Dr. Howard Gardner covered Mozart’s 'musical intelligence' and showed how talent development mixes with genius through context and culture. I show here how Vienna Virtuoso, the new and official online classical music academy of Vienna, is turning the old school of identifying musical genius locally into the new school of  creating musical genius globally through Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.

In Gardner’s well-established work in neuropsychology, he found not a single, general intelligence, but several ‘brain potentials’ that could be verified. He showed us how creation at higher levels of human knowledge - such as orchestral composition - require a combination of ‘intelligences.’ Gardner stresses to educators that ‘an intelligence never works in isolation,’ and although he has repeatedly warned about the profiling of students as ‘musically intelligent,’ he himself characterizes the ‘orchestra violin player’ as a striking example of how Multiple Intelligences are combined on stage and in practice.

Gardner goes further in his conception of recognizing individual talent in music, suggesting that bodily-kinesthetic intelligence can be observed in how the player interacts with the physical form of the instrument and presents himself while playing; visual intelligence observed in sight-reading, the ability to present oneself with style and elegance, and the composition of music; logical-mathematical intelligence observed in the coordination of time and symbol in the thousands; interpersonal intelligence observed in the constant communication across the orchestra or ensemble; and intrapersonal intelligence observed in the discipline to follow something through and the self-confidence to perform publicly.

At Vienna Virtuoso, we believe that using MI Theory with learning management software and video-enabled tutoring can advance a music student’s skills exponentially. Our online program in Vienna makes the practice process faster, more convenient, and global, while also collecting data about MI in action and using it to develop talent. The tutor reviews short video practices, looking for improvements on several areas of ‘intelligence’ that relate to the pupil’s self-defined goals. For example, if the pupil is on a concert musician track and already has strong musical intelligence (aka ‘talent’), more attention will be given in feedback sessions to observations of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence - poise and the way he ‘touches’ the strings or keys, and interpersonal intelligence - the way he ‘communicates’ his music to different audiences.

In our understanding, musical intelligence relates to what is normally referred to as the musician’s “ear,” which is the element that differentiates the average from the extraordinary. Yet, particularly for competition and audition preparation, we find that musicians are judged on a range of features that go beyond a single "musical" intelligence. Whether the focus on the performer’s hand movements or the performer’s interaction with the audience, intelligences work together to create greatness. For an example of this, watch the sample video on our website where Professor Stefan Vladar responds to a student’s Mozart 20th Piano Concerto practice by showing him when to be prominent and when to soften his touch and allow the orchestra to be prominent.

By using MI Theory, Professor Vladar is focusing on the bodily-kinesthetic interaction with the musician’s "ear" and the interpersonal intelligence necessary to interact with the orchestra to take the student’s playing from above average to extraordinary. And having recorded 30 professional albums and performing as a soloist and conductor everywhere in the World, a tutor like Professor Stefan Vladar is not easy to find. In the European classical music tradition there are clear hierarchies of ability that restrict the best students to the best tutors. This system works to some extent, and the traditional Vienna School’s methods can be observed across cultures and time periods in the best conservatories and concert performers still today.

Thus a bridge needs to "connect" 21st Century uses of MI theory and a 400 year old tradition of individual talent development in music that seems to work well already. From a Vienna School perspective, to improve in music at a concert level, thus to firmly develop "musical intelligence," students have to be one-to-one with a competent expert.This is difficult, as noted in the MI research, because like the Viennese school of music tutoring, assumptions in MI Theory of how to develop talent is based on individual profiles of intelligence, and this can become quite expensive. In fact, most families today cannot afford a private music tutor.

However, it is the 21st Century after all, and we can now find tutors everywhere. But the quality of content depends on the people and the methods. For example, we hire Master’s Degree students at Vienna’s prestigious conservatory to use MI methods to tutor around the world in over a dozen languages, for one-third of the price of a face-to-face tutor, and directly from the same room in Vienna where Mozart taught his students! But without MI Theory, we wouldn’t motivate students nearly as effectively as with MI. We observed that when recorded in short video feedback form and aligned to an external rubric that accounts for MI, tutor observations over time can be translated into progress reports used for advancement within the program, result in better student awareness of their own intelligence strengths, and more importantly, result in better performance.

This leads inevitably to self-confidence, self-direction, and motivation to learn more about one’s strengths and weaknesses as well as technical skill. The traditional Viennese Method could do those things, but it wasn’t so much fun, nor was it so easy! We further find that MI Theory combined with leadership development, technology, and standardized curricula forms a strong foundation for assessment of instrumentation and performance in music. In sum, Vienna Virtuoso shows that with internet-based education technology, there are few limitations to implementing an MI-Informed pedagogy on a global scale at the same level of quality worthy of the name Mozart.


Josh Lange, MA, MEd, IDLTM

Josh Lange has held appointments as English Lecturer at two world-leading research universities before coming to Vienna. He holds a MA in English, a MEd in Interdisciplinary Higher Education, and the prestigious IDLTM from Cambridge University. He has won the 2012 International Teaching Excellence Award from University College London (UCL) and Columbia University. Josh has published in leading journals such as Stanford Social Innovation Review and Humanizing Language Teaching, and is Editor of the EU Guide to Utilizing University Intellectual Property for the Benefit of Society.

Readers who wish to contact Joshua can reach him at

Character VS. Other Strengths

 You Have Many Different Kinds of Strength: Navigating the different types of strength

By Ryan Niemiec & Neal Mayerson

Human beings have a variety of strengths, coming in different degrees and types.

While scientific research will continue to offer distinctions and parse those qualities that are strongest in human beings, what follows are some conceptual perspectives.

If you’ve been reading my blogging on character strengths, you’ve become familiar with various examples of character strengths, as well as the complexity involved in understanding character. These positive characteristics of personality are different from other types of strength, such as our interests (what you enjoy doing) and resources (your external supports). Character strengths are viewed as “who you are,” in other words, they make up part of your core identity.

Here’s a breakdown of several of the types of strengths that you possess:

Major Types of Strengths

  • Character strengths are capacities or positive traits reflected in thinking, feeling, and behaving. They reflect what is best in you and can be viewed as part of your positive identity. They are personal traits that societies have universally considered to be good for the individual as well as the greater good (ethical and moral).  The best examples of this type of strength are the 24 strengths in the widely known VIA Classification (e.g., fairness, hope, kindness, leadership), which are universally valued and can bring benefit to oneself and/or others. These character strengths are measureable and a scientifically valid tool, the VIA Survey, assesses these strengths.

  • Intelligences are strengths that are innate abilities or talents, which typically have a strong biological loading, may or may not be well-developed (e.g., visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, musical), and are independent of ethics and morals.  The multiple intelligences articulated by Howard Gardner are the best example of this type of strength.

  • Interests are strengths that are areas or topics you are passionate about and driven to pursue, such as playing sports, engaging in particular hobbies, and working with arts or crafts. Interest inventories, often used in career assessment, are an established pathway for measuring areas of interest.

  • Resources are the one type of strength that is external. These are your external supports, such as social and spiritual connections, living in a safe neighborhood, and being part of a good family.

Additional Strength Distinctions

The following areas are sometimes confused with the preceding domains because there is some degree of overlap. However, it is worthwhile to offer distinctions of these terms as well.

  • Skills are strengths that are specific proficiencies developed through training (e.g., learning a particular trade; computing skills; researching skills).

  • Values are enduring beliefs, principles, or ideals that are of prime importance to you. Values reside in your thoughts and feelings, and may or may not be reflected in your behavior. E.g., your value for family, your value for hard work.

  • Learning styles are ideas or hypotheses about how people approach new material, e.g., you might be reflective in how you learn a particular subject, or you might be more interpersonal in your style because you want to receive new learnings through discussion rather than reading.

One Category Serves as the Driving Force

Character strengths cut across the strength categories. In many cases, character strengths underpin the other categories and draw the other strengths forward. They are often the driving force. For example, you might use hope to develop a new skill for work, curiosity to explore an area of interest, and gratitude and kindness to tap into your external resources.

Inevitably, character strengths help us make the most of these other strengths categories. If you point to a person who has developed their musical intelligence, for example a successful concert pianist, or a professional basketball player very high in bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, then you are pointing to someone who uses their character strengths of perseverance and self-regulation in order to maximize their abilities, and may be using other character strengths as well to motivate them in their pursuit of developing their abilities.

The category of interests is driven by our character strengths of love of learning and curiosity, among other strengths. Also, we might choose hobbies and other interest areas in order to express particular character strengths. I play one-on-one sports because I can express my perseverance and zest, team sports because I can bring forth teamwork and social intelligence, and online chess so I can exercise my judgment/critical thinking and perspective strengths together. And no doubt my passion for collecting Pez dispensers allows me to tap into my playfulness/humor strength.

Takeaway point: Intelligences are innate abilities we have to do certain things well.  With learning these intelligences can be developed into particular skills.  As we age over the decades, our intelligences and related skills may diminish. Similarly, our resources change or can be lost. Character strengths are valued by societies as traits that contribute to individual and social goodness.  They also have a genetic component and can be developed with practice, and can crystallize and even grow stronger over time.


Gardner, H. (2004). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


VIA Institute (the nonprofit organization)

VIA Classification (the system of character strengths and virtues)

VIA Survey (the research-validated test)

VIA resources for practitioners