Thesis-ing: The Multiple Intelligences Theory

I’m afraid I’m going to detour before I even start this post.  I’ve been in coffee shops for 8-10 hours every day for the past 5 days.  My thesis proposal is due next week, and precisely 12 days before I need to turn it in, we received the final requirements.  Twelve days.  It bears repeating.  So, that fateful last Thursday I realized the 4 page outline-like overview I’d been preparing with my advisor was going to be horrifyingly insufficient.  Six thousand words on methodology, rationale, ethics, epistemology and theoretical perspective simply don’t write themselves; thus coffee shops and extensive pastry and latte bribery.

5 times a day, everyday.

The good news is, I’m sitting at 4,000 words, and I’m careful when I write.  I’d rather get my thought out correctly the first time, so my editing will be minimal.  I’ll meet with my advisor tomorrow, and get much needed feedback on how I can’t mesh naturalist, objectivist, and subjectivist epistemology into one idea.  Fun (questionable word choice, very questionable) fact: I’ve yet to hear a single person effectively explain these giant words for ‘ways people think the world is organized’, i.e. epistemology, theoretical perspective, etc., and how they relate to each other.  Oh, many have tried, but they just move their hands a lot and search for words.  When words are found, it’s one of the few times I’ve ever completely empathized with the plight of a dog.  Why you ask?  All explanations sound remarkably like “Blah blah blah blah truth blah blah blah when one blah blah blah.  Blah blah blah blah clear, Bettina?”  I imagine it’s much like having an understanding of only 10-50 words, and everything else sounds like Charlie Brown adult “Whaaa whaaaaa” noises, no matter how hard you concentrate.  Here’s a nice presentation on epistemology and theoretical perspective if you’ve decided you desperately need more of that in your life (See slide 6), but I digress.

Here is my detour: hiding in coffee shops means I haven’t been overwhelmed by the media this week.  I’ve seen a couple article titles, the changing Facebook pictures, and have notifications in the hundreds for updated statuses and links to additional perspectives.  I read one overview on the 16th, and one today, but that’s all I can allow myself at the moment.  It is a luxury to know that I sit each day in complete safety.  It is a luxury to have safe friends and family.  It is a luxury to work on this proposal for my Masters thesis, researching and writing all day, each day, to meet this deadline.

I have no news I can add, no unique perspective that the world is desperate to hear, and the luxury to continue my path in a world that is a little different than the world it was before.  In this luxury, I am writing, remembering, acknowledging, knowing, that I have the privilege of taking a moment of silence to think of those who do not have what I do.

I don’t know if you’ve taken your moment, if you will, or if you need one, but I’ve taken mine sitting in the common room, surrounded by roommates cooking, and studying for final projects.  They’ve put a row of candles in the window, are making cinnamon rolls, and we’re sitting in the dark surrounded by the slightly melancholy music the radio plays late at night.  This is all I have to give until next week, when I have the luxury of deciding what I can try to do for this world.

And so, I return to thesis work until next week.

I’m writing a proposal to study how accurately curriculum reflects the way students learn.  In 2009 I was reintroduced to the Multiple Intelligences theory, and this proposal is the cumulation of six years worth of highly inconsistent development.  I’m generally having a marvelous time, and can honestly say higher education at a Masters level suits me far better than any other schooling I’ve had.  Sorry about all those phone calls home, Mom.  This is the moment in my life where I get to define absolutely everything, and it’s… indescribably satisfying.

Of all the aspects of my research that need definition, I’ve agonized over, and enjoyed wording, Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences the most.  Everything is still a draft, but I’m putting parts up anyway (sans important things like references, final editing, and general academic acceptability).  So here are 4 of them, knock yourself out.  Maybe I’ll make a quiz later?

Linguistic intelligence is skill and interest surrounding words, syntax, phonology, and grammar, and can be found within the context of both written and spoken language. Gardner uses the example of the poet T.S. Elliot to describe someone with strong linguistic intelligence. Gardner considers Elliot both an expert on poetry and written word, and someone who has “special clarity (on) the core operations of language”. A person with little interest or skill in writing can be persuasive, but they are far less likely to agonize over the word choices and placement that form complex poetic rhythms. Some people, like Elliot, are innately skilled at using words to communicate. These aspects of language, and the activities that allow us to practice them, are what defines linguistic intelligence.

Musical intelligence is skill and interest in the formal and informal aspects of music. Someone who excels at the formal aspects of music may have a strong understanding of music theory or rhythm, and accurately predict musical patterns.   Informal aspects of this intelligence include accurate pitch, performance, and the feeling of a musical piece; these are better examples of musical expression and discrimination.  Gardner describes musical intelligence as one of the first of the 8 MI to emerge in young children. It is also the most varied MI in terms of development, and Gardner describes the difference within musical intelligence with the example of three pre-school children who have early musical talent. One child plays the violin with both accuracy and feeling, the second sings a complete aria after hearing it only once, and the third plays a self-composed minuet on the piano.  They would all be considered exceedingly talented, though their skills are quite different. Some people will be very skilled in, or appreciative of music, and others cannot hear a difference between the sounds or notes of an instrument; this is what defines musical intelligence.


Visual-Spatial intelligence is the capacity to accurately understand and mentally navigate the surrounding world. This ‘navigation’ can occur in several ways, including a sense of direction, the ability to match/compliment patterns, shapes, or colors, and accurately recalling physical objects and spaces in a different context or medium. Gardner uses the example of traditional intelligence testing to describe this intelligence. A puzzle that asks the recipient to find an identical visual pattern match from a selection, or of a drawing rotated or mirrored, is testing visual-spatial intelligence. Concrete examples of people using visual-spatial intelligence include someone who is seldom lost (they can mentally orient themselves even in a new context), an architect who can draw a space based on measurements and/or recollection, and an artist who paints a portrait of a physical object. This ability to accurately recall or reproduce something seen or experienced, is core to visual-spatial intelligence.

Why would I say spearfishing?  Because I fully admit soccer (football, sorry Iceland I refuse to switch because I already have a football) is much more common.

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence is a deep understanding of what one can craft, communicate, or alter using the hands and body. This includes acts of athleticism and physicality including balance, woodworking, and spearfishing, as well as what Armstrong calls “expressions of ideas and feelings”, such as dance or acting. Much like visual-spatial intelligence, people with strong bodily-kinesthetic affinity are able to re-represent, or recreate an idea or object in a new medium, or fix something that was broken. Gardner breaks this down further, describing three separate categories of physicality; these are mastery of motion (dancers, swimmer), mastery of tools (painter, instrumentalist), and those “in whom use of the body proves central” (inventors, actors). The categorization is slightly different between theorists, but the core of this idea remains the same; the ability to skillfully craft or communicate using one’s physicality is what defines bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

Too heavy?  I love it 🙂

If you want to check out more on Learning Styles or MI theory, check out Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, or take a quick MI test.  I like this simple one from the Birmingham City Council, its visuals are pretty, and you can compare results by age, gender, and country.




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